1994 Gillinder Glass: Story of a Company

William Thynne Gillinder was born in Gateshead, England, in 1823. By the age of eight, he began working in the glass factories in the English Midlands region, which included the famous glassmaking towns of Birmingham and Stourbridge. At sixteen, he was delivering lectures on glass chemistry and, at twenty years old, held the status of gaffer.

By 1851, William Gillinder had published a book on glassmaking, titled The Art of Glassmaking, which he had reprinted in 1854. He was elected Central Secretary of the National Flint Glass Makers Friendly Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1852. Previously, he had represented Birmingham and the Midlands in the Society for several years.

The 1850s were difficult times for English glassmen due to a lack of employment in the industry. The Friendly Society helped raise funds to send its members to America and Australia in search of glassmaking jobs.

The well-respected and highly skilled Gillinder chose to depart for America with the promise of a position at the New England Glass Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his farewell address to the Glass Makers Friendly Society on August 17, 1854, he reviewed the difficulties the union had faced under his tenure and hoped he had not disappointed the members. As a parting gift, the Society presented Gillinder with an engraved gold watch and 40 guineas.

With optimism, Gillinder sailed to New England with his wife, the former Elizabeth Emery, and their four children, Agnes, James, Frederick and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, glassmaking circumstances were not better at the New England Glass Company and the promised job was not available. Gillinder family history recounts that there was so little work at the Cambridge factory, the manager had the workers line up each morning and he chose who would work that day.

In 1855, Gillinder pawned the gold watch and moved his family to Pittsburgh, where he found limited work at the O’Hara Glass Works operated by James B. Lyons. Constantly in search of employment, he moved to St. Louis and then Baltimore. Gillinder established his first factory, which failed, in Baltimore. But, he did form an important friendship with the highly regarded potter, Edwin Bennett.

Still seeking a stable position, Gillinder arrived in Philadelphia in 1861 and briefly worked at the Philadelphia Glass Works. He also found employment across the Delaware River at the Kaighn’s Point Glass Works in Camden. That same year, William Gillinder established a glass factory on Maria Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets in Philadelphia and called the new business the Philadelphia Flint Glass Works.

Just where Gillinder found the money to launch his own enterprise is not known. Family history recounts that he again pawned the watch given to him by the Friendly Society. He also probably borrowed the money from his new friend, Edward Bennett. Even with the dark economic times of the Civil War looming on the horizon, Gillinder went forward.

The trade card for the Philadelphia Flint Glass Works declared that the new firm manufactured “Plain, Moulded and Cut Flint Glass Ware, Fancy Colored Glass, and Silvered Glass Table Ware, Door Knobs, Curtain Pins and Reflectors”. Also available were “Apothecaries, Chemical and Philosophical” glassware. But, most of Gillinder’s production was “coal lamps and chimneys of every description.”

Almost immediately, William Gillinder faced more difficulties. The factory’s neighbors complained about the soot from the furnaces, which covered clothes that were hung out to dry. Gillinder Thynne Gillinder was forced to move. He again somehow found enough money to purchase the old Samuels bottle factory site on Howard and Oxford Streets and called the new venture the Franklin Flint Glass Works.

The chimney lamp business boomed and the factory moved to a larger site diagonally across the street. However, Gillinder still faced financial problems, which forced him to borrow more money from Edwin Bennett.

In 1863, Bennett had difficulties of his own, due to the proximity of the Civil War to Baltimore. For the sake of his family and probably his investment in the glass factory, Bennett moved his family to Philadelphia and became William Gillinder’s partner.

The earliest known Franklin Flint Glass Works catalog, which is undated but dates from the Gillinder and Bennett partnership, lists chimneys, peg lamps, opal smoke bells, and potichomanie vases besides a small select grouping of pressed glass patterns. Goblets, champagnes, wines, cordials and egg cups were available in the “New York” pattern. Sugars and spoon holders were offered in the “Cincinnati” pattern. Pitchers and creams were specifically identified in the “Cincinnati Patent”, which refers to the important patent issued to William T. Gillinder in 1865.

