Crackle glass collectors may discover that their most prized pieces were produced by Pilgrim in the fifties. Cranberry glass collectors may learn that some of their most treasured pieces were from Pilgrim in the sixties.
Phoenix and Consolidated glass collectors may be surprised to learn that many of the intricate molds used in the production of this art glass in the 20s, 30s and 40s are now owned by Pilgrim and have been put back into production.
Collectors of off hand Italian art glass figurines may be interested to learn that two talented brothers from Italy began producing such work for Pilgrim in the mid fifties.
Cameo glass collectors may be excited to learn that Pilgrim has managed to case and carve as many as six layers of glass into truly magnificent works of art. That the name Pilgrim Glass is largely unknown to collectors probably reflects the company’s characteristic focus on innovation- the future. It’s a company that seems never to have looked back. There are no reference books on Pilgrim and little available research, other than an article which appeared several years ago in Glass Collectors Digest. The recorded history of the company is largely relegated to Pilgrim’s product catalogues, some of which not dated and others remain unfounded.
With a degree in ceramic engineering and a flair for sales, Alfred Knobler purchased the failing Tri State Glass Manufacturing Company in Huntington, West Virginia in 1949 and began production. In 1956 he built the current production facility several miles away in Ceredo, West Virginia.
Pilgrim’s early production was hand-blown crackle glass in ruby, tangerine, amethyst, smoke, sapphire, amber, green, and crystal. The crackle effect was achieved by immersing the glass into cold water and then reheating it.
Crackle glass products were produced through the late 1960s. They included pitchers, vases, decanters, cruets, bowls, candy jars, candleholders, ashtrays, and apothecary jars. Other early pieces were available in clear and satin finishes.
In the mid-fifties, brothers Alessandro and Roberto Moretti emigrated from Italy finding employment with Pilgrim. Their production consisted mainly of glass animals. Earliest pieces were birts, cats, ducks, horses, fish, whales, swans, donkeys, and elephants. Later pieces included owls, deer, turtles, rabbits, and snails. Today, the works of Alessandro and Roberto are carried on by their brother-in-law Mario Sandon.
Cranberry glass was introduced to the Pilgrim line in 1968. Although always popular, few glass manufacturers attempted this color, which involves an often temperamental combination of lead oxide and real gold. Over the years cranberry glass has become the mainstay of Pilgrim’s business. Today, Pilgrim Glass is the largest producer of cranberry glass in the world.
Also produced in the ‘60s were a line of cased glass wares, peachblow reproductions, and ‘end of the day’ spackle ware.
In the 1970s Pilgrim added a kitchen focus, producing popular clear glass canisters, salad sets, and platters. Pilgrim’s approach to innovation and new markets has been described as “adding something new to the tried and true”.
In the 1980s, vases and pitchers in cobalt, cranberry, crystal, and ruby continued to be popular. New colors for the eighties were opaque white, red, grey and black.
In 1985 Pilgrim introduced the Masterwork collection consisting largely of vases and columns over 30 inches in height.
Under the direction of Kelsey Murphy, Pilgrim introduced a truly extraordinary line of cameo glass in the late 1980s. Through a sandblasting process, cased glass is carved to reveal the desired color and design. Colors suitable for casing include cranberry, green, cobalt, crystal pink, topaz, black, and white. The designs are Murphy’s own pictorial scenes. All pieces are signed by Kelsey. Most are issued in limited editions and numbered.
In 1992 Pilgrim Glass purchased all Phoenix and Consolidated glass molds formerly in possession of Sinclair glass. These molds were designed by Reuben Haley, who died in 1933. The molds were used to produce the Consolidated Glass Company’s famous “Lalique Reproductions”. It is unknown how many of the old molds are in restorable condition. However, in Pilgrim’s 1994 catalogue there are examples of vases in Line 700, Dancing Nymphs, Cockatoo, Lovebird, Bittersweet, Blackberry, LeFleur, Bird in Bough, Hummingbird, Pine Cone, Jonquil, Dogwood, and Dragonfly patterns. All are pictured in clear glass with a satin finish. Except for a few experimental pieces, all Pilgrim Consolidated and Phoenix Glass is clearly etched Pilgrim Glass on the bottom.
Collecting Old Pilgrim
Because Pilgrim is a mouth blown art glass; there are no manufacturers marks in the glass. Older pieces can sometimes be found with the original paper label.
Crackle glass pieces are often confused with products of other West Virginia companies, particularly Blenko and Kanawha.
Cranberry pieces are often represented to be Victorian in origin. Last year I spotted a 24” cranberry vase priced at $1000 in a California antique mall. Although represented as Victorian, it was actually a new Pilgrim piece that retails for about $200.
Usually, Pilgrim can be identified by its distinctive colors, shapes and finished pontil. The Pilgrim Glass Outlet in Centralia, Washington maintains a showcase of examples of old Pilgrim. The authenticity of these pieces have been verified with old catalogues.
Pilgrim Glass is highly desirable for its quality and design even though collectors are seldom able to identify Pilgrim as the manufacturer. Because Pilgrim is not readily recognized pricing is often variable and bargains can be found.
The collector may have to wait for adequate research on the history of Pilgrim Glass; but, the future of this company seems assured. This summer, my wife Bonnie and I visited Pilgrim’s Union shop working at 100 percent capacity; designer Kelsey Murphy preparing a major cameo glass exhibition in New Orleans; and Pilgrim owner and founder, Alfred Knobler in great health and full of ideas for the future. -John Regan