1996 Flights of Fancy: The Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company

The Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company was organized by Martin Bach, Sr., and Thomas Johnson in February 1901. Bach, a French immigrant, had been a formula mixer for Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Corona, New York, glass factory. Johnson, a skilled glassblower, had also been employed by Tiffany. The separate departures of the two men from Tiffany were due to their individual difficulties with the management. It took the knowledge and expertise of both men to form their new glass factory, located on Fresh Pond Road and Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

The name “Quezal” was registered as a trademark on October 28, 1902. Quezal is actually an alternate spelling for the name of the Guatemalan sun bird, the quetzal. The quetzal bird has plumage of brilliant metallic green, with a crimson breast and a crown of iridescent yellow and green. The legendary bird, whose feathers had once decorated the ceremonial robes of the Aztecs, was illustrated on Quezal’s letterhead as the company trademark and utilized in advertising, which stated, “all our product is reproduced in the beautiful colorings of the Quezal Bird.”

At the present time, knowledge of the operation and amount of production at Quezal is very limited. Surprisingly few catalog pages, illustrations, correspondence or photographs exist for a factory that operated for over twenty years. Of the known ephemera, most relates to the company’s later years.

What is acknowledged is the similarity in form, color and iridescence of Quezal’s early production to Tiffany’s glassware. The resemblance was so much the same, it was said to have angered Tiffany. The likeness is understandable, considering the backgrounds of Bach and Johnson. Other gaffers, such as Maurice Kelley, also worked at both firms. The Quezal factory was Tiffany’s first real competition in the United States in the artistic blown glass field. It would be two more years before the other major competitor, Frederick Carder, would open the Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York.

Quezal production never exhibited the freedom and naturalistic style of Tiffany’s blown glassware. Although brilliant in color and vibrant with iridescence, Quezal shapes demonstrate restraint and symmetry. Pieces, totally covered with intricate colorful applied decoration, display control and balance. Shimmering iridescence in rainbow hues became a hallmark of Quezal.

Tracing the chronology of Quezal production is problematic. Without records, collectors and authors have had to make educated guesses relying heavily on style changes and signatures. Fortunately, the meticulous records of the silver company, the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island, illustrate some of the first production of Quezal. As early as 1902, Gorham was purchasing Quezal gold lustre glassware to be used as blanks for its sophisticated silver overlay decoration. Gorham’s glass ledger lists thirty-one entries of Quezal glass from August 1902 to March 1903. At least twelve pieces were photographed, five of which are included in the exhibition. Gorham’s formal floral silver designs were repeated symmetrically around the body of the piece, contrasting with the intense sheen of the single layer, gold iridescent glass. Another silver firm, the Alvin Manufacturing Company of Irvington, New Jersey, and later Sag Harbor, New York, also utilized Quezal glass. In comparison to Gorham, many of the signed Alvin silver overlay pieces were created on multicolored decorated Quezal glass. Where Gorham’s type of restrained overlay epitomizes formality, Alvin’s sinuous curvilinear floral designs exemplify the art nouveau style that was popular at the time.

Accepted identification of other early production relates directly to the Quezal engraved signatures on the bottom of different pieces. The first presumed mark is a button-like wafer of glass applied to the pontil mark. The button was engraved with the word “Quezal” alone, “Quezal N.Y,” or “Quezal” and a number with the prefix of “A” in combination with a decorative scroll. The four rare red or red-brown pieces, the opal decorated stick vase, and the Alvin silver overlay, green decorated vase all bear this early signature.

At this time, no clear understanding can be gleaned from charting the other Quezal marks. Again, the current acceptance is that an engraved “Quezal” with a decorative scroll beneath the name, with or without a number, is an item of the highest quality. The name “Quezal” was also engraved alone or found with numbers with and without letter prefixes. The prefix letters range from “A” to “V” with no apparent logical basis. The same size and decorated small compote which was produced in great quantity can be signed with different numbers and letters.

Additional pieces have no signature while other Quezal marks appear dark or gold and are engraved on ground bases of pieces and on fitter rims of shades. A silver Quezal signature, similar in color to the Durand Art Glass signature, is credited to very late production. A green paper label in the shape of a clover with the words “Quezal Quality Products, Brooklyn, N.Y, Hand Made” is also related to later production. At least three other paper labels have been found belonging to companies that sold the glass. They include A.A. Webster & Co., Brooklyn, A. Stowell & Co., Inc., Boston, and Bailey, Banks and Biddle of Philadelphia.