The patent was for a combination blowpipe and snap case that permitted a pressed pitcher with attached handle to be inflated. “Cincinnati” pitchers and creams produced by this process were engraved with “Patent 1865” below the handles.

A report in Philadelphia and Its Manufactures, published in 1867, stated that the Gillinder & Bennett factory was the largest glass factory within the city limits, covering nearly an acre of land. The firm had invested capital of $100,000, employed two hundred men and produced glass in the amount of $250,000.

Between 1861 and 1871, William T. Gillinder is credited with creating a group of paperweights. The majority of the known paperweights were produced in millefiori designs. Gillinder would have been familiar with paperweight making, having come from the Birmingham region of England where millefiori paperweights have been attributed to George Bacchus and Sons and the Islington Glass Works. He would have also seen paperweights being manufactured during his short stay at the New England Glass Company.

Much of what we know today about Gillinder paperweights has been gleaned from correspondence in 1911 and 1912 between Edwin A. Barber, Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (which became The Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1938), and William T. Gillinder, grandson of the glass company founder who was then president of the firm. Fortunately Barber, a prolific letter writer, kept not only his mail but copies of his responses that remain in the archives of The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Eighteen letters dating from November 11, 1911, to January 24, 1912, first discussed Barber’s desire to photograph Gillinder millefiori paperweights for an upcoming publication. The museum director then asked if he could borrow the weights for an exhibition and further requested slices of canes to also be exhibited. William T. Gillinder helped gather at least six paperweights, five of which were lent by Bennett descendants living in Baltimore.

Sections of canes were set in plaster and sent to Barber. At least two of the included canes were silhouettes of a woman purported to be Queen Victoria. In fact, Barber specifically requested by name an example of this silhouette cane. Many Gillinder millefiori paperweights include the silhouette.

It has been speculated that the first William T. Gillinder may have brought lengths of the silhouette cane with him from England. Family history states that the factory room where the millefiori canes were kept was burned in a fire and the remaining canes were lost. The Philadelphia museum was not interested in keeping the canes so Barber saw to it that they became part of the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art in 1916. The canes remain the best references for Gillinder millefiori paperweights. The exact number of paperweights created by the first William T. Gillinder is not known.

In 1867, after the Civil War was over, Bennett sold his interest in the Franklin Flint Glass Works to William T. Gillinder’s two sons, James and Frederick, and returned to Baltimore. The new partnership was called Gillinder & Sons. Although Bennett severed his ties with the glass business, the two families would be forever joined with the marriage of Bennett’s daughter to James Gillinder.

Early in 1871, William Gillinder received a patent for a new pattern he called “Star”, which collectors today call “Stippled Star”. The pattern contained five-pointed stars surrounded by a fine stippled background. He also experimented with frosting acids, which were first used at Gillinder in the early 1870s and became a trademark of the firm.

On February 22, 1871, William T. Gillinder died at the age of forty-nine, leaving behind his wife and nine children. There was great disparity in ages between the children. James and Frederick were twenty-seven and twenty-six respectively, while the youngest son, Edgar, was only seven. All the children of William T. Gillinder became stockholders of the company.

James and Frederick Gillinder were in control of the day-to-day operation of the factory. Pressed glass patterns were added to the line. Although new to Gillinder, the designs were not unknown to the trade and were actually the same ones offered by many of the company’s competitors. The patterns included “Huber”, “O’Hara” (Loop), “Mitchell”, “Diamond” and “Small Argus”. Brand-new designs offered by Gillinder were “Mellor”, patented by company designer and cutter William T. Mellor in 1874, and “Centennial”, produced in 1876.

The American Centennial year of 1876 was a turning point for the Gillinder operation. Philadelphia was chosen as the site for the country’s Centennial Exhibition to showcase the United States’ recovery from the devastating Civil War. Just how the company decided to build an exhibition glass factory on the fairgrounds is unclear. But, with confidence, the brothers paid the $3,000 concession fee and constructed a ninety-six by one hundred and nine foot building with a thirty-six by thirty-six foot annex, which cost $15,000.

