Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Coventry Dewitt Clinton Flasks

Detail of the GI-80 Coventry Dewitt Clinton pint flask.
Dewitt Clinton (1769-1828) was the sixth governor of New York, among numerous other elected posts, probably most famous for pushing through the construction of the Erie Canal, one of the first great public works projects in the young United States. Today seems an appropriate day to write about the three historical flasks (and one variant) made to commemorate Clinton's achievements, around the year 1824.

View into the town of Coventry, Connecticut, from the east. The Coventry Glass Works were in the valley to the left of the tower on the horizon.
Aside from his advocacy of "Clinton's Ditch," as the canal was known to the haters, Clinton worked to expand public education, improve sanitation in New York City and create programs for the poor. There was opposition to all of these measures; we tend to think that the dichotomy between those who want a minimalist government that protects private property rights and little else, and those who think that government should "promote the general welfare" with education, transportation infrastructure and social welfare programs, is a modern phenomenon, but it has been a point of contention since the dawn of the republic.There are definite echoes of 200 year old political controversies in modern America, and indeed in the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign.

Coventry Glass Works "LA FAYETTE / DE WITT CLINTON" flasks: half-pint GI-81, pint GI-80, half-pint GI-82.
None of the Dewitt Clinton flasks are exactly common, but the GI-80 pint is probably the most frequently encountered; I have even seen quite a nice example crop up in an area estate sale. Both GI-80 and the half pint GI-81 are considered "scarce" by McKearin and Wilson (American Bottles and Flasks), meaning about 35 to 75 specimens in existence, with 80 probably being at or above the high end of that range, and 81 being less common. A variant, GI-81a, exists, with two ribs around the base of the flask rather than three, but is very rare (10-20 examples). GI-82 is also very similar to 81, but without the "S & C" embossing. It is considered to be rare, with about 20-35 extant examples. The example here has a very soft impression, and some sloppy wings of glass that oozed out along the mold seam at the neck; these sorts of manufacturing irregularities seem to be pretty frequent with this mold.

The three main Dewitt Clinton flasks; GI-81a variant not pictured.

Lafayette side of GI-81, GI-80 and GI-82
Presumed 20th Century decorative flask, similar to GI-81. Collection of the New York Historical Society.
This cobalt blue Lafayette / Dewitt Clinton flask is certainly a reproduction, less than a hundred years old, though I haven't learned anything definite about its manufacture. Coventry is not known to have made blue glass, though it's not impossible that they could have experimented with artificial colors. The neck and mouth are probably too straight up and down and perfectly sheared to be an 1820s flask, and the lettering is cruder and more rounded than in the real thing, not to mention being sans serif, which is wrong.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Unique Bottle from Coventry

The Connecticut Historical Society has a collection of interesting bottles, glassware and related artifacts from the state's eighteenth and nineteenth century glass works, and one of the most important glass objects in their archive is a heavy, clear olive-green freeblown bottle thought to have been made at the Coventry Glass Works. This "pinch bottle" is roughly square in cross section, pinched to fuse opposite walls of the bottle together and create wavy internal tubes at each corner, between upper and lower chambers, and two more tubes in the wall at the center of the bottle. The center tubes are narrow, and one of them looks like it might not be open all the way through. This style of bottle is known from European glass houses, but as an American and Connecticut product, this specimen is probably unique.

The Coventry pinch bottle is illustrated in American Glass (George and Helen McKearin, 1948) and in American Bottles & Flasks and Their Ancestry (Helen McKearin and Kenneth Wilson, 1978). McKearin and Wilson report that bottle was recovered in the Coventry area around the time of World War I, and that it matches the description of a Coventry bottle said by Edwin Atlee Barber to have been owned by Nathaniel Root, son of the first agent of the Coventry Glass Works.

An old collector's label has the inscrutable legend: B3 ARR #7 R.11.BB. I wonder if anyone still knows what any of that means?

The lip is also peculiar for an early American bottle: sheared and tooled into an outward flare, without any applied glass. The contexts where one does see similar lip treatments is early decanters (which is, I would imagine, how this particular object was used), and nineteenth century cologne bottles.

