Vintage Libbey Glass



2015-06-26 10:37:47

Vintage Libbey glass is decorative glassware made by one of America’s largest glass manufacturers, the Libbey Glass Company.


The Libbey Glass Company was founded in 1818 in East Cambridge, MA., as the New England Glass Company.

It was bought in 1878 by William L Libbey, who promptly re-branded it the New England Glass Works, Wm. L. Libbey & Sons Props.

In 1888, the New England Glass Works, Wm. L. Libbey & Sons Props., relocated manufacture to Toledo Ohio as Ohio is located above large deposits of natural gas as well as being an area rich in good quality sand – crucial elements in glass making.

Logistically, Ohio also boasted better than average road, rail and steamship links.

The company was renamed The Libbey Glass Company in 1892.

Joseph Locke, an English designer, joined the company in 1882. He patented several unique types of glass including Amberina, Peach Blow, Maize and Pomona. These were handmade and incorporated expensive materials. The Amberina glass with its amber to red colour came from gold. Brilliant Cut glass (of which Libbey became the leading producer) used agreat deal of lead, some experts claiming up to 60 percent.

The Libbey Glass Company became most well known for its cut glass, but also produced window glass, containers, household items and bottles. Michael Owens, an inventor, joined the company in 1916. He created a machine that could automatically produce bottles, tumblers and glass chimneys. This resulted in much higher profitability since personnel and manufacturing costs could be cut, while product could be turned out in greater quantities. Libbey is credited with the world's first machine-made stemware and heat-treated process for glassware used commercially in hotels and restaurants.

As the automobile was becoming popular in the early twentieth century, Libbey Glass began to mass produce windshields. Toledo soon became known as the "the glass capital of the world". Libbey soon expanded to have plants in the Netherlands, California and Louisiana.

In the 1920s, Brilliant Cut glass popularity was low due to shortages caused by WWI. Libbey began to focus on less labor intensive products such as, "Safedge Glassware", which was mass produced to restaurants and hotels. In 1935, Libbey Glass became part of Owens-Illinois, one of the largest glass manufactures in the world. Libbey continued to expand and develop products with the help of Owens-Illinois research and development. In 1993, Libbey Glass became a public company.

In recent years, Libbey Glass has acquired multiple companies that produce tabletop products, food-service utensils and consumer products. Companies such as Crisal, Royal Leerdam, Crisa and Traex, are now part of the Libbey portfolio. The company now manufactures home décor, bakeware, serveware, pantryware and beverageware.

Collecting information

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Libbey was awarded a gold medal for its cut glass excellence.

Two other expositions in San Francisco and Atlanta also honored Libbey for its glass.

At the close of the 19th century and during the first years of the 20th, the Libbey Glass Company had become the largest cut glass factory in the United States.

In 1896, a new trademark was established. The Libbey name was in script, the "L" and the "y" not connected, with a sword under the whole name. The sword was symbolic of the famous steel swords of Toledo, Spain; Toledo’s European sister city. This signature was used from 1896 through 1906. During this period, Libbey introduced numerous patterns and styles of handware. Many of these are shown in the 1896 - 1906reprint of Libbey’s 1896 catalogue. Some of the most common patterns are: 1896-1906: Brilliant, Colonna (Photo 2), Corinthian, Gem, Harvard, Imperial, Kimberly, Princess.

Libbey’s exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 was exclusively cut and engraved glass. The Company also won another gold medal at this fair for its cut glass. The centre of the exhibit was "the largest piece of cut glass in the world" – a 25 inch cut glass punch bowl, which is now on exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. Also from the St. Louis Fair, the Museum has on exhibit a 32-inch tall three piece cut glass table in the Neola pattern with a top diameter of 28 inches.

In 1906, the sword was eliminated from the signature and the Libbey name in script retained, usually with the "L" and "y" connected. From 1906 through World War I some of the favourite patterns were continued, but many new ones were added to Libbey’s line of products. Some of the most common patterns are: 1906 ca. 1913: Diana, New Brilliant, Cut Flute, Kingston, Gem, Empress, Somerset, Verna.