The exhibition factory was well documented and illustrated in Frank Leslie’s Historical Register of the Centennial. The glasshouse was an instant success and became one of the most popular attractions of the fair. The main section of the factory was devoted to the large stack, which held six glass melting pots. Demonstrations of free-blowing, blowing in molds and pressing were given each day. An area of the building was set aside for demonstrating the cold working processes of acid etching, copper wheel engraving and stone cutting. Another portion of the exhibit was limited to sales. All manner of glass souvenirs from the factory were offered for purchase. Souvenir sales figures came to $96,000 with more than $14,000 paid to the Centennial Board of Finance as commission on the sales.

Collectors today are well acquainted with these souvenirs that were produced in great quantities. Pressed slippers, hand bouquet vases, lions, and busts of individuals were marked “Centennial” and “Gillinder and Sons”. The majority of these items were acid etched. Tableware, such as bread plates, had George Washington or important Philadelphia historical landmarks included in the design. Rat oval pressed and etched paperweights with intaglio designs of Lincoln and other historical monuments were good sellers, as were miniature children’s tableware sets. So profitable were these Centennial pieces that the firm continued to produce many of them long after the Centennial was over.

Visitors purchased glass items and then watched as the pieces were personalized with engraved names and dates. Gillinder family pieces were also engraved and handed down through the generations. Two examples of these individualized pieces were included in the exhibit. The first is a clear slipper, which has the words “Made Last Day, Centennial Glass Works, Nov. 18th 1876” cut on the heel of the shoe and “father” cut on the toe. James Gillinder had several slippers cut for his children, many just bearing the word “Father”.

The second personalized piece is an example of blown glass made at the Centennial. It is a delicate miniature pitcher with a small pad foot. Engraved on the body of the pitcher is “Bessie”, surrounded with a wreath and “1776, Centennial, 1876”. The cherished pitcher was made for Elizabeth, the daughter of James Gillinder, who was born in 1876.

Also demonstrating at the Gillinder Centennial Glass Works was the American and Bohemian Troupe of Fancy Glass Blowers, organized by George A. Woodroffe and his brothers. In the troupe’s own newspaper, “The Glassblower”, Volume III, No. 2, they announced that “the West end of the building is occupied by the celebrated American and Bohemian Troupe of Fancy Glass Blowers”. All the spun glass articles manufactured by the troupe were offered for sale, including Birds of Paradise, Turkish Smoking Pipes, Full Rigged Ships, Cupid’s Chariots drawn by Swans, Love Scales, Baskets of Flowers, Fancy Decanters with Figures inside and much more.

Regrettably, no examples of these spun glass novelties have been found. On April 29, 1898, James Gillinder, president of Gillinder & Sons, wrote to the Pennsylvania Museum, stating, “We have a case of spun glass, etc. that was made on the Centennial grounds at our works there during the Centennial. We thought perhaps it might be of interest to have it in Memorial Hall. Will you kindly say if you can take care of it. We are willing to make the Association a present of it.” Whatever happened to the case of spun glass is not known and there is no record of the pieces in The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Although the company publicized that it had manufactured cut ware since its opening in 1861, to date no catalog has been found that fully illustrates cut or engraved glass produced at the Gillinder firm. Only one page in an undated Gillinder & Sons catalog, in the collection of The Jones Museum of Glass and Ceramics, is illustrated with simple cut pieces and this catalog is believed to date to the mid-1880s. Fortunately, several engraved and cut examples were donated in the early 1900s by the factory to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. Also, three glass slides in the Gillinder Brothers, Inc., archives, cut pieces handed down to Gillinder descendants and a later group of cut examples given to The Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1985 can be used as references.

The five exceptionally well-engraved pieces given to the museum in 1906 were reputed to have been made and exhibited at the Centennial. Four of the pieces, two pitchers and two goblets have survived. The naturalistic copper wheel engraved designs contained muscular galloping horses, exotic birds, delicate insects and the detailed foliage of ferns, flowers, leaves and berries. Exactly who carved these items is not known but the cutting and engraving department of the Centennial Glass Works was operated by Thomas Mellor and his assistants.

