100 Years of American Craft
Fostoria is one of the best-known and loved American
elegant glassmakers. For more than 100 years the company was a leader in
the field of glassmaking. Today, there is no company producing glass that
is as beautifully wrought as Fostoria’s was. Most of their patterns were
hand finished, with hand-polished rims. Today it is simply not cost effective
to have hand-finished glassware produced by a large company.
Fostoria Glass Company was founded in Fostoria, Ohio
in 1887. The original founders were William Brady and Lucien B. martin. However,
in 1891 lack of resources prompted the company to move to Moundsville, West
Virginia, located near Wheeling where several other glass companies flourished.
The Dalzell family was instrumental in shaping the company, beginning with
father W.A.B. Dalzell as president and continuing with his sons, Harry and
William, who worked as sales and advertising manager and chemist, respectively.
Indeed, the Fostoria Company remained under the command of a Dalzell until
it closed the doors of its factory in 1982.
Some Fostoria shapes are identified only by their production
number. One of my very favorite patterns is known only by “#5099”. A drab
name for an elegant pattern- it has a sculptural, Art Deco stem which reminds
me of a waterfall; usually the stem is clear and the bowl is colored.
Often, Fostoria items have two names, or even three,
to refer to one item. For example, there is the shape name, like Baroque or
#5099, which refers to the mold shape. Then there may be an etch pattern,
which will have its own name, so you could have a #5099 shape with a Trojan
etch, for example. Then, there are also specific names for colors. You may
find a stem labeled #5099 Trojan, Wisteria which would mean it was mold #5099,
with the Trojan etch, in the Wisteria color.
Fostoria’s color palette has many interesting colors.
Wisteria is one that is avidly sought by collectors; it is a neodymium-based
color, which several elegant glass companies used. It greatly resembled the
gemstone alexandrite; it changes color based on the lighting, from deep pink
to greenish to blue, though it usually photographs fuschia pink. Generally
speaking, the bulk of Fostoria’s color production occurred before WWII. Topaz
is probably the most common color to find- it is a lovely golden yellow. Orchid
is another favorite with collectors- a very translucent, pale purple shading
#2056 American was introduced in 1915, designed by Phillip
Ebeling. It has a geometric, cube-like, all over pattern, and is very thick
and heavy. Rare pieces can command rather high prices- for example, very hard
to find spice shakers sold for $500 each in our malls not so very long ago.
Other, more common pieces can be found for extremely reasonable prices, some
under $10. One of the major reasons for the affordability of this line is
the incredibly long production run: it was not discontinued until 1986. I
would suggest that a new collector invest in the Fostoria American book (yes,
there is one just on that one line!) as there is a look-alike out there created
by Whitehall- it’s not identical though, and a book will insure against accidentally
obtaining a Whitehall piece. One rule of thumb is that Whitehall is greasier
feeling, and has sharper edges, but generally, measuring items is the best
way to tell the difference. By and large, though, Fostoria American vastly
outnumbers Whitehall, and Whitehall is much scarcer!
Although crystal-clear American is most common, Fostoria
also produced that pattern in color. From 1925 though 1927, there were carious
items made in Blue, Canary, Green, Amber, Orchid, Azure, Topaz, and Ruby.
Orchid and Canary are the hardest to find, as they were only produced for
one year each, 1927 and 1926 respectively. However, there were a few pieces
produced in the ever-popular Jadite green color during the 1930s, as well
as Aqua, Peach Milk Glass, and White which were produced from 1957-1959.
While researching this article, we found something quite
fascinating in one of the showcases in Star Center Antique Mall. One of
our dealers had brought in a unique sterling-and-American server piece;
we assumed it was likely something someone had either assembled, or had
commissioned the sterling holders with arms as an aftermarket, non-factory
item. Imagine our surprise when we found the item on p. 50 of Fostoria Glass:
Scarce, Unique and Whimsies by Juanita L. Williams. We had previously tried
and failed to find a reference on the item, so it was doubly a shock. It
is listed as: “American Sample, ornate one-of-a-kind custom sterling service
buffet table centerpiece with four arms holds one large #2056 center bowl
and four #2056 almond dishes; we believe this piece to be a sample caviar
server for a buffet table. Although the date of production is unknown, it
is believed to be an experiment by Fostoria trying to incorporate metal into
some of its designs . These American pieces were custom ground to fit perfectly
into the sterling buffet holder.” So, either this is a two-of-a-kind, or
the piece photographed for the book wound up with us here at Star Center
In 1924 Fostoria was the first company to produce full
lines of colored glass dinnerware. In the ‘30s, despite the depression,
Fostoria introduced quite a few new lines: Baroque, Sunray, Lafayette, Hermitage,
and Mayfair, to name a few. There are over 100 etched patterns available
in full sets. Despite having to cut back on production slightly in the Depression,
the company nevertheless prospered. At this time, they began moving away
from the lovely colored ‘20s and Depression era Elegant glassware, and towards
water-clear crystal glassware. Here is an eye-opening statistic: In 1929
only 10% of their production was crystal (clear glass), but in 1939 only
10% was colored glass.
Fostoria was operated by the fourth generation, David
B. Dalzell, when he was forced to close down production in 1982 due to foreign
competition. Although not nearly as well crafted as Fostoria’s glassware,
foreign was less expensive. Fostoria’s own limitations also contributed
to their demise-their factory was outdated, and they simply has no financial
ability to remodel it. The Landcaster Colony Company which purchased Fostoria
did produce some Fostoria items until 1986, though not out of the old factory.
Today, Fenton Art Glass owns some of Fostoria’s old molds.
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