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GLASS IN A FLASH: Short Overview of Glass in Sandwich
The Sandwich Historical Society and its Glass Museum, collects, preserves and interprets the history of the Town of Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod. A large part of Sandwich history is involved with American glass production. This short presentation is culled from the collection of glass and historic images of the Museum and Historical Society.
Settled in 1637 and Incorporated in 1639, Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod. Originally settled by the English, Sandwich became an agricultural community, the main export of which was timber sent back to England. Even during the American Revolution, it remained a primarily agrarian community, supplemented by coastal fishing. But in 1825, the landscape of Sandwich would drastically change because of Deming Jarves, a Boston businessman and former agent of the New England Glass Company of East Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Deming Jarves, the principal founder and manager of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, did not choose Sandwich as a site for the glass factory because of the beach sand that was readily available. Beach sand is too impure to make glass which requires pure quartz silica. The Company shipped in pure silica supplies first from New Jersey and New York and later from the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts.
Jarves did choose Sandwich because of its proximity to a shallow harbor and the possibility of a canal being built through Cape Cod that would allow for the shipment of goods. The local availability of timber could be used to fuel the glass furnaces. Even the salt marsh hay and grasses could be used for packing material.
Jarves brought master glassblowers with him from the New England Glass Company. He also recruited workers from England and Ireland. English and Irish glassmakers were considered the foremost craftsmen during the early 19th century. They were very skilled in making blown glassware with high lead content, the most desirable of the period.
The glass company also produced mold-blown wares. Many of these designs mimicked English and Irish cut glass patterns, but mold-blown pieces were more easily made and required less skilled labor.
In the mid-1820s, American manufacturers began to experiment with pressing glass with the use of a lever-operated machine. Sandwich was quick to utilize the pressing machine. Jarves did not invent the pressing process, but he did receive several patents for improvements in pressing techniques and mold designs. One of the first items easily and cheaply pressed was the cup plate. It was the custom in the early 19th century to drink tea from a saucer. The cup plate became the coaster for the tea cup.
The molds for pressing glass were metal, hand-carved by mold-makers. The early pressing process often created surface imperfections due to the different cooling rates of the glass and molds. Small circles or dots were added to the early pressed designs, called stipples. The dots help to refract the light through the glass and to draw the human eye away from those surface imperfections. Collectors often call this type of glassware LACY glass.
The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was very prosperous and focused on producing quality pieces of glass. The company continued to grow and expand, creating an entire community around the factory, both fueling and depending on the factory's business. The community incorporated all of the factory buildings, the workers' houses, the mercantile buildings, and other support buildings, such as the train roundhouse.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the company perfected the pressing processes further to eliminate surface imperfections. They mass-produced a stunning spectrum of colored tableware, including lamps, spoonholders, perfume bottles, candlesticks, and celery vases.
Deming Jarves was the main principal of the company until 1858, when he resigned over a dispute with its Board of Directors. The master craftsmen of the company presented Deming Jarves with a set of blown, cut and engraved glassware as a farewell gift engraved with the initial "J". A portion of this collection resides at the Museum.
After his departure from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, Jarves soon began another glass company just down the street from the old called the Cape Cod Glass Works. Jarves went into business with his son John. This glass company produced tablewares and lamps, as well as toys, dolphin candlesticks, and other novelty items. Unfortunately, John died a young man, and his father was left to run the Cape Cod Glass Works until his death in 1869.
After the Civil War, the glass industry changed in Sandwich and New England. The coal country of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia had a cheap and ready supply of fuel for the Midwestern glass furnaces (Sandwich had converted from wood to coal furnaces in 1836). These companies were able to produce cheaper pressed tableware in soda-lime glass, thereby squeezing out the New England pressed glass competition.
By 1870, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company had changed its production line to more delicate, finely blown, engraved and decorated glassware to appeal to an upscale clientele and compete against the Midwestern factories. At its height, the factory employed hundreds of men, women and children in the various processes of glass making and decoration. The community around the factory continued to thrive, as seen in a photo of the 1876 Centennial celebration, where the glassblowers threw tricolor glass bracelets to the crowds.
The change in production included a variety of blown, pressed, cut, engraved and decorated wares, some of which were featured in the company’s catalog of the 1870s. Nicholas Lutz, originally from France, came to the company in the 1870s and brought new styles to production including threaded ware and paperweights.
In the early 1880s, there was another short-lived glass company known as the Vasa Murrhina Glass Company that took up residence in the former Cape Cod Glass Works that Deming Jarves had opened. Unfortunately, the mica in the glass formula proved to make the glass unstable and unsaleable.
The final years of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company saw a number of economic and labor problems, but the superintendent, Henry Francis Spurr, was committed to the factory and its workers, and tried to keep the factory afloat. However in 1887, the glass workers union called for a national strike. In sympathy, the Sandwich workers also went on strike. This event ultimately forced the company to put out the furnaces in 1888. The closure of the company caused a severe economic depression, forcing people to leave Sandwich or turn to other professions or jobs.
Soon after the closure of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, many other New England companies were closed from Maine to Connecticut.
In1888, several remaining glass workers created a new glass company and attempted to restart the glass industry in Sandwich. The Sandwich Co-operative Glass Company, 1888-1891, produced simple items as this spatter bell and oil lamp.
Other attempts were made to re-establish glassmaking in the old factory buildings. Two incarnations also called themselves the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, and the last one produced a souvenir light bulb among their wares in 1904.
The last glass company to occupy the old factory buildings was the Alton Mfg. Co. in 1907. They produced an art glass called Trevaise, which was created by a former Sandwich and Tiffany & Company glassblower. But this venture too was short-lived because of the owner, Cardenio King, absconded with the funds from the first season of production.
In the 1890s, former glass cutters Nehemiah Packwood and John Vodon each set-up their own cutting shops in East Sandwich and produced intricate rich cut glass designs on imported lead blanks.
By the 1920s, the entire glass industry in Sandwich had come to a complete halt. The factory buildings were slowly torn down and dismantled. By 1944, there was barely a trace of a factory building near the marsh. A marker at the location of the factory is all that remains of this enterprise.
But the mantle of Sandwich's glass industry was absorbed by The Sandwich Historical Society. Founded in 1907, The Sandwich Historical Society had its first glass exhibit in 1925 commemorating a century of Sandwich glass. They produced many other exhibitions and came to focus primarily on interpreting the glass industry of the town in its Sandwich Glass Museum, yet still collecting the historical material of Sandwich's past.
However, plenty of traces of the glass company did remain - in the form of glass fragments. Serious glass collectors, tourists and artisans sought these small treasures in the marshes and on the beaches. Hazel Blake French and Nina Sutton were jewelry designers who polished the glass fragments to look like jewels and designed settings for them.
The Sandwich Glass Museum has "Relit the Fires in Sandwich" with a glass furnace and new exhibits to better tell the story of the glass industry in Sandwich. While we will not be able to completely recreate that booming, smoking glass factory, our visitors are able to feel the heat from the glory hole on their faces. They can watch the glassblower turn and twist the hot glass into wonderful forms, and visions of those former days will not be so difficult to understand or imagine.