Deming Jarvis started the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory in 1825. Sandwich was a small town on Cape Cod that was rich in fuel, had easy access to major waterways, and was located only 50 miles from Boston. When Jarvis purchased the land for the factory, he purchased the surrounding 20,000 acres of forest so that the company would not have to pay for wood to burn in the furnaces.
The site was chosen for ease of transportation and boats could actually dock at the plant. The one thing that Sandwich didn’t have was fine sand (they had sand that was too coarse), so they had to bring sand in from New Jersey and Western Massachusetts.
In the beginning, Sandwich employed about 70 men. The company took care of their workers, and,even built houses for them close to the factory. The men only worked four days a week and were off from Friday to Monday. Most started working there as young boys and left as old men.
Sandwich glass products: The early years
The first items produced at the factory were tumblers, whale oil lamps, cruets, glass hats, jugs and bottles. They produced free-blown wares, hand-cut items and mold pressed pattern glass. The glass was often blown into molds made of brass that were tightened with screws or levers. Jarvis hired the most skilled artisans of the time from all over the world. The main mold designer was Hiram Dillaway. They also produced octagonal wares that were referred to as “lacy” glass. It is called lacy glass because of the busy pattern of scrolls and flowers on a stippled background that resembled fine lace. These early wares were made primarily in clear, but can also be found in yellow, amethyst, opalescent, and a variety of reds and blues.
Sandwich made some of the best products and was one of the better known glass houses between 1830-1860. During this time, the factory employed around 500 men, and produced over 6,000 tons of glass daily. After the Civil War, glassmaking became more competitive, and the company saw their profits slide. The company closed in 1888 after its workers formed a “union” that demanded new rules and pay that the company could not deliver. They warned workers saying,“ It the fires go out, they will never be re-lit”. The men thought that the company was just bluffing, but on Jan. 2, 1888 the furnaces were extinguished.
Collecting Sandwich glass
Collecting Sandwich glass can be both rewarding and confusing for the novice. Many companies made similar patterns and it is often difficult to know for certain if a piece of glass was made by Boston and Sandwich Company. In the 1930’s, excavations at the original factory turned us hundreds of thousands of shards that have helped establish and prove that certain styles and patterns were made there. The occurrence or reoccurrence of certain shards from a piece of glass or certain fragments in color combination and/or designs clearly indicate that the pieces were made at Sandwich.
Lacy-type and pressed pattern glass are the most readily available in today’s antique marketplace. When looking for early Sandwich glass, keep in mind that molded glass was in its infancy and that seams are a bit rough. Blown-molded wares were blown into three part molds and were meant to imitate the cut glass that was popular at the time. Look for pieces that were finished with applied, not molded, handles and rims.
Another factor to note is that Sandwich glass was much harder than later glassware, and does not scratch easily. As a rule of thumb, in pressed pattern glass, the simpler the pattern the earlier the item. There are many patterns available form simple loop and dart to bellflowers to historical patterns. It was popular for glass houses to produce pieces to commemorate famous politician such as George Washington or Henry Clay, in addition to Naval ships and patriotic eagles.
Watch out for Sandwich glass reproductions
When looking for Sandwich glass, be careful: there are reproductions out there. U.S. Glass reproduced many patterns in the early 1900’s, and Fenton and Westmorland made reproductions in the 1970’s. Lacy Glass cup plates have been widely reproduced by many companies. And The Metropolitan Museum of Art produced very good quality reproductions for the Sandwich Museum.
Today, many museums have a variety of Sandwich glass in their collections. The Sandwich Glass Museum is owned and operated by the Sandwich Historical Society, who established the museum in the early 1920s to preserve and showcase the rare glass. There are auctions solely devoted to this early glass. Rare pieces can fetch ten to fifty thousand dollars. The designs, quality and craftsmanship continue to make Boston and Sandwich Glass a favorite with collectors.
The Sandwich Glass Museum
Wikipedia entry on the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company
White whale oil lamps from the Boston and Sandwich factory