Heisey Glass Desired for Elegance, Quality & Function

Heisey Chinese Pheasant Figurine Heisey Barbara Fritchee Cordial, Warwick Cornucopia, and Spanish Cordial Heisey Mallard Figurine
Heisey glass is some of the finest elegant tableware ever produced in America. Many people still hunt for that last Orchid claret stem to complete their best table setting, although the company has been out of business for the better half of a century! The very usefulness of their wares is part of the appeal, though Heisey is often hard to find and not inexpensive.

There is something special about not just collecting, but being able to use the antiques you've amassed. Not many people are going to put water and roses into a 100 year old Weller vase, but if you have a collection of beautiful Heisey stems, many collectors do use them on some occasions. I had one collector tell me that he even used his rare Rose dinner plates, though only with plastic cutlery.

The A. H. Heisey company produced elegant glassware for practical usage from 1896 to 1957 in Newark, Ohio. The glass they created was not cheap when it was made, and it showed up in many a bride's registry. They began producing press-molded glass from older 'Early American Pattern Glass' molds, and moved on to make the beautiful, delicate glass that people often term crystal* today.

While some of the colors the company produced resemble so-called "Depression glass", and they did produce glass in the Depression, Heisey glass could not be more different from the dimestore giveaway stuff that collectors now search out and term Depression glass. Heisey is "Elegant glass", stuff that wasn't cheap when it was made and had considerable hand finishing that went into its production, from blown portions to fire polishing, making its quality inherent. Unmelted 'seeds' of sand are unusual, and bubbles are rare. The thin walls of cups and stems also tell a different tale than the clunky, often imperfect Depression glass.

Judging by requests in our malls over the course of several years, my opinion is that Heisey's Orchid pattern is the most popular today. Some casual collectors (who've maybe inherited Grandma's wedding crystal) are unaware that the etching #507, called Orchid, appeared on several different "blanks" or shapes. Some of the blank glass shapes that received the Orchid etching were Cynthia, Tyrolean, Lariat, Waverly and Graceful, the latter two being the most plentiful. So, a collector could purchase an Orchid sherbet only to go home and realize that it was a completely different shape than the rest of their set! This is true of lots of other etchings, not just in Heisey's production but in most other elegant American glass producers.

One common myth I have heard is that "all Heisey is marked". Not true. Most of it is, with their famous diamond enclosed H, but not all of it. The mark is sometimes extremely well hidden; for example, tiny cordials often have an equally tiny mark hidden on the upper half of the stem. Most of their stemware has blown bowls and feet, applied by hand to the pressed stem- thus, the mark, which was pressed into the glass, had to be on the press molded portion of the piece, which was the stem.

Speaking of cordials, that is one truly hot area of the Heisey market. Collectors love them because cordials are cute, easy to display, and a great area to collect in- if it doesn't break your bank. Miniscule Favor vases are also a popular specialized area of Heisey collecting; incidentally, most of them are unmarked. Colored Favor vases are especially rare. Heisey animal figurines are also a non-functional tableware area to look at-they made numerous horse figures, geese, pigeons, giraffes, elephants, and others. Heisey only produced a very, very few colored animals, primarily in shades of amber. Most "Heisey" animals in color are actually made by the Imperial company, which owned the Heisey molds for a time. Most of the Imperial animals are marked as such with a scrolling, somewhat illegible twined logo, so its difficult for an educated collector to confuse the two. The Heisey Collectors' Association also produced some colored, marked figurines from the molds; look for their HCA stamp.

While colored Heisey glassware is tougher to find than the clear, it does exist. The pink and yellow, Flamingo and Sahara respectively, are the most common. Moongleam is probably the next most common; a light mint green mostly, though it does vary in intensity, and Hawthorne, a pale pinkish purple, also turns up reasonably often. The most interesting color they came up with, in my opinion, is Alexandrite; it changes color in different lights just like the eponymous gemstone, from light purplish blue to intense pink. It is rare, as is Tangerine- a very intense dark orange that can range up to red. Steigel Blue, a cobalt color, is often the rarest to find in many shapes, but occasionally is the common piece, with the Warwick cornucopia being the best example. Marigold- a bright, sunny yellow- was replaced by the more stable Sahara, and is not terribly easy to find, but not particularly popular, either.

Tangerine, most Steigel Blue pieces, and Alexandrite are usually the prize finds, though Moongleam is a close fourth in some shapes. I am quite fond of their later Dawn color, a short-lived smoke glass which looks purple in the bunched areas. However, even though it's not easy to find, it's not particularly popular or expensive as compared to most other colors. Light amber appears to be a color primarily used for the very occasional colored horse figurine. Zircon is a light, clear sea green color often found in the Saturn pattern, and is quite desirable. Custard, called by the company Ivorina Verde, is a color which fluoresces under blacklight, due to radioactive compounds used in its production, and is mostly found in the early production of Heisey glass, often with gold or painted floral decoration. There were a few other colors they produced, but none that stand out more to most collectors than those mentioned.

Besides the Imperial reissues of some items, the collector needs to learn what a repair looks and feels like. Especially the rims of stemware can have all but undetectable repairs. First, if you've found a few matching stems, compare height. They should be fairly close, but since they were hand worked, expect variation naturally. Next, get used to running your finger around the rim. If you don't feel a chip (feeling is usually easier than seeing one) ask yourself if the rim is smooth and slightly rounded, or sharp and angular. If it's sharp, does it have a slight grain to it that drags at your hand? That's a pretty good indication a professional ground the piece down to remove a nick. Also feel the foot in the same way.

A couple of good resources exist to the fan of Heisey glass. A new book was published fairly recently, Heisey Glass 1896-1957 Identification and Value Guide by Neila and Tom Bredehoft. Its probably the best resource, though the older Collector's Encyclopedia of Heisey Glass 1925-1938 by the same authors is more exhaustive and has more catalogue reprints.

Heisey failed to spark interest in post-war America, as the formal dinner party was not as common an event. The smoky grey Dawn color was one attempt to change with the times, but it wasn't of much interest to the speedy new throwaway society in the making. Heisey closed their doors in 1957, but collector interest in this elegant glassware has only increased with time.

*Crystal is basically a marketing term, and doesn't refer to any particular composition in elegant glass, though sometimes glass with high lead content is to what the term refers. Heisey's glassware didn't have a high lead content, nor do most stems that most people call crystal. -Holly Regan

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