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Some stories are the microcosms of larger ones, which is certainly true for August Heisey and his glass company. Heisey himself is the story of the original American dream – an immigrant who worked his way up to incredible wealth and his company’s success and productivity would mirror the rise and fall of American manufacture, for a time supplying a growing middle class with quality goods at affordable prices, giving them successful mimicry of the lavish things in the homes of the industrial tycoons who employed them.

In 1861 August Heisey (1842 to 1922), a German-born immigrant, would find work as a clerk at the King Glass Company. Aside from a disruption caused by the Civil War (in which he enlisted as a private, mustered out as a brevet major, and in between was wounded at Little Round Top), Heisey would spend much of the rest of his life in the glass business. Five years after the war, he would marry Susan Duncan, whose father was an owner of the Ripley Glass Company (later Geo. Duncan & Sons), and in time Heisey himself would become a part owner and the general manager.

Heisey, looking for an opportunity to begin his own business, moved to Newark, Ohio in 1895 and opened a glass factory that began operation in 1896. He himself would go on to prominence, holding a variety of prestigious titles and positions, while his company, operated by Heisey and then his sons until its closing in 1957, would play a part in revolutionizing glass production in modern America.

Like many successful glass and pottery companies in the Ohio Valley at the time, Heisey would experiment with forms, design and color, while having a staple that would help steady the business. For the Heisey Glass Company, that was making lighting fixtures and glass headlights for cars. They would become known for their glass tablewares and glass figurines, making an impressive array of both pressed and blown glass. Their glass animal figures in particular were popular with collectors from the beginning and Heisey’s pressed glass was of such quality that pieces can often easily pass (at least at a glance) as cut crystal.

Heisey produced glass in dozens of patterns, including Greek Key, Plantation, Stanhope, and Old Sandwich. They manufactured colored glass for the company’s entire run, but the best years are generally considered to be between 1925 and 1938. Early colors, like Flamingo (a soft pink) and Moongleam (a green), were typically softer and more pastel, with a move in the 1930s toward darker colors like their Tangerine (vibrant orange) and Stiegel Blue (a cobalt shade). They are also thought to have made milk glass and did produce some vaseline glass. Alexandrite, a blue-green that becomes a lilac/lavender in ultraviolet light, is considered their rarest color.

In 1957, after the Christmas holidays, Heisey ceased production, the beginning of a wave of changes that would sweep through the ‘60s and ‘70s, altering the face of American manufacturing. The Imperial Glass Company bought the molds and continued producing pieces based on some of them through 1984, when Imperial too closed.

Heisey’s collectability remains fairly steady today, aided by a strong museum and collector association, as well as an annual collectors’ auction, although volume keeps prices low for many of the less desirable pieces. As is always the case with glass, condition is key, as well as pattern and color.

 A Northwood, Carnival glass vaseline Heart & Flowers plateAs I’ve discussed here before, terms commonly get conflated and misused, only to end up with a much wider application than is accurate. “Vaseline glass” is yet another example of this. More properly termed uranium glass, this glass has had uranium added to the mixture that is then melted down, colored and formed into glassware. Most pieces have only trace amounts, definitely less than 2% by weight, of uranium, although some pieces were nearly 25% uranium by weight. Uranium glass normally appears on the yellow-green spectrum, depending on the influences of the uranium and other colorants used, but regardless of the color in natural light, it fluoresces in a vibrant green shade when placed under ultraviolet (“black”) light.

The “Vaseline” part was originally applied to a particular pale yellowish-green transparent/semi-transparent shade of uranium glass as it was thought to look like the 1920s version of Vaseline and other petroleum jelly, but over time, it’s come to be used, particularly in the US, for uranium glass in general and sometimes, particularly sloppily, even for any glass in that same yellow-green color range, regardless of whether or not it fluoresces. Properly, it is simply a subtype of uranium glass, as are custard (pale yellow), jadite (pale green) and Depression glass (which is also pale green but transparent/semitransparent vs opaque/semi-opaque). (Depression glass is, clearly, another one of those terms, as it often is applied to any glassware, particularly any colored glassware, produced during the years of the Depression.)

There’s nothing new about uranium glass, as archaeology dates it back to 79 AD and it was also used in European glass production for centuries, but it really began to boom in the 1800s, reaching its peak during the late 19th century and early 20th. Uranium glass production, table- and housewares, had slowed considerably by the start of World War II, but when the use and availability of uranium was heavily restricted and controlled during the end of the war and throughout the Cold War, the manufacturing of uranium glass took a dip that it never really recovered from, although there are still those today who work with uranium glass.

As with all glass, color, condition, maker, pattern, and form all play a role in the value uranium or vaseline glass brings at auction.

A Fenton glass cruet and stopper, French Opalescent, Hobnail pattern. Hobnail glass is glass with a knobby surface, with an organized pattern of evenly spaced raised bumps. It takes its name from hobnail boots, work boots that were made more durable by the addition of hobnails in a regular pattern on the soles. (As mass production became more involved in the production of footware, the quality deteriorated and a rough sole of hobnails gave shoes a much-needed boost in terms of durability.)

