Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Made in New York: Redford Glass

In honor of New York State History Month, all through November we’ll be featuring items in the Alice’s collection that were made in the state. In our history month posts last year, we saw how the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 cemented New York’s position as the hub of  American commerce. Agricultural products and manufactured goods traveled through New York State to all parts of the country, and many of them got their start right here.

We’ll begin with a product familiar to many people in this region: Redford Glass. Although the Redford Crown Glass Company was in business for a relatively short period of time (between 1831 and 1851) and only about 250 pieces made there have been definitively identified, it played a very important role in the development of the American glass industry and the economy of northern New York.

Two Redford Glass jugs
Glassmaking was one of the first industries in the United States to mass-produce goods in a factory setting. Between 1810 and 1840, about 120 glasshouses were established in the U.S., with ten of those in New York State. The Redford Glass Company was founded by two businessmen from Troy, Gershon Cook and Charles W. Corning, who had the backing of the Champlain Glass Company of Burlington. They chose a site on the Saranac River for their new glassworks, which was known to be a source of high-quality sandstone (one of the ingredients used to make glass) and was connected to Plattsburgh by a new road.

Construction of the glassworks began in March 1831, and the first glass was produced in October 1831. Redford’s main product was window glass—the factory produced about 10,000 boxes of window glass annually during the 1830s, and it was used all over the country, including many of the public buildings in Washington, D.C. According to an article in the Plattsburgh Republican, Redford Glass was “capable of standing every variety of climate” and was “distinguished from the ordinary crown glass by its uncommon clearness and beauty of surface, its superior transparency and lightness of color, and by its great thickness and general excellence of the materials which compose it.”

Redford Glass pitcher with lily-pad decoration
Today, however, Redford Glass is primarily known for its table and decorative ware—bowls, pitchers, jugs, jars, candlesticks, bottles, and the like. There is still some debate over the origin of these pieces and whether they were so-called “offhand” items, made by workers from leftover window glass in their spare time, or whether they were manufactured for sale. Workers later recalled that “pitchers, lamps, and other articles” were sold at the company’s offices, so it seems likely that at least some pieces were made especially for sale to the public.

Redford Glass pieces employed two distinctive forms of ornamentation. One type was known as “threading,” and was created by winding thin strands of glass around the object, usually to decorate the neck or rim of a drinking vessel. The other was called the “lily-pad” and was made with a droplet of molten glass that was pulled across the surface of the object.


Scrip issued by Redford Glass Co. for use at company store
Even though it made a high-quality product, the Redford Glass Company struggled financially. It shut down in 1843, opened again in 1846, and finally closed permanently in 1851. Redford found itself unable to compete with glass companies in Pennsylvania, which had access to coal—a much more economical fuel than the wood found in the Redford region. Redford was also too geographically isolated and lacked access to inexpensive means of transportation. But during the short life of the company, Redford was a thriving town with three stores, two taverns, a church, a public library, and a volunteer fire department.

Today, Redford glass stands as a memento of northern New York’s early industrial history, and pieces of Redford glass are treasured items in private and public collections, including the Clinton County Historical Association and the Plattsburgh State Art Museum.

The information in this post is taken from Reflections: The Story of Redford Glass, the catalog of an exhibition held at the Clinton County Historical Association in 1979, which is available to purchase from CCHA.

No comments:

Post a Comment