The popularity of the deep cut glassware continued throughout the “Brilliant Period”. The Brilliant period of American Cut Glass is that period between 1876 and 1915, 2 but a wide market for glass of this type continued until about 1925. The characteristics of the Brilliant Period cut glass are heavy lead glass with deep mitre cuts resulting in patterns of hobstars, fans, and other geometric designs. During the latter days of the Brilliant Period, 3 lightware and “rock crystal” came into circulation. In contrast to the heavyware of the Brilliant Period, the lightware was of thinner glass and the decorative patterns were not only straight-line cuttings but also cuts which were circular and sometimes combined with the straight-line cuts. Also, while all Brilliant Period heavy pieces were almost polished cuttings, the lightware pieces had unpolished gray cuttings combined with polished cuttings. The duration of Libbey’s lightware was brief, lasting only a few years. The rarity of the Libbey lightware made through the teens make these pieces collectibles that are classified separate and distinctive from the heavyware of the American Brilliant Period cut glass.

A new signature with a thin stylized Libbey, the "L" and "y" connected within a circle, appeared during the teens. Some authorities differ on the actual start of this trademark and signature. In the late 1930’s some of the signatures had a double rim. This signature continued until after World War II, or the late forties. Some of the favorite patterns were: 1919-1945: Anita Brilliant,Cherry, Blossom, Gem, Gloria, Mignon, Regis, Wisteria.

Douglas Nash came to Libbey and created a new line of glass in 1933 drawing upon his experience from Tiffany. The new series specialized in tableware and produced formal stemware and matched centrepieces of candlesticks, bowls, and vases. Eighty-two different patterns were in the Libbey- Nash series with over half of the pages in the 1933 catalogue illustrating the stemware.

The introduction of the Libbey-Nash line of glassware could not have been more poorly timed with the country experiencing a depression. The Libbey Glass Company was acquired by Owen-Illinois with the acquisition being completed by the end of 1935. The Nash line was produced no more than a year or two by Libbey. In view of the short production time, it is easy to understand why this glassware is so highly prized by today’s collectors.

Reportedly the last etched signature of Libbey ware was the 1958 stemware patterns known as the “1818” line. This signature was the Libbey name in Script with a sword below and above the name. A black sticker with the same signature is normally found on these wares and others in the late fifties. The “1818” line was a machine made line similar to that of the Waterford line of handware of the Modern American Series. The “1818” line came in four cut patterns, each with the names symbolic of Colonial America: Jamestown, Raleigh, Williamsburg, Yorktown.

During the early years of machine produced stemware, the ware did not carry a molded “L“ in a circle like the tumblers of the extra cost of manufacture. Machine produced stemware made today do carry this mark due to a change in production techniques.

The black sticker is significant as it depicts the death or the end of cut glass at Libbey.

The last 30 years Libbey has concentrated on high volume machine ware and still is regarded as a great name in glassware. Since Libbey no longer produces handware or does cutting and engraving, this creates an opportunity for the collector of American glass to form a collection of Libbey glass by periods: 1) Cut Glass (Brilliant), 2) Lightware - Rock Crystal, 3) Amberina - colored glass, 4) Libbey-Nash, 5) Modern American, 6) Machine made-cut, and 7) Miscellaneous paperweights, whimsies, etc., made by the workers and not sold commercially. By far the longest and the best known period of time would be the Cut Glass – Brilliant Period, 1888 - 1925. Some of its patterns were produced only for a few years while others were produced over many years. While some of the common and favorite patterns are easy to find, there are others that are difficult to find because they were made for a very short time.

Glassware produced in the other time periods, in many cases, are more scarce than some of the more common cut glass pieces from the Brilliant Period. Most of the handware made from 1892 through the 1940’s was signed with the signature (trademark) from that period of time. It is recommended that the collector study existing known original signed pieces to get familiar with the style and appearance of the Libbey signature along with patterns and shapes produced. With wear and location of signatures, sometimes a collector might have a piece in his collection for years before the signature is apparent. Today’s trends in pricing shows that signed pieces command a 20 to 30 percent price premium over the same piece not signed. This would explain why there are forged signatures on the market today and why it is very important to study what you collect.

Price guide

A Libbey "Empress" brilliant cut glass flower centre brought $325 to Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in January 2013.

An "Amberina" Libbey compote brought $250 to Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in January 2013.

Two Libbey Nash "Morning Frost" tumblers brought $120 to Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in January 2013.

A Libbey cologne bottle and a Pitkin & Brooks cut glass box brought $200 to A-1 Auctions in January 2013.

A Libbey Harvard pattern, cranberry cut jug brought $1,200 to Woody Auction LLC in December 2012.

A Libbey brilliant cut Easter basket brought $1,000 to Woody Auction LLC in December 2012.

A pair of brilliant cut Libbey Champagne glasses brought $150 to Woody Auction LLC in December 2012.

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