Cut glass from this time period reflected a refined English influence under the English-trained Mellor’s direction. A celery vase included in the exhibit illustrated the controlled designs of cut ovals and stars with engraved grapes and leaves just below the notched rim. The hollow-waisted flute cut stem is distinctive and can be used as a comparison to other Gillinder cut stems. Engraved in the concave cut ovals are the dates “1776” and “1876” along with the separated initials “LOUIS E”. The bottom of the foot is cut with a 24-point rayed star.

Also exhibited was a compote having the identical stem and foot but with a deeply etched bowl containing a cut Greek Key border below the rim. The smooth rim was notched in the same pattern as the celery. The compote was borrowed from Gillinder descendants and other similar compotes remain in family collections.

The factory would have kept up with the changes in style of cut glass that became the rage during the 1880s through early 1900s and would have added new items to its line. Brilliant all-over cutting had replaced the simpler conservative designs. Without a catalog of these brilliant patterns it is nearly impossible to identify Gillinder pieces. Luckily the company donated a large shallow bowl with all-over cutting to the Philadelphia museum in 1903, documenting one of its cutting designs.

Gillinder pressed glass has been admired by collectors due to the remarkable detail in the carving and controlled acid etching of the molded designs. As early as 1873, the factory had utilized etching acids. “Lion” was the first of these characteristic patterns. Introduced after the Centennial, the “Lion” pattern was available with lions posed in differing positions as finials on covers. Called Lion No. 1, Lion No. 2, or New Lion, the combinations were the lion sitting, the lion attached to a log and the lion head alone. All of the lions were etched with acid but the bases differed. Some were designed with plain cable feet while others had a collared etched border of sitting lions.

“Pioneer”, today called “Westward Ho”, was offered for sale around 1878. This famous pattern incorporated a deer, a buffalo, a log cabin with setting sun and a crouching Indian as the finial on covers. The border motif and finials were acid etched. There was considerable difficulty pressing the “Pioneer” pattern due to problems with completely filling the Indian knob. “Pioneer” has been reproduced, making it a problematical pattern for collectors.

Around 1881, the factory introduced “St. Bernard”. Mold shop foreman, John Putnam, is credited with making these molds. Large, standing acid etched dogs became the finials of these covered pieces. St. Bernard is often found in combination with stencil etched designs of “Hunter, Dog and Deer”. This etched design was known as “No. 14” and was just one of many etched stencil motifs available.

The “No. 403”, known today as “Classic”, is considered one of the most sophisticated patterns ever produced. Several of the factory’s designers, mold makers and cutters are credited with creating the many different pieces in the pattern. Probably John Putnam, Philip Jacobus, Charles Stier and Thomas Mellor were all involved in the manufacture. The pattern combined classical figures, “Hob Diamond & Star”, political notables and acid etching. Early examples had freestanding log feet that caused so much difficulty, the molds were altered so that later pieces had a support collar around the feet.

The undated Gillinder & Sons catalog in The Jones Museum of Glass And Ceramics illustrates many other patterns that were obtainable in the mid-1880s. “Leaf”, often referred to as “Maple Leaf”, is depicted on two pages. The variety of shapes in the pattern include an individual leaf nappy, leaves forming the bowl of a goblet with tree branch stem, and serving pieces with leaf borders. Surprisingly, the “Leaf” pieces had the same problem feet that were utilized and then changed on the “No. 403” pattern. Both the “Leaf” with freestanding feet and the “No. 403” with collared feet appeared in the same catalog.

“Imitation Rich Cut Ware” patterns were also included in the catalog. These designs were similar to “Hob Diamond & Star” or “Daisy and Button” and “Star and Diamond”. Many of these patterns were available in colors such as vaseline, blue, and amber. The most startling revelation is that Gillinder made Amberina colored glassware. On one color page of the catalog, pieces were tinted deep red shading to amber, illustrating the No. 409 shape (a bowl) in the company’s version of a “Daisy and Button” design.

