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Museum Feature

Owl Figurine Lamps by United States Glass Company

For a spooky Halloween we feature from our Museum two Owl Figurine Lamps by United States Glass Company (USGC). The crystal, owl-shaped globes of the lamps screw into heavy black glass bases, and perched on a mantel, table, or windowsill, produce a marvelous effect!

Glass figurines of animals, fish, and birds were extremely popular during World War II and in postwar America. In fact, several U.S. manufacturers, including Viking, Heisey, Duncan, and Tiffin Glass Company (a USGC company), produced glass figurine animals, hoping to capitalize on their popularity. The fervor only increased when Tennessee Williams’ play, “The Glass Menagerie,” opened in 1945 on Broadway in New York. In his play, Williams uses a collection of glass figurines to represent the fragile and sometimes broken lives of his main characters.

Often owl figurine Lamps like the ones in our Museum are collected as the work of Tiffin Glass Company, but these owl figurine lamps were produced as early as 1928 by the United States Glass Company (USGC) in Pittsburgh, PA, before USCG consolidated several operations into its Tiffin, OH, location.

The history of Tiffin Glass Company is an interesting story, and is probably worthy of a Tennessee Williams play, to say the least! In 1888 the A.J. Beatty & Sons Glass Factory in Steubenville, Ohio, near Pittsburgh, announced that it would be moving its facilities across state to Tiffin. At the time, Beatty & Sons was the largest manufacturer of pressed glass in the world. The move was prompted by the availability of abundant fuel for firing, an offer of free land, and the payment of an undisclosed amount of cash by the leading citizens of Tiffin. The new plant began production in 1889. Just three years later, A.J. Beatty & Sons merged into the United States Glass Company (USGC).

USGC was the combination of as many as 18 independent glass companies operating in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. From its company headquarters in Pittsburgh, USGC sought to strengthen its operations in the face of serious labor unrest, competition from manufacturers abroad, and an increasing dependence upon natural gas rather than coal as the chief fuel for manufacturing. As time passed, some of the original USGC operating plants passed out of existence, and others were added. In the 1920s and ‘30s, USGC added decorating shops and sales offices throughout the United States, and overseas sales offices in Mexico, Cuba, Australia, and England. In spite of these developments, USGC continued to suffer operating losses. By 1938, in an effort to consolidate, USGC moved its general offices from Pittsburgh back to Tiffin. With ongoing financial difficulties, USGC management discontinued manufacturing its less expensive glassware and concentrated on the production of high-quality stemware and designer pieces like cornucopias, vases, and bowls. Here the Tiffin plant excelled, having always been known for quality production. Tiffin glass was hailed as “America’s Prestige Crystal.”

C. W. Carlson, Sr. became president of USGC in 1938. Under his charismatic leadership, and that of his son, C. W. Carlson, Jr., the company introduced a variety of new shapes and new colors. In spite of these initiatives, the Tiffin plant was the only USGC operation remaining in 1951. By 1963 the company had gone into bankruptcy. A year later, Tiffin Art Glass was born, reviving the company's tradition of quality stemware. Two years later, Tiffin Art Glass was acquired by the Continental Can Company and was officially renamed the “Tiffin Glass Company.” When Tiffin became a division of the Interpace Corporation in January 1976, the Franciscan Ware line was introduced to Tiffin’s manufacture of pressed glass, sandwich glass, white milk glass, and stemware. In 1979 Leonard Silver Manufacturing Company, a division of Towle Silver, purchased the glassworks. Tiffin Glass Company remained in that company's hands until closing its doors in 1983.

While the United States Glass Company Owl Figurine Lamps in our Museum are not for sale, we have a number of patterns from American manufacturers like Tiffin/Franciscan, Heisey, Duncan & Miller, and Viking, that may be purchased, along with patterns from a wide array of other glassware producers. Be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities! Here you can see an absolutely stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our warehouse facilities (the size of 7 football fields) hold more than 13,000,000 individual pieces in more than 297,000 patterns! 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. We look forward to seeing you!

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