Rosenberg Library proudly announces the opening of its newest exhibit Made in America: The Early American Pressed Glass Collection of Mary Moody Hutchings. This special exhibition features a collection of 19th century glassware which was a gift of the Hutchings family to Rosenberg Library’s permanent museum collection.
What is Early American Pressed Glass?
Early American pressed glass — which is also referred to as pattern glass — was produced in the United States between the early 19th and early 20th centuries. It was made by pouring molten glass into brass or iron molds which featured decorative patterns. Pressed glass was attractive to buyers for both its affordability as well as for its durability in everyday use.
Although American glassmakers were making use of molds by the early 1820s, Boston businessman Deming Jarves is credited with perfecting the plunger-type glass pressing machine for which he obtained a patent in 1828. Jarves was the founder of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He revolutionized American glassmaking by developing a method of shaping and decorating glass objects in a single process rather than using the more laborious hand-blown method. This highly efficient and less expensive technique opened the doors for mass production of affordable glassware.
Glassware was an important part of the American table setting, especially when entertaining guests. Pressed glass manufacturers created a wide variety of patterns to appeal to their customer base, and each of these designs was given a unique name.
The earliest type of American pressed glass is called “lacy glass.” Often quite ornate, lacy patterns included small dots in the mold combined with geometric shapes, garlands, and fancy scrollwork. The elaborate decoration served two purposes. First, it made the objects interesting and attractive to look at. Second, the stippling from the dots disguised manufacturing flaws such as bubbles, grit, and discolorations.
The most common forms of pressed glass during this period were door and furniture knobs, plates, and salt cellars. Later, larger items such as creamers and bowls were manufactured. Sizeable volumes of these individual wares were produced, but full sets of pressed glass tableware were a rarity.
Emerald green pitcher and tumbler set featured in Rosenberg Library's pressed glass exhibit.
Between the 1840s and 1860s, the pressing machines and the techniques employed by glass artisans improved greatly. Patterns became more elegant as the quality of the glass rose. Full sets of matching tableware became readily available, and some companies began to add color to their glass. Popular hues included amethyst, blue, yellow, and red.
The type of glass used prior to the American Civil War was known as “flint glass” which is also referred to as “crystal.” It is a heavy, durable type of glass which contains both calcined flint and lead oxide. Flint glass (or crystal) is prized for its clarity and brilliance.
The Evolution of Pressed Glass
The height of Early American pressed glass production came after the Civil War and lasted through the beginning of the 20th century. Lead was removed from the original molten glass formula and was replaced with soda or lime, which was less expensive and more plentiful. The lowered costs of production were passed along to consumers, making pressed glass an affordable option to many Americans. New patterns were unveiled each year.
The United States fell into a deep recession during the last decade of the 19th century. The supply of pressed glass produced by factories outweighed the demand for it, and many manufacturers declared bankruptcy and closed. A number of firms merged together to form the U.S. Glass Company which continued to produce patterns that mimicked more expensive cut glass. New colors, including emerald green, were introduced, and some pieces had amber or gold accents added after the glass had solidified.
During the 1920s, the popularity of pressed glass declined as the demand for imported European crystal grew. However, during the Great Depression when household budgets were limited, pressed glass once again became the standard for affordable glassware. Referred to as “Depression glass,” these wares were produced through the same methods using cast-iron molds. However, new patterns and colors were introduced during this era.
Pressed glass and Depression glass remain popular with today’s collectors of American antiques. In addition to its beauty, pressed glass remains a durable and functional form for everyday use, even in modern households. Commonly found pieces may be quite reasonably priced, while extremely rare examples can sell for thousands of dollars.
About Mary Moody Hutchings (1870 - 1943)
Portrait of Mary Moody
Hutchings (1870 - 1943).
Born in Galveston in 1870, Mary Emily (Moody) Hutchings was the fifth child of William Lewis Moody and Pherabe Elizabeth (Bradley) Moody. Her father, W.L. Moody, was a native of Virginia who became one of the most successful financiers in Texas during the second half of the 20th century.
In November of 1891, Mary Emily Moody married Sealy Hutchings. Hutchings was the son of Minnie Knox Hutchings and John Henry Hutchings, a prominent banker on the island. The couple and their seven children resided in a beautiful Queen Anne-style residence on Avenue O designed by Galveston architect George B. Stowe.
In 1968, the heirs of Mary and Sealy Hutchings donated $40,000 to the Rosenberg Library Association Building Fund to establish a memorial gallery in honor of their deceased parents. The family also donated a large collection of art and historical objects, including the collection of pressed glass currently on exhibit at the library.
Rosenberg Library’s 4th floor which is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission to the museum galleries is always free.
When the library opened in 1904, it included a lecture auditorium on the third floor. An excerpt from the book Henry Rosenberg, 1824 - 1893: to Commemorate the Gifts of Henry Rosenberg to Galveston describes the intent and usage of the auditorium.
"It is intended that [...] free lectures shall embrace a wide range of subjects of general interest, and be of such a high order of merit as to attract and interest the thoughtful and the studious. Our lectures are intended to be instructive, real food for the intellectual life, and are not to be regarded as entertainments; yet they are intended to be interesting and popular in the best sense. It is regarded as of special importance that a lecturer should first of all have something to say that is worth while, and also important that he should, in addition, know how to say it in an interesting and reasonably acceptable manner.
"The lectures (now some twenty-five or thirty a year) are given during the winter season, in the library lecture hall, seating seven hundred people, generally in the evening at eight o'clock. Some of the afternoon lectures have been given for children. That these lectures are highly valued is abundantly shown by the well-sustained interest and large attendance during all these fourteen years. […]The Library has had during the fourteen years about 125 different lecturers, and about 310 lectures have been given, with a total attendance of over 145,000, averaging more than 450 at each lecture."
In 1952, the third floor was remodeled by Raymond Rapp, Jr, and according to the Galveston Daily News of September 11, 1968, the auditorium was removed to provide "space for use of audio-visual materials and archival materials." In 1967, the Fox Rare Book Room and the Marion Lee "Sandy" Kempner Memorial Room were installed. Lectures and events were moved to the newly built Moody Wing which opened in 1971 on the lower floor in what was named the Wortham Auditorium until Hurricane Ike flooded the entire first floor of the library in September 2008.
After the hurricane, the area that was once occupied by the original auditorium, reduced by the area of the Fox and Morgan rooms and "Sandy's Room," was transformed by Rosenberg Library Museum's Collections Manager at the time, Nikkie Ferre, into another beautiful gallery, with special lighting to enhance the space.
Exhibits are rotated on a periodic basis.
Lalique Glass Collection in the Hallway Gallery