In 1905, Thomas Johnson left Quezal and went to work for the Union Glass Company in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he influenced that company’s art glass production. Martin Bach, Sr., then became sole owner of the factory. During the next fifteen years, the company continued producing decorative vases and other ware, utilizing two furnaces with eighteen pots. Only one known picture, which is undated, exists illustrating the variety of Quezal production. A major portion of the factory’s business was lighting glassware — lamp bases, shades and chandeliers. Existing company shade catalog pages show many of the shades with style numbers ranging from 1 to 500. Smaller shades were numbered in the one hundreds while the larger, more impressive shades were identified from 200 to 500. No descriptive decoration terms were on these catalog pages but one hand-written number and decoration listing does exist. It is here where pattern names and colors can finally be attributed. “Leaf” is actually the correct company name for Quezal’s feather-like decoration. Other pattern names such as “Coil,” “Reeded,” “Spider,” “Band,” “Frill,” “Block-A-Dot,” “Demigee,” “Ribbed” and “Hearts” can be confirmed. “Lustre” was the company’s trade name for its transparent iridescent ware. Color designations were gold, white, green, blue, red, and opal.

Three line drawing notebooks from the Bach papers, which were donated in 1994 to the Museum of American Glass, also include descriptive terminology “Double Decoration,” “Flowers,” “Clovers,” “Holly” and “Crimped” are proper names to identify pattern motifs. “Lily” was written in one notebook as the Quezal name for a jack-in-the-pulpit shaped vase. What had been previously called “Vines” was referred to as “Spider In,” or “Threads in Glass.” “Innovation,” usually called “Agate” by collectors today, was introduced in 1917 and marketed as having the appearance of art pottery.

Bach had two daughters and a son, Martin Bach, Jr. The daughters’ husbands joined the business as did Bach, Jr., when he was old enough. The 1919 American Glass Trade Directory lists one son-in-law, Conrad Valsing, as vice president of the company and Bach, Jr., as secretary and general manager. In 1920, Bach, Sr., and his sons-in-law had a falling out. The two younger men both left, taking at least one other gaffer with them, to form the Lustre Art Glass Company in Maspeth, Long Island, which became a direct competitor in the art glass shade market. Quezal’s management was reorganized with an A. Whitmer and R. Robinson as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

The rivalry between Lustre Art Glass and Quezal hurt the already financially struggling Bach firm. Valsing and his partners were skilled glassblowers who took their expertise with them, directly affecting Quezal production. Also, tastes were beginning to change in the 1920s with the desire for everything modern. A uniformity of shape and decoration began to emerge at Quezal. Just how much these devastating changes affected Martin Bach, Sr., will never be known. He died on August 1, 1921, at the age of 59, after a lengthy illness.

Martin Bach, Jr., tried to run the floundering company but, without his father’s direction, he had to accept the financial help of a family friend, Dr. John Ferguson. Ferguson brought in other backers with no glass background and eventually took control of the business in 1924. Bach, Jr., was relegated to general manager. Unhappy with the turn of events, he left Brooklyn and took his family to Toledo, Ohio, where he got a job with DeVilbiss, the perfume atomizer firm.

It was during this difficult time that the glassblower, Emil Larson, joined the company, which was renamed the Quezal Glass Manufacturing Company. The one known existing company catalog, dating to 1924, illustrates very different designs from the earlier production. Unimaginative, simple shapes with a limited array of colors and decorations were marketed.

Emil Larson corresponded with Bach, Jr., in Toledo about organizing their own company. One letter dating August 29, 1924, describes the mood at Quezal. Larson states: “[T]hey had a meeting Monday night and wanted dark to put in more money but he wouldn’t do it.” After promising not to reveal Bach’s whereabouts, Larson goes on to say, “I am pretty sure the Quezal will close down and what can you expect when they have a bricklayer for a manager.” Larson soon left Quezal. Later, in November of that year, he joined Bach in Vineland, New Jersey, and helped organize the Durand Art Glass division of the Vineland Flint Glass Works.

The Quezal Glass Manufacturing Company continued but virtually eliminated all art glass production, producing instead glass headlights and other industrial ware. The exact date of the demise of the business is yet unknown but, for all intents and purposes, art glass production ceased in 1924. The unhappy ending of the Bach association with Quezal devastated the remaining family descendants. But, the Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company’s legacy of refined, elaborately decorated glass with shimmering iridescence remains alive and admired today.