Archive for July, 2008

It has to look like GLASS to be good

July 25, 2008

I walked through a craft store recently, and noticed how few things that looked like glass really were glass. They had plastic tumblers in a design made classic by the glass manufacturers who developed it. They had plastic picture frames and business card holders with “Glasstique” in the brand name. Things made of glass are beautiful, they are valued, but these days many things that look like glass are not glass. In the entire store I found two glass items that were really made of glass — glass beads for decoration and glass buttons made by glass artists.

When I meet people for the first time and they hear that I do something that is about glass, they always have wonderful glass-related stories to tell. They talk about a glass dish that their grandmother had, or beautiful goblets they used in a restaurant. Many have seen some of the documentaries shown on television about how glass is made and artistic glass. Glass is a material that we see as beautiful.

When Arizona tea first introduced tea in blue, green and white bottles, I saw the empty bottles used in so many offices as vases, pencil holders and decorative items. Today many of these bottles use decorative appliques to get the effect of colored glass with clear glass.

I am told that beer packaged in non-glass containers tastes differently than the same beer in glass bottles. There are bottle plants owned by beer manufacturers and wine makers now, a testament to the value of glass as a packaging material. Fruit sold in glass jars and tomato sauces of many flavors in glass jars have a higher perceived value than the same products in non-glass containers.

A friend recently brought me a Bawls Guarana bottle, which has a pattern of “bumps” on the bottle (the company says the bumps keep the bottle from slipping out of your hand). The Bawls bottles are blue, brown and white. Once again an innovative company has found a way to make a special impression with glass containers!

Glass Industry News of Downs and a Possible Up

July 11, 2008

Last October General Electric announced its intention to restructure its lighting division, expecting to close plants, mainly incandescent bulb plants, in the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.  On July 10 GE announced it was considering spinning off the entire Consumer & Industrial business, which includes GE Lighting, as a new company in 2009.

The June, 2008 issue of the American Ceramic Society Bulletin noted that the Asahi Glass Company has announced that it will cease operations at three float glass lines and two architectural coating lines in North America by December, 2008, and has sold its glass fabrication lines. Asahi says that there is an oversupply situation in the market for clear float glass, with little difference in the product available from any manufacturer. They will be concentrating resources on glass for solar cells, glass for automotive uses and value-added building products.

In March the Associated Press news service reported that Corning Inc. planned to sell or shut down Steuben Glass, stating that Steuben has lost money for the last 10 years. Closing Steuben would mean the loss of another of the “hand glass” businesses that used to produce most of the household and decorative glass used in the U.S.

A bit of good news for glass manufacturing: The June issue of the American Ceramic Society Bulletin notes that Pilkington North America, owned by Nippon Sheet Glass, is considering upgrading its Lathrop, Calif. float glass plant with a new energy-efficient furnace and equipment and improved pollution controls. Building a new furnace in California, which has some of the strongest air pollution control standards in the U.S., would be quite an achievement after many years of refurbishing and repairing glass furnaces so as not to trigger U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The possibility of building one more new glass furnace in the U.S. is a small hopeful sign in the current glass manufacturing universe.

Museums Keep the Memories of U.S. Glass Companies

July 4, 2008

A few weeks ago we learned that the West Virginia Museum of American Glass was moving into a new home in Weston, W.Va. Weston was the home of West Virginia Specialty Glass and Louie Glass (which made Princess House) when I visited on a glass plant trip in the 1980s. Both of these plants are now closed. The Museum has an interesting glass collection, and has held Glass History conferences in the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia area for more than ten years.

Many of the “hand” plants that made ashtrays, dishes, platters and many other kinds of decorative glass flourished in the Ohio River Valley area before economic conditions hit the industry.

Those who like to remember the history of glass in the United States have many places to go to see the things that were made in the era of skilled glassblowers and decorators.

The Wheaton Museum of American Glass has a glass shop where I made my first (and last) piece of hot glass many years ago on another glass plant trip. I will never forget how heavy the blowpipe was!

Glass museums in the eastern half of the United States tend to focus on the products of the commercial glass operations that used to be in each area. The Heinz Center has a complete set of our Glass Factory Directories through 1990, and a great collection of Pittsburgh glass. The Corning Museum of Glass has an extensive collection of American glass from American factories and glass made by glass artists.

If you live in the eastern half of the United States, there is likely a glass museum not far from you, an interesting place to visit whether you collect glass or just admire it.

Let me know what glass museums you have visited!