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Did Westmoreland Make Opaque Glass in the 19th Century?

by Chas West Wilson

Everyone today knows Westmoreland made opaque glass in the 19th century, so why the question? After all, in many Westmoreland catalogs and advertisements we find frequent statements attesting to its milk glass "from the 1890s." But these assertions were made in the post-WW II period by the company's later owners who really had no first-hand recollection of the company's early years to guide them. Because "Yesterday's half truths are today's eternal verities," as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, let's look at the contemporary evidence either to validate or dispel the belief that Westmoreland made opaque glass in the 19th century.

Westmoreland, founded in October 1889, made glass continuously from February 1890. They exhibited their glassware at the January Pittsburgh Show in 1892, '96, '97, '98, and from 1900 on. Today we can be grateful that their exhibits of 1896, '97, '98, and 1902 were briefly reviewed by several trade journals. While these reviews focused primarily on lines, they also speak of decoration and glass color. I found Westmoreland's "crystal" mentioned in one 1896 review, "clear and green" as well as "crystal and green" cited in two others dating from 1898, but I have found no mention of Westmoreland opaque glass in any reviews of the '90s. In a January 1902 review, however, a reporter wrote of Westmoreland's molasses cans and of salts and peppers "in white opal" (i.e., milk glass). He noted that Westmorelands opal was available either "fire or cold decorated," implying this glass was all decorated. While something not reported hardly constitutes proof, these reviews suggest, at least, an 1898-1902 time span for Westmorelands earliest introduction of opaque glass.

In December 1897, in what may have been Westmoreland's first ad, the company called itself "Manufacturers of Novelties, Fine Pressed and Blown Glassware" - but with no mention of color. In what was, perhaps, Westmoreland's second ad, though, in February 1901, the company now called itself "Manufacturers of Fine Crystal and Opal Glassware." This helps us to narrow our time span by one year to 1898 - 1901.

On August 1, 1900, Westmoreland reopened after the usual 4-week summer hiatus. Three months later, in November, the press reported that at Westmoreland "another tank was started this week on opal goods." Then, six months after that, in May 1901, a trade journal wrote, "Their four months [i.e., dating from the 1901 Pittsburgh Show] business in both crystal and opal has been gratifying. . ." With these accounts, our span can now be plausibly narrowed further to the second half of 1900.

Let's consider some of Westmoreland's tableware. The ELITE line was introduced in January 1896; the WAVERLEY in January 1897; and the WESTMORELAND in January 1898. While these were very popular lines at the time, with more than 50 items in each pattern, none of them, I believe. can be found today in opal. But two early 20th-century lines can be; namely STAR and DAISY (January 1902). These two are pictured in opal in Belknap (plate 131) and Ferson (plates 289, 290, and 291). Incidentally, the stars are pressed - not cut, as Millard apparently mistakenly believed (Opaque Glass, #87).

Now, consider Westmoreland's "U.S. Hat." This is the well-known (and twice reissued) whimsy that resembles an inverted top hat with an American flag draped around it. Originally it was opal with cold red and blue decoration. Since Frank Chiarenza (in "Westmoreland Glass Collector's Newsletter", Vol. VI, No. 1, Jan. 1993) has pointed out that the survivors all seem to carry the numbers "2" or "3" - and these numbers are in Westmoreland's block style - the U.S. Hat must be original to Westmoreland. With the help of Ruth Webb Lee (Victorian Glass, p. 422). we can pinpoint its probable origin. She wrote in 1944, "They were first issued during the campaign of McKinley and Roosevelt." As this campaign took place in the fall of 1900, her statement lends credence to our date. And carrying this one step further, since these hats bear mustard container-type numbers and were once fitted with metal lids, they must have been among the first of Westmoreland's long line of opal mustards.

Consider Westmoreland's earliest mustard containers. We know that they were made from at least as early as 1891, but it appears that through the 1890s only clear, or at least transparent, table line glass was being used for that purpose. We know ELITE sugars and creamers, for example, were then used for mustard. And Mrs. Lee (cited above, p. 236) records a conversation with my grandfather in which he told her he had sold the covered sugar bowl, creamer, spoonholder, and butter dish in his VICTOR line filled with Westmoreland mustard. Incidentally, Mrs. Lee's interesting citation of some found in a "rather deep blue" probably date from a later period; others she mentions in "iridescent green" are certainly of a later date.

Finally, consider Westmoreland's mustards made in opal. The company's containers made expressly for mustard seem to date back no earlier than the beginning of the opal period. In December 1900, the press reported, "Something new in [Westmore-land's] line of glassware for the year 1901 is the mustard sets. Moulds for these are being made and they are expected to be good sellers." Then, in March 1902, a trade publication mentioned a couple of new Westmoreland sets: the SWAN and the FRUIT. Since these were both reissued after World War II, they are familiar to us today.

And so we return to the question: "Did Westmoreland make opaque glass in the 19th century?" The answer has to be. "Yes" - but almost certainly just by the skin of their milk white teeth! As 2000 will be the final year of the 20th century, 1900 was the final year of the 19th. (Just wait till this issue heats up again!) And so, any opaque glass Westmoreland made in the year 1900 has to be considered 19th century - and properly Victorian, too. But again, only just. At the century's close, Queen Victoria's reign had only three short weeks remaining: the Queen died on January 22, 1901.