Heisey glass: modest tableware gains a following

A Heisey relish dish made to sell for 85 cents in 1957, the year the Newark, Ohio, factory closed, brought $150 at auction recently. That fact gives a clue as to what is happening in this highly collectible area of American table glass.

The Heisey Collectors of America Inc., a nonprofit corporation that serves the interests of Heisey glass collectors all over the country, is this year celebrating its tenth anniversary. Although begun in 1971 with a handful of people in and around Newark, Ohio, the national club membership now approaches 5 ,200. Many of these members are banded into 32 affiliated Heisey study clubs spread from Texas to Massachusetts and from Florida to Oregon.

What is the attraction of this modest glassware, which was made by A. H. Heisey & Co. from 1896 to 1957 and sold all over the world?

"It was the highest-quality table glass made in America," explains Mrs. Louise Ream, president of the organization. "The design staff was superior, and the glass was fire polished and well finished. The early Heisey pressed glass was so good that it actually looked like cut glass. And the quality of the colored glass and of the engravings was very high. Yet it was relatively inexpensive glass that was sold widely in jewelry and department stores, and sometimes even in hardware stores. These are some of the reasons that we think Heisey is one of the hottest collectible names today."

The Heisey name dates back to 1843, when Augustus H. Heisey arrived in America from Hannover, Germany. As a boy in Pennsylvania, he began his lifelong career in the American glass industry. In 1983, he began to formulate plans for his own glass company and chose Newark, Ohio, because of its abundance of both natural gas and cheap labor. His factory opened in 1896 with one 16-pot furnace. Eventually it had three furnaces and employed almost 700 people.

In 1900 the "H within a diamond" trademark was designed by a son, George Duncan Heisey. This was the first recognized trademark ever used on glassware.Although the mark was used less in the late years of the factory's existence, it has certainly made it easier for collectors to find and identify choice pieces.

After Augustus Heisey's passing in 1922, two of his sons took on the presidency in succession. It was Clarence Heisey who steered the firm through the difficult World War II years, when the glass industry was much curtailed. He also introduced the now-famous Heisey figurines in the 1940s and tried to revive the firm's well- known colored glass in the 1950s. But by December 1957 foreign competition, increasing costs, and other problems led to the company's demise, and the rambling old factory fell silent.

The Imperial Glass Corporation of Bellaire, Ohio, bought the existing molds in 1958 but is today producing very little from them. By 1969 a small body of collectors was in existence, and a short-lived national club for Heisey collectors was launched in California. At the dissolution of that group in 1971 , the Heisey Collectors of America Inc. was founded back in Newark, to be dedicated to the collection and preservation of the products of the A. H. Heisey & Co. and the establishment of a Heisey museum.

The National Heisey Glass Museum, housed in a fine old Greek Revival mansion at sixth and West Church Street in Newark, was opened in September 1974. It is also headquarters of the Heisey Collectors of America, which will sponsor its annual meeting in Newark June 18-21, along with a four-day antique show that is expected to attract thousands to what is now dubbed "Heisey land."

Annual dues in the collectors' club are $12.A monthly newsletter keeps members apprised of meetings, swapmeets, auctions, and new information about their favorite glass.

Two other groups of collectors of American glass include the Fostoria Glass Society. P.O. Box 826, Moundsville, West Va., 26041, which was established in July, 1980, and the Cambridge Crystal Ball, P.O. 416, Cambridge, Ohio, 43725, for collectors of Cambridge glass.

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