Regrettably, since the catalog is undated, a definite date can not be assigned to the Amberina pieces. Joseph Locke of the New England Glass Company patented Amberina in 1883, although the process of making bi-colored glass had been known for some time. Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. of Wheeling, West Virginia, was licensed by the New England firm to press Amberina in 1886. New England was so protective of its patent that the company had an injunction issued against the Mt. Washington Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1886 to prevent production of its version of Amberina, called “Rose Amber”. The suit was later resolved.

Just when and how many pieces of Amberina were manufactured by Gillinder will probably never become known. The question also remains of whether the Gillinder firm infringed on the New England patent or paid the required royalty fee to New England. Four examples of Amberina, which came from family collections, were included in the exhibition and were illustrated in the Jones catalog. The pieces all varied in the intensity of red in the rims. The large “Leaf” berry bowl and the “No. 406” flared bowl were the most intense with a deep fuchsia top shading to faint amber. Softer shading was found in the five-inch No. 419 (Star and Diamond) comport. The fourth piece, an individual “Leaf” nappy, appeared almost experimental with irregular purple and pink shading to light amber. It was lent to the exhibition by the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Many more pressed glass patterns were produced at Gillinder & Sons and have been written about in pressed glass publications. The company moved its entire pressing operation to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, in 1889 to capitalize on the cheap fuel, natural gas, that was abundant in the area. The factory was supposed to have been a model operation, which employed between 250 and 300 men. Several employees, such as mold foreman John Putnam, moved to the new location. Here, the factory issued its new pattern, “Westmoreland”. In 1891, the Greensburg plant joined the United States Glass Company and became “Factory G”. Between 1893 and 1894, the Gillinder firm sold out its interest in the combine and the company’s molds were later dispersed to other member factories. The most significant part of Gillinder leaving the United States Glass Company was that the firm agreed to not produce pressed tableware for twenty years.

In 1883, at the same time that Gillinder & Sons was manufacturing its well-known pressed glass, the company built and opened a window glass plant in Tacony, a suburb of Philadelphia. Production began in September of 1883 at the Franklin Window Glass Works, which advertised Franklin window, car and picture glass. Listed in the window factory’s catalog and price list of 1886 was single thick and double thick glass in all manner of sizes. Mirrored glass called German Looking-Glass Plates, French Silvered Plates, and American Looking-Glass Plates came as small as 6 by 6 inches and as large as 32 by 50 inches. Colored glass came in flashed ruby, yellow, and blue or in pot metal colors of blue, green, orange, purple, and yellow. Clear glass and the flashed colored (double layer) could be “cut and ground” in offered designs or by special order.

Three examples of Gillinder ruby flashed and cut flat glass were mounted in the exhibit. The largest was a double door-size transom cut with the name “Dr. T.C. Wheaton”. The transom, ordered in 1887, cost $3.50 and hung above Dr. Wheaton’s door in his house on High Street in Millville, New Jersey. The transom and the original bill of sale are in the collection of the Museum of American Glass. The two other attributed examples were a small transom cut with birds and flowers and an arched window with floral baskets and a swan.

The window factory was sold in 1887. James Gillinder, president of the firm, stated that the family had “invested over $150,000 in the estate and plant, but found it impossible to compete with the imported products of cheap Belgian labor, or with the Western Pennsylvania manufacturers who use natural gas and enjoy other advantages.”

The diversity of products manufactured by the firm is exemplified with the introduction of Cameo glass in 1886. Gillinder & Sons was one of the few American glass companies that tried to produce Cameo glassware. The company’s Cameo ware was favorably mentioned at least eight times in the “Crockery & Glass Journal” between December 23, 1886, and June of 1887. Resembling English commercial Cameo glass, the double layer or triple layer blown vessels were first acid etched and then detailed by hand carving. Credit has been given by the family to Robert Carnahan as being the maker of at least one of the vases. But, certainly others like Thomas Mellor may have worked on the Cameos.

Five Cameo vases were lent to the exhibition. One vase was borrowed from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and two others came from the collection of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. The first Philadelphia piece was given to the museum by the company in 1904 and the second was given by William T. Gillinder in 1910. The last two examples came from family collections.

