History of Phoenix Glass Co.
The Phoenix Glass Co. began operations in a newly constructed plant on August 5, 1880 in Phillipsburg (now Monaca), Pennsylvania. Phoenix was founded by Andrew Howard and originally they made flint chimneys and shades. Phoenix remained in continual operation until 1970 and is in fact still operating today. During this period, there were short interruptions in production due to a series of plant fires. The time period of 1883 to 1894 is of greatest interest to glass collectors. This was the period of Phoenix’s art glass production. Phoenix Glass Company’s great success in art glass is due mainly to one man, Joseph Webb, Jr., the son of an English glassmaker, Joseph Webb, Sr.
Joseph Webb, Jr. was an active glassmaker at Coalbourn Hill near Stourbridge in England prior to his immigrating to the U.S. and becoming plant superintendent for Phoenix. Joseph Webb, Jr. was a cousin to Thomas Webb of Thomas Webb & Sons and was a metal maker (formulator) by training. His knowledge of glass was so extensive that some of the glass made at this time by Phoenix could not be made by any other company in the U.S.
Due to Joseph Webb affiliation with T. Webb and Sons, Phoenix obtained the rights to manufacture “the Celebrated Webb Glass” from T. Webb & Sons at that time. It is also interesting to note that Phoenix was out of the art glass production within a year after Joseph Webb’s leaving Phoenix Glass. We should also note that favorable import tariffs of 40% were enacted from the Civil War up until 1890 on glass. In 1890, the tariff increased to 60% until 1894. In 1894, the tariff was reduced to 35%, making it less favorable to produce art glass in the U.S.
The La Belle Glass Works, Bridgeport, OH was forced to close for eight months due to flooding of the Ohio River and associated damage. Just as the Glass Works was prepared to start up the factory again, the workers went on strike, which lasted until December of 1885. While La Belle Glass Works was closed, Harry Northwood worked for Phoenix Glass Co. at Phillipsburg, PA for 19 months between 1884 and 1885.
The Phoenix Glass Co. benefited from John Northwood’s patented crimper (Patent #327,406) assigned for use to Harry Northwood of Bridgewater, PA. Bridgewater is across the river from what was Phillipsburg, the former site of Phoenix Glass Co. Harry undoubtedly would have understudied Joseph Webb while at Phoenix. This would have expanded Harry’s knowledge of glass formulation exponentially.
Joseph Webb’s involvement in any glassworks was a blessing and a bit of a curse. His glass knowledge was unequalled in the U.S., and he was responsible for many innovations in glass manufacturing and glass formulation. His curse was that very little documentation remains of the glass he produced at the various firms.
Originally, Phoenix documentation is rare; thus, documenting their glass is extremely difficult. The most recent book on Phoenix Art Glass by Leland Marple, started with the process of elimination in order to identify Phoenix glass items. William Heacock was forced to use the same process for Phoenix Glass identification event before Mr. Marple. Phoenix glass identification is also made more difficult due to the fact Phoenix did not issue catalogues for their glass, which was sold primarily through their own showrooms in Pittsburgh and New York.
Below is the working chronology of Joseph Webb as per trade publications or his obituary.
1883 - 1893 – Phoenix, Metal Maker (Glass Formulator or Plant Superintendent)
1893 - 1894 – Libby Glass Co.
1894 - 1899 – Fort Pit Glass Works
1899 – 1900 - Tarentum Glass Co.
1900 – 1901 – Webb Decorative Glass Co., Coudersport, PA
1901 – 1904 – New Martinsville Glass, Superintendent
1904 – 1905 – Haskins Glass Co., General Manager
Phoenix manufactured a broad line of products including tableware, pitcher sets, cruets, fairy lamps, rose bowls, vases and novelty products. Their MOP glass included almost ever type of Mother of Pearl including rainbow, diamond, dot oval, zig zag, moiré, swirl glass and ribbed panel optic.
Their standard optics included spot, oval spot, opal spot, diamond, lattice, opal lattice, opal lattice reversed, opal diamond, Phoenix drape, swirl honeycomb, and window optic patterns. They also manufactured ribbed panel optic and Venetian thread.
As to the glass itself, Phoenix made peach blow, also known as mandarin. Phoenix was producing peach glass before Mt. Washington. Phoenix’s i.e. Joseph Webb’s patent for MOP (Patent # 345,265) was submitted prior to that of Mt. Washington; unfortunately Mt. Washington’s patent was granted first, which later caused Phoenix legal problems. Joseph Webb produced other Patents on MOP glass while at Phoenix at least two that we have found: one in 1887 (Patent # 363,190) and a second in 1888 (Patent #379,089).
Phoenix made acid-etched cameo glass and cased glass. Below is a summary table prepared from trade journals, which recorded a multitude of colors and effects made by Phoenix. This table ignores those items used in lighting wares. The table was compiled by Leland Marple in his book, Phoenix Art Glass.
Year Color or Effect
1883 “Crackled glass in blue, green, amber, canary, lemon, citron.”
1884 “Caarnelian, Amberine, Gopazine, Asurine, spotted blue, crystal, canary, pink; rose, blue, and ruby, amber, gold, Coralene.
1885 “Mottled wine, opal, mottled amber, blue, white rose. Colored cut glass with color on exterior, threaded colored glass wound spirally around a different colored body. Ivory, Aurina, ruby cased cameo with figures cut on the exterior, amethyst, flint opalescent, canary, citron and rose in coralene mold pattern. Topaz and rose, Venetian Art (color combination), Etruscan, threaded ware (patented), peach (combination of colors identified as Mandarine), blue and marine opalescent.”
1886 “Ivory with applied crystal ornamentation in relief and crystal twisted feet. Rose du Barry (in diamond pattern, full tableware line), Bronze (bronze shading to steel grey), Chinese Mandarin (body of pale yellow with smoke-colored tops). Tinted Ivory, fairy lamp bases and shades in striped pink and blue. Blue, ruby, canary and flint shades in Coraline mold pattern. Verde Pearl, carved ivory glass, Rose du Barry with satin finish and diamond pattern, satin finished ivory satin cased inside with colors and with crystal edges. Gold and silver enameling on vases, pitchers, water sets, tankards with enameling in Japanese and other oriental designs. Peach (new line) with decoration, opalescent spot in all colors, opalescent diamond in all colors, etcged enamel cameo glass.”
1887 “Heliotrope, Harlequin, Pearl, ivory, pleated Snowstorm, etched, cut crystal, ivory and gold fairy lamps; Bridal Pearl; Verde de Satin Onde (green zig-zag airtrap); gold clouded crystal.”
1888 “Impasto Cameo in four colors.”
Phoenix rose bowls are relatively hard to identify. Some, the minority, have unique effects that are easily spotted. The first of these is Venetian threaded (nailsea) rose bowls. They are found in red, deep blue, and light blue colors threaded with opal glass.
Spangle glass rose bowls are made when mica is encased between layers of glass. Phoenix spangle glass rose bowl are in die-away to crystal. The colors are blue, ruby, and yellow.
Examples thus far identified are made of very thin glass and have finely ground but unpolished pontils. They were made in both round and egg (pouch vase) shaped. The shape of Phoenix rose bowl are almost identical to those of Mt. Washington. Phoenix mica particles tend to be finer than what was used by other companies. Phoenix also made several styles of air trapped and cane work combination in die-away rainbow colors. These rose bowls sometimes have applied crystal feet and ornamentation. They are normally marked “PATENT” in straight line block letters that stand out against the etched background.
© 2008 the antiquarian, All rights and media reserved