The flattened base of the probable decanter is also highly unusual, with a deeply impressed, cross-shaped pontil mark. The interior of the impression is surprisingly smooth, with only a couple of small patches of broken glass adhering from the pontil rod. Also visible in this view is a crack that traverses the bottom of the bottle and extends part way up one side.

The Coventry pinch bottle is a crudely beautiful example of the glassblower's art, and a remarkable survival from the golden age of American glass making.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Heckler Auction 138

Connecticut eagle flasks: GII-62 and GII-71
Norman C. Heckler & Co.'s July online auction, number 138, was set up for an early preview this past weekend, during their June live auction. I don't know if it was planned that way or not, but the offerings include specimens of many of the Bald Eagle themed flasks from northeastern Connecticut, just in time for Independence Day. The Coventry Glass Works eagle/eagle half-pint is a nice example, with lighter, greener glass and a cleaner impression than most.

Willington Glass Co. quart eagle flask, GII-61.
Willington Glass Co. eagle half-pint (GII-63) and pint (GII-62), with free blown handled jug.
Ther auction will have just about a complete set of the Willington Glass Co. eagle flasks (I'm not sure if both of the GII-63 variants were represented), which would also be a complete set of all the figured flasks that are thought to have been manufactured in Willington. The large quart Willi. eagle has a cooling crack in the neck (of the bottle, not the eagle); those sorts of manufacturing defects seem to be pretty common with this mold. 

The A.A. Cooley boot-blacking bottle is thought to be a Coventry Glass Works product. These turn up for sale on a fairly regular basis, but the embossing of the letters on this bottle is especially strong.

Pint sunburst flask, probably Pitkin Glass Works GVIII-5a.
There will be a very nice Connecticut sunburst flask in the sale, which I believe is GVIII-5a. This is a quite a rare bottle, but unfortunately this example has a chunk knocked out of the shoulder, somewhat crudely filled in with epoxy.

Edit to add: Heckler's listed the sunburst flask as a GVIII-7 variant, and it does have two faint dots near the shoulders on the face opposite the one in the photo. It's definitely not a proper GVIII-7, though, with the circle in the center of the sunburst only present on one side, and with fairly angular shoulders that give the whole bottle an outline that's pretty close to the Coventry GVIII-3. Norm Heckler Sr. says that he didn't quite know what to make of this bottle, which probably doesn't happen very often.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Museum of Connecticut Glass Season Opener

The John Turner House.
 The Museum of Connecticut Glass started its 2016 season of open houses this weekend, with tours of the ca. 1813 house of John Turner, one of the incorporators of the Coventry Glass Works. The temperatures were a bit cool, especially inside of the Turner house, with its massive double-layered brick walls and dearth of windows on the south side, but the weather was clear and bright and turnout was good.
The MCG barn, with guests arriving.
 The guests included some locals who saw the "open" signs and were curious, and also people who had traveled specifically to see the Museum. One fellow was an antique building specialist who was more interested in the Turner house itself than Connecticut glass; he was absolutely ecstatic to see that the structure had been stabilized, but was otherwise in mostly unrenovated condition, with 200 years of modifications and a lot of well-used grunginess. Visitors like seeing the house, but that sort of deep enthusiasm was something I hadn't encountered before.

Display of early bottles, of the kind made at the Pitkin Glass Works. L-R: black glass wine bottle, chestnut bottle, Pitkin-type flask, GVIII-7 pint sunburst flask, dip molded snuff bottle.
The display this month was glass connected with the Pitkin, Coventry and Willington glass factories, along with the more permanent collections of memorabilia and excavated shards from Coventry, and a small exhibit on the Meriden Flint Glass Company. The next open house will be May 21, 2016, in association with the Museum's annual tailgate-style bottle and glass sale. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Heckler & Co. Auction 133, Spring 2016

Large New England Pitkin-type flask, 36 rib broken swirl pattern, 7 inches tall.
 Heckler's is starting the 2016 season with one of their Premier auctions, which includes some spectacular Connecticut glassware. Especially notable in this auction is an abundance of very high-end Coventry Glass Works bottles, many of them from the Gary and Arlette Johnson collection.