Under agreement not to press glass for twenty years, Gillinder & Sons continued the production of lighting devices, which had always been the company’s mainstay. The firm marketed these lines as “Flint, Lime, Colored and Opalescent Glassware”. Available in 1891 were “New Bisque Vase Lamps”, with hand-painted decoration, and “Baby McKee Night Lamps”.

In 1897, the factory had two furnaces and one tank with a total of 23 pots capacity and employed a large decoration department. Blown goods, lamps, chimneys, opal glass, decorated ware, gas globes and shades were manufactured.

Opal decorated Easter eggs were introduced in 1897. The blown eggs were plain or embossed with chicks, horseshoes, crosses and Easter greetings. Usually gilt and decorated with flowers, the eggs were available in sizes ranging from ostrich to goose to hen. The eggs and Easter novelties continued to be good sellers for many years.

Not widely known is that Gillinder & Sons built a second exhibition glass factory on the grounds of the National Export Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1899. The building was 60 by 113 feet and was a fully equipped glass plant. Visitors were charged 15 cents admission to see the glassmaking demonstrations but were given a coupon for a 10-cent souvenir. In 1985, three pieces of cut glass from this exposition were donated to The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Two were unusually shaped, cut covered comports designed for the export market. The third example was an incredibly large, 17-inches in length boat-shaped bowl in a rich cut pattern resembling “Daisy and Button”.

In 1901, the company again purchased a glass factory in Tacony. The antiquated Philadelphia plant continued to operate on a reduced scale.

James Gillinder, son of the founder and president of the company, died in 1903. Three years later, Frederick, the last partner in the original Gillinder & Sons, passed away. His death notice in the “Glass and Pottery World” stated that the company “has upwards of 800 hands and enjoys a splendid reputation.” It went on to say, “the business continues in the control of the Gillinder family, whose experience and traditions all tend to spell a solid success in glass making and marketing.”

Times were difficult after the deaths of James and Frederick. James’s sons, William T. and Edwin Bennett, along with their Uncle Edgar, ran the company. Production was down and the officers took reductions in their salaries. Problems surfaced and, in 1912, William T. Gillinder left Philadelphia for Port Jervis, New York, in search of a new enterprise.

On October 10, 1912, William officially resigned from Gillinder & Sons and purchased The Orange County Hint Glass Works. Later that same year, his two brothers, Edwin Bennett and James, joined him and they founded Gillinder Brothers, Inc.

The Philadelphia company continued to operate. In 1913, the corporation decided to sell the antiquated Howard and Oxford Streets factory and consolidate the manufacturing in Tacony. A disastrous fire hit the plant in 1919, but the company was able to rebuild and continue the production of lighting devices. A more devastating fire struck the factory in 1929, which burned all the buildings except the offices. The exact closing of the business has been listed as 1930 or 1932 but, for all intents and purposes, it never reopened after the fire of 1929.

During the early years, Gillinder Brothers struggled to find its niche in the market. The brothers manufactured products they knew, which included all types of blown and pressed lighting devices. Gillinder Brothers suffered its own destructive fire on Labor Day in 1919. While the factory was being rebuilt, the brothers utilized the nearby idle Dorflinger Glass Works, in White Mills, Pennsylvania, to manufacture glass and fill their orders.

In 1924, the company incorporated and production expanded to include glass electric meter covers. Etched and cut “Colonial” style shades and hurricanes were available in a wide variety of designs. After World War II, the firm advertised “Crystal, opal, colored lighting glassware, specialties, private mold work, both blown and pressed and also Navy, Maritime and Army lighting glassware”. Manufacture of government lighting fixtures became an important part of the company’s business. Cased color vases and shades and pressed Buddhas were produced in the 1970s.

Today, Gillinder Brothers is operated by the fifth generation. The factory is one of only two glass plants in the United States utilizing pots to melt the glass. The business employs fifty workers and continues to produce industrial, commercial and military lighting in an impressive range of colors. Due to its small size, the factory can accommodate special orders, such as re-creating historic lighting fixtures in the Library of Congress. Gillinder Brothers, Inc. of Port Jervis, New York, continues to maintain the tradition of glassmaking established by William T. Gillinder of Philadelphia well over one hundred years ago.