Featured Museum Piece
Electric Hurricane Lamps by Fenton Art Glass
For this newsletter, we searched our museum and vaults for an out-of-the-ordinary glass feature, and we found just what we were looking for in two beautiful electric hurricane lamps from the Fenton Art Glass Company, of Williamstown, West Virginia. Fenton Celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2005 and outlived many of the American glassware firms that grew up in and around the Ohio River Valley, including Imperial, Heisey, and Cambridge. Alas, on August 10 2007, Fenton Art Glass announced that their production and operations would cease in October of this year. This is clearly a very sad time for collectors and fans of American glassware.
To honor Fenton's contribution to American glass via our museum feature, we selected two Fenton pink-opaque electric hurricane lamps that stand 13 1/2" high each. The globe for each piece features an etched peacock design with a black base. We believe this particular etching to be extraordinarily rare as we have found no other like it. However, lamps of this shape and style were produced by the Fenton Art Glass Company extensively during the early 1930’s. These lamps (which were sold as a pair) were produced during a time when innovations like electricity, for artistic effect, were being utilized in older-style designs like hurricane lamps. Hurricane lamps are traditionally made with a “glass chimney” to protect the lamp flame against drafts and wind. Over time, these candle and oil burning lamps were replaced with electrified lamps. During the early 1930’s, companies like Fenton, started making small lamps for use in tight spaces like corners and bed tables. In 1939, when Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, “Gone with the Wind” was made into the classic movie by the same name, hurricane lamps became known as “Gone with the Wind” lamps. Hurricane lamps were used extensively in the movie. Today, hurricane lamps or “Gone with the Wind” lamps are very popular collectible pieces because few companies produced these small lamps. Modern overstuffed comfort furniture dwarfs these diminutive glassware works of art and very few retailers carry them.
The maker of the lamps we feature this month, Fenton Art Glass, has been a leader and trend setter in the glassware industry for 102 years, with John Fenton and his brother Frank Fenton founding the “Fenton Art Glass Company” in 1905. At first, the company focused on decorating pre-produced glass blanks. Eventually, the brothers found it difficult to acquire the glass they needed and decided to open a factory where glass could be produced and decorated. The first Fenton factory opened on January 2, 1907 in Williamstown, WV. Fenton quickly became known for glass with unusual colors and decorations. Over the next two decades, this creative edge would keep Fenton at the forefront of the glassware market.
The two world wars with the Great Depression in between were tough on the company. To get through those difficult times, the brothers began work on practical pieces that could be used in the home, including mixing and serving bowls. During this time, raw materials were limited and there was not a vibrant market for decorated art glass. John Fenton knew though that these troubled times would pass, so he continued to experiment with colors and glazes. Following World War II, Fenton Art Glass began to grow again and was passed down to two more generations of the Fenton family. Between the 1960’s and 1980’s most American producers of fine glassware were closed down by less expensive importers. Fenton persevered and was known for a dedicated following of collectors. A number of books were written about the Fenton Art Glass Company, including the Fenton Art Glass series by Margaret and Kenn Whitmyer, Fenton Glass by William Heacock, and Fenton Art Glass: A Centennial of Glassmaking by Debbie and Randy Coe.
It is with a heavy heart that we commemorate this amazing company. Fenton glass is wonderful and the museum pieces we feature this month, which you can see starting at the link below, are quite mesmerizing. While these rare museum pieces are not offered for sale, we do have a wonderful selection of patterns by Fenton that are quite amazing, and are available for your perusal. Come visit us and see these amazing lamps in person, and leave with your pieces of Fenton glass to take back for your home. Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. Make plans to visit us soon!
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