Closeup of the label on the Pitkin flask.
Included in the sale are a number of Pitkin-type flasks, the most interesting of which is the unusually large, pint-sized specimen, of New England and likely Connecticut origin, pictured here. It has an early label, reading "Bourbon Whiskey / sold by Frank R. Hadley / Druggist & Chemist / New Bedford, Mass." with the monogram FRH on a fan. The label possibly isn't quite as old as the flask. Antique flasks that retain labels frequently seem to have been sold by druggists, and to have contained hard liquor or medicinal concoctions that were also mostly made of liquor. 

Free blown salt, likely Coventry Glass Works.
This pontiled, free blown New England salt was probably a Coventry Glass Works product. The color and form are consistent with known Coventry tableware, but the strongest evidence of origin in this case is that the salt was recovered by a picker from an old Coventry house.

"Dr H. W. Jackson / Druggist / Vegetable / Howe Syrup," a very rare, likely Coventry, pontiled medicine bottle.
Coventry "La Fayette / De Witt Clinton" flasks, GI-80 and GI-81
Coventry "La Fayette / De Witt Clinton" flask, GI-82
The trio of Lafayette - De Witt Clinton flasks is a desirable group of Coventry Glass Works bottles. The GI-82 half pint is a rare bottle in a nice, light, olive-yellow amber color, but this particular specimen has a wing of extra glass at the mold seam in the neck and such a mushy impression that most of the lettering is illegible verging on indiscernible. It's charming in its way, but must have bordered on being a factory defect to be tossed into the cullet basket.

Moon, star and hourglass masonic flask, GIV-29
This auction preview was probably about as close as I'm ever going to get to two masonic flasks, probably Coventry items but rare enough that the attribution is apparently equivocal, that are not quite at the top of the price scale of antique American bottles, but are still likely to sell for more than the cost of sensible new car. The hourglass GIV-29 is extremely rare, and probably unique in this medium, nearly pure green color, according to Norm C. Heckler. The other known examples have a more olive hue. The shape of this flask is interesting, with its oval outline but finely corrugated sides, which seem like they could be a design intermediate between the earliest Connecticut sunburst and Masonic flasks with angular shoulders and bold corrugations, and later flasks like the Coventry railroad and cornucopia flasks with simpler designs that lack the horizontal ribbing.

Square and compass with backwards "G" / star and keys masonic flask, GIV-30. Reverse and obverse of the same specimen.
The Coventry GIV-30 masonic flask is thought to be slightly less rare than the GIV-29, but is likely to bring a higher price at auction. An example in a similar light color, but severely cracked, sold for more than $4000 in a recent Heckler auction.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

John Mather House

John Mather's house, January 2016
John Mather, of the Parker Village area of Manchester (formerly East Hartford), Connecticut, was an early nineteenth century merchant and manufacturer of gunpowder and glass. The Mather Glass Works have been an object of speculation among students of early American glass for some time; they were long known only from period advertisements and brief newspaper articles. John Mather's 1827 house still stands on Mather Street, close to the site of his glass factory, though the factory seems to have ceased operations about six years before the house was built.

The area around Mather's house and its small corner plot of land was subject to intense suburban residential and industrial development in the mid-twentieth century, and any above-ground remains of the glass works that might have existed at the time were apparently bulldozed. My own preliminary investigations of the site have turned up period glass, bricks, furnace lining and other typical glass factory waste beneath some of the back yards in the neighborhood. The shards that have turned up indicate that Mather's factory made typical New England free blown, dip molded and pattern molded glassware, but so far there has been no indication of the production of historical flasks or other glass blown in more advanced two part metal molds. 

John Mather's house in a painting by Russell Cheney (1881-1945) that hangs in the Manchester Masonic Temple. Note that the giant white oak on the corner has hardly changed in the past 70 years or more. Photo via the Manchester Historical Society.

Pitkin Glass Works ruins, January 2016
The famous Pitkin Glass Works ruins are located less than two miles south of Mather's house, but have been preserved and stabilized, and are generally much more thoroughly studied and understood than the Mather Glass Works. This spring, when the weather warms up, I hope to get back to some of the properties on Mather Street where I have received permission to excavate shards, and eventually gather enough material to write up a more formal description of the likely products of the glass works there.