Production of hobnail glass involves either pressing or blowing glass into a mold and while others produced hobnail glass during the late Victorian era, it was the West Virginia-based Fenton Art Glass Company that would ultimately become synonymous with hobnail.

Fenton, founded in 1905, got a solid start with their innovative production of carnival glass, but by the 1930s, the Depression was threatening to “shatter” the glass industry. Glass had long offered smaller profit margins and the Depression-necessitated production of “Depression glass,” thin, inferior glass in washed out colors, left most glass companies struggling. Fenton had begun manufacturing some hobnail glass in 1935 and the company offered a hobnail design to the Wrisley Perfume Company in 1937. Wrisley, also desperately in need of a boost, felt the unique appearance of hobnail glass would boost sales, and when production started in 1938, no one was disappointed. The bottles manufactured for Wrisley sold with such success that Fenton opened up other lines of hobnail products, ultimately offering not just perfume bottles but ashtrays, candlesticks, lamps, vases, pitchers, jars and much more, all of which they would eventually offer in their iconic hobnail milk glass line, introduced in 1950.

In general, the ubiquity of hobnail glass keeps prices for pieces fairly affordable. Hobnail glass, Fenton’s pieces included, crowds the shelves at antique malls across the country. There are however some rarities, most notably Victorian-era pieces from the early years of production, typically hanging lamps, which can fetch several thousand dollars at auction. Rarer colors also confer the value of their association on hobnail designs, so colors like plum, which are seen less frequently than milk glass or cranberry, appeal to collectors and their pocketbooks.

Fenton Carnival glass amethyst pitcher, Fluffy Peacock pattern

Fenton Carnival glass amethyst pitcher, Fluffy Peacock pattern

One of the most common questions in the antiques marketplace is, “What’s hot right now?” At Prices4Antiques, we always see huge numbers of searches in our glass category. Fenton remains near the top of the list each week, with this week showing searches for a Fenton amethyst carnival glass pitcher in the “Fluffy Peacock” pattern, a Fenton plum opalescent hobnail basket, a Fenton San Toy etched iced tea set, a Fenton dark ruby glass egg, and a Fenton jade green cat figurine. These were the top five items viewed in our glass category’s Fenton section this week, but people searched for thousands of other antiques and collectibles at Prices4Antiques.


Everything from Tiffany Favrille to Fire-King Jadeite is being manufactured by the unscrupulous to fool the uninitiated.  Armed with knowledge of your collectible, and these simple tips, you won’t be fooled by glass forgeries, fantasies and reproductions.

Popular Collectibles are Targets for Fakery

As more and more of our antique and collectible purchases are made on-line, it gets easier for the dishonest to pass off fakes to unsuspecting buyers. In the old days, only collectors of the highest ticket items had to be on the lookout for forgeries, but modern manufacturing techniques and worldwide distribution make it financially viable to forge even moderately priced items.  Your only protection is knowledge.  Start with these simple tips for spotting Art and everyday glass fakes:

Quality Tells: Authentic Tiffany or Tiffany Fake?

The crown jewels of art glass, Tiffany and Lalique are the target of some of the world’s busiest forgers. These companies produced beautifully designed objects, flawlessly executed in the highest quality materials.  These objects are stunning in terms of aesthetics and intrinsic value which is in part why they are so highly prized.

In frequently reproduced Tiffany iridescent glass, for example, the iridescent finish is noticeably inconsistent.  There are random, lumpy streaks or drips that are not part of a discernible pattern. An authentic piece of Tiffany glass is flawlessly crafted without these obvious blemishes, and the applied finish is so smooth it feels silken.

Signed by Ralph Lalique or Larry Tiffany?

Lalique is also subject to both reproductions, and new glass altered to pass as more valuable vintage Lalique.  The problem is further compounded by the fact that Lalique is still in production.  The glass that is most collectible was made pre-1945 and was signed R. Lalique (for Renee Lalique), but after that time, the glass was marked simply, Lalique.  Today, however, some sellers are buying new Lalique, adding the R, and passing the object off as vintage which commands much higher prices.

While it’s tempting to rely on a manufacturer’s stamp, these are not reliable measures of an object’s authenticity.  Tiffany’s maker’s mark changed over the years, was sometimes etched, and sometimes appeared as a paper label. Some pieces went unmarked, providing the opportunity for the unscrupulous to add a name, and bump up a piece to the next  level.

Glass Fantasies & Reproductions in Jadeite and More

Fantasies are creations of modern cheats who combine elements that never appeared together and stamp them with a manufacturers mark attempting to fool the unsuspecting buyer.  In glassware, these fakes often appear in colors in which the original manufacturer never produced them.  Martha Stewart made Jadeite so popular that reproductions flooded the secondary market.  Sometime these were made from molds that were made from the original objects, which made the new finished product smaller than the original.  The quality issues discussed earlier holds true here as well.

-By p4A Contributing Editor Susan Cramer.


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