A Brilliant Setting—American Cut and Pressed Glass Tableware 1876–1917
October 14, 2008 through October 04, 2009
In this vignette, the Museum presents beautiful examples of American-made hand-carved luxury glassware by makers that include Libbey Glass Company, T.G. Hawkes & Company, H. C. Fry Glass Company, and J. Hoare & Company, as well as a charming variety of pressed-glass tableware in the Three Face pattern by George Duncan & Sons of Pittsburgh (c.1874–1892). Both were the height of fashion in their day—though among different income groups—and are highly collectible now.
In the tradition of Morse vignettes, this installation shows an array of this glassware in a modern-day dining room as it might be decorated by an enthusiast who inherited many of these objects and then continued to collect. They include candle lamps, bread trays, fruit and punch bowls, pitchers, vases, and more. A century ago, a host would set a table with these objects to make the best possible impression, and they continue to dazzle us today.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American manufacturers produced glass tableware of unparalleled quality for consumers of all tastes and means. At the Philadelphia World’s Fair in 1876, America’s centennial birthday celebration, the exhibits of U.S. cut glass were so superior in craftsmanship and beauty to their European rivals that they generated a major revival in the cut-glass industry in this country now known as the “Brilliant Period.”
After generating such a sensation at the 1876 exposition, manufacturers ramped up production, fueling broad consumer demand with advertising and exhibitions at subsequent world’s fairs. In this era, fabulously wealthy industrial barons and affluent members of an emerging middle class alike decorated their homes to reflect their new-found prosperity. They entertained often and lavishly.
To emulate the upper class, families with more limited means bought pressed-glass imitations of the expensive hand-cut glass and also provided a ready market for the Three Face pattern glass by George Duncan & Sons. Around the stem of these pieces are three classically inspired female faces cast from a mold and acid-etched or frosted. The classically styled females were popularly christened the Three Graces or Three Sisters, the Zeus daughters of mythological fame.