The Collector’s Minute: Enameled Stiegel Spirit Bottles
Spirit bottles of this type, decorated with enamels, are often referred to a “Stiegel Types,” after the largest North American maker of them, Henry Stiegel,
Spirit bottles of this type, decorated with enamels, are often referred to a “Stiegel Types,” after the largest North American maker of them, Henry Stiegel, even though similar pieces were made by other makers in Europe and North America. The bottles are attractive. The story of Stiegel, not so much.
Henry William Stiegel was originally from Cologne, Germany—one of the famous glass centers of 18th century—before he settled in Philadelphia. The glass business was just one of three of his enterprises; the others were cast-iron stove production and real estate investments. He set up his first glasshouse furnace in1763, a second glasshouse was built in Manheim, and was running by 1765, and the third and largest glasshouse began operations in Manheim in 1769.
Bottle glass (a cheap, coarse glass) was the product of the first glasshouse, but Stiegel’s goal was to produce Flint glass that he had seen when visiting the famous Bristol glass district of England. The colorful, enameled glassware we now call “Stiegel” was made after the third glass house was up and running in 1769.
To produce these pieces in large volume required manpower, for which Stiegel hired more than 130 highly skilled glass makers from Germany, England and Venice. Unlike many businesses of the period, Stiegel kept records of his employees, the type of work completed, items made, decoration type and colors. In many ways, he was a modern businessman; he believed in promotion, and utilized sales agents in the larger urban centers of his era—Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York—and in advertising for his products in the Philadelphia and New York newspapers of the day.
Also like some modern businessmen, Stiegel also fell prey to overconfidence and injudicious spending, as he was known for frittering away his profits as fast as he made them. A downturn in the economy of the Colonies finally forced the closure of his once profitable glassmaking empire on May 5, 1774. He never recovered from this financial ruin, and Stiegel died a broken man. He was buried in an unmarked grave in 1785.
In regards to the Stiegel type bottles & flasks themselves shown above, today most comparable examples made from the late 18th- to early 19th-century sell in the $300-$500 range.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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