Crazy for Corn Flower

I just saw this on the Wayback Times web site:

Crazy for Corn Flower
by Walter Lemiski M.A.

If you’ve been out at auctions lately, or at one of the four annual Canadian Depression Glass Shows then you know that folks are still just crazy for Corn Flower! The beautifully cut crystal pieces sell very well and the scarce pre-War coloured items are literally jumping off display tables. It seems somewhat incredible in the first place that a company could not only stay in business, but thrive in business for seventy-five years. For three quarters of a century the W.J. Hughes Company did just that.

That certain 12-petalled floral cut that the young Hughes developed way back in 1912 was to have a very long lasting indeed. The Hughes Corn Flower pattern is distinctive with its petalled flower, grid like interior and elegant sweeping stems. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of the curator of the Dufferin County Museum and Archives, Wayne Townsend, in publishing the first-ever book on this splendid glassware “Corn Flower Creatively Canadian”, so much more is now known about both the Hughes business and family.

One would be well advised not to call any jottings about Corn Flower glass definitive. Although there is much known about the last forty years of the company, much is still shrouded in mystery about the first thirty-five years. We do know that prior to World War II the lion’s share of glass was ordered from the United States. The companies included were New Martinsville, Louie, Fostoria, Imperial, Duncan and Miller, Indiana, Jeannette, West Virginia Glass Specialty, and Tiffin Glass Companies. It is only within past several months that we have found more information about the Duncan and Miller company’s association with Corn Flower, and for the first time there has been uncovered some documentation about purchases from the Jeannette Glass Company.

The Duncan-Miller Glass Company had a very long and successful run. Initially it was formed in 1865, production began in earnest in the 1870’s in Pittsburgh as George Duncan & Sons. The firm joined with the grouping of companies that was known as the United States Glass Company, the firm out of which later in the 1920’s the Tiffin Glass factory emerged as its flagship. In 1892, the factory was destroyed by fire. At that point the owners left the glass combine and opened a new factory in Washington, Pennsylvania. By the turn of the century it became known as the Duncan-Miller Glass Company (named for its principals Harry Duncan, James Duncan and John Miller).

Amongst their major lines were Canterbury, Sandwich, Hobnail and Teardrop. The company was known for its use of colour — green and Rose (pink), cobalt blue, light blue, black and ruby. Duncan-Miller fits in with the group of glass companies that are referred to by collectors and researchers as Elegant Glass producers. The quality of their materials and their care in craftsmanship place them firmly in this category. The most readily recognized Duncan-Miller items cut by the Hughes Corn Flower Company are the Pall Mall No.30 pattern swans. “Pall Mall, by Duncan, has that deep, clear, flawless beauty, which is essential to the plain simple designs of the ‘modern’ style. As such, it lends itself to a myriad of new uses–for home decoration, for the table, for flowers.” — excerpt from a Duncan catalogue (c.1945). The only definitively identified pre-WWII Duncan-Miller blank used for the Corn Flower cut previously identified had been the Three Feather pattern, pattern number 117, designed by their premier designer Robert A. May. A green console set (c.1935), consisting of a pair of candlesticks and a flower bowl, were appraised by this author in a collection in the spring of 2001. In the mid-1950’s the U.S. Glass Company bought out Duncan-Miller. The moulds were used at their Glassport, Pennsylvania factory (one of the Tiffin factories). The Fenton Art Glass Company acquired some of the Duncan moulds in the 1960’s.

The Jeannette Glass Company began production in 1898. In its early days they made such items as “vault lights, prism tile, packers’ ware, and novelties”. In 1927-28 brand-spanking new machinery was installed, an automatic glassmaking system that could mass-produce some 50 tons of glass daily with two continuous tanks. It was at this juncture that the Jeannette Company veered away from so-called hand finished glassware. Unlike the other nine identified firms that Hughes purchased from through the 1920’s and 1930’s who were all Elegant Glass companies producing hand glass, Jeannette is known as one of the major players in Depression Glass, that lower cost, lower quality massed produced glassware that became possible in the mid-1920’s due to revolutionary new technologies. Amongst other innovations, the Jeannette Glass Company suggested that they may very well have been the first company to produce pink and green glassware automatically in a continuous tank.

The Jeannette line #5186 items indicated in the Corn Flower invoices listed from 1927 are amber, crystal, green and topaz (yellow) bowls and bases. The bowl is bell-shaped and the base is black glass. One suspects that only the bowls would have been adorned with the Corn Flower cut. Several years ago a couple of sherbet plates and salad plates in a green Hex Optic, rather badly scratched, were located by this author. From the February 20, 1928 issue of the “China, Glass and Lamps” trade paper we have the following notice that may well have intrigued W.J. Hughes: “Another item of general interest was the machine made salad plate. There were three designs shown including one plain salad plate for use in the decorating trade. Being automatically made these plates are uniform and can be stacked to a height of six feet of more if necessary. This is a great advantage to the decorating trade and also to the department store buyers, because lack of space in various glass departments make it necessary to stack plates and if they are not uniform it not only takes more room but also shows the irregularity of the plate as soon as the customer sees the stack.”

Theories about Hughes only purchasing fine quality elegant glassware appear incorrect. However, very little of this Jeannnette glassware has emerged to date leading one to suspect that their association with Corn Flower may well have been a very short-lived one. Certainly the crystal clear, fine quality that one expects to see in the wares that Hughes generally cut on is not to be found in Jeannette glassware of this era. Who knows what other new exciting information may appear about the early years of W.J. Hughes glassware in the future! Stay tuned as we continue to be crazy for Corn Flower!
Corn Flower fans will have two excellent opportunities to view some of this much loved glassware over the next two months — at the Toronto Depression Glass Show and at the Dufferin County Museum’s Corn Flower Festival. We hope to see you there!

For information call: (905) 846-2835
Dufferin County Museum’s Corn Flower Festival

Special Corn Flower Attractions:
Identification sessions, Hughes family stories, Corn Flower history, Glass talks, Special archival exhibits, Tour of the collections, Glass consignment sale.

The current exhibition of Corn Flower celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Hughes’ Corn Flower design is displayed with artifacts and archival material related to both traditional and modern anniversary gifts. It runs from February through August.

Dufferin County Museum is located at the junction of Highway 89 and Airport Road Admission: $5
For further information call: 1-877-941-7787

Corn Flower Collectors Club
The Dufferin County Museum & Archives, the home of W.J. Hughes Corn Flower, has formed a national W.J. Hughes Corn Flower Collectors Club. Annual membership or $25 (or two-year membership of $45) supports ongoing DCMA research into the company’s history, product identification, and authentification. Members receive three colour newsletter per year; the Corn Flower Chronicle, which includes identification, classifieds, collecting hints, Hughes family and business history, photographs, and Corn Flower appraisals. The annual meeting will be held each year at the DCMA’s annual Corn Flower Festival, this year held on Sunday, June 9th.

Walt and Kim Lemiski run Waltz Time Antiques – specializing in vintage glassware. They also promote the Toronto Depression Glass Show & Sale. Walt is the Director of the Canadian Depression Glass Association. Since 1976 the CDGA has produced a newsletter, the Canadian Depression Glass Review, providing information about Depression Glass and related topics of interest to fellow “Preservationists of Depression Era Glassware”. Memberships are $17 for one year/$45 for three years. Any inquiries may be directed to Walt Lemiski by…
Phone: (905) 846-2835

P.O. Box 41564
HLRPO, 230 Sandalwood Pkwy.
Brampton, ON L6Z 4R1

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