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HISTORY OF Pilgrim Glass Co. of Huntington West Virginia

1949 – 2002

     Many collectors today are surprised to find that some of their pieces of Crackle glass were manufactured in the 1950s by Pilgrim Glass Company.  Much of the cranberry glass being sold today as Victorian was made in the 1960s, again by Pilgrim.  

Phoenix and Consolidated glass collectors may also be surprised to learn that many of the intricate molds used in the production of this art glass in the 20s, 30s and 40s were purchased from of Sinclair Glass by Pilgrim and were put back into production.  

Collectors of off-hand Italian art glass figurines may be interested to learn that two talented brothers from Italy began producing such work for Pilgrim in the mid fifties.

Cameo glass collectors should be aware that Pilgrim managed to case and carve as many as six layers of glass into truly magnificent works of art.

Pilgrim’s History

     Pilgrim Glass Co. was founded in 1949 when Alfred Knobler purchased the failing Tri State Glass Manufacturing Company in Huntington, West Virginia.  Knobler held a degree in ceramic engineering and had a flair for sales.  In 1956, he built the last Pilgrim Glass production facility, located several miles away in Ceredo, West Virginia.

Early production

     Pilgrim’s early production was hand-blown crackle glass in ruby, tangerine, amethyst, smoke, sapphire, amber, green, and crystal. The crackle effect was achieved by immersing the glass into cold water and then reheating it.

Crackle glass products were produced through the late 1960s. They included pitchers, vases, decanters, cruets, bowls, candy jars, candleholders, ashtrays, and apothecary jars. Other early pieces were available in clear and satin finishes.

In the mid-fifties, brothers Alessandro and Roberto Moretti emigrated from Italy, finding employment with Pilgrim. Their production consisted mainly of glass animals. Earliest pieces were birds, cats, ducks, horses, fish, whales, swans, donkeys, and elephants. Later pieces included owls, deer, turtles, rabbits, and snails. Today, the works of Alessandro and Roberto are carried on by their brother-in-law Mario Sandon.

Cranberry glass was introduced to the Pilgrim line in 1968. Although always popular, few glass manufacturers attempted this color, which involves an often temperamental combination of lead oxide and real gold. Over the years, cranberry glass had become the mainstay of Pilgrim’s business. Pilgrim Glass was the largest producer of cranberry glass in the world at one point.  (Note to collectors:  Victorian era U.S. produced cranberry glass has a much deeper color than that produced by Pilgrim Glass Co.  Some of the British Victorian cranberry glass is also of a lighter color but there are subtle differences in the blue tint of the cranberry glass.   

Also produced in the sixties were a line of cased glassware, peachblow reproductions, and ‘end of the day’ spackle ware.

In the 1970s, Pilgrim added a kitchen focus, producing popular clear glass canisters, salad sets, and platters.

In the 1980s, vases and pitchers in cobalt, cranberry, crystal, and ruby continued to be popular. New colors for the eighties were opaque white, red, grey and black.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Pilgrim was one of the few glasshouses still producing cobalt glass due to the toxicity of the cobalt.

In 1985, Pilgrim introduced the Masterwork collection consisting largely of vases and columns over 30 inches in height.

Cameo Glass:

     Under the direction of Kelsey Murphy, Pilgrim introduced an extraordinary line of cameo glass in the late 1980s. The process used sandblasting verses hand scribing or acid etched surface reduction of the Victorian era.  The cased glass was carved (by sandblasting) to reveal the desired color and design. Colors suitable for casing include cranberry, green, cobalt, crystal pink, topaz, black, and white. The designs are Murphy’s own pictorial scenes. All pieces are signed by Kelsey.  Most are issued in limited editions and numbered.

Consolidated Glass Reproductions:

     In 1992, Pilgrim Glass purchased all Phoenix and Consolidated glass molds formerly in possession of Sinclair Glass. These molds were designed by Reuben Haley, who died in 1933. The molds were used to produce the Consolidated Glass Company’s famous “Lalique Reproductions.”  It is unknown how many of the old molds were restored.  The whereabouts of the molds are unknown to the author.

However, in Pilgrim’s 1994 catalogue, there are examples of vases in Line 700, Dancing Nymphs, Cockatoo, Lovebird, Bittersweet, Blackberry, LeFleur, Bird in Bough, Hummingbird, Pine Cone, Jonquil, Dogwood, and Dragonfly patterns. All are pictured in clear glass with a satin finish. Except for a few experimental pieces, all Pilgrim, Consolidated and Phoenix glass is clearly etched with “Pilgrim Glass” on the bottom.

Identifying Pilgrim Glass:

     Because Pilgrim is a mouth blown art glass, there are no manufacturer’s marks in the glass. Older pieces can sometimes be found with the original paper label.

Crackle glass pieces are often confused with products of other West Virginia companies, particularly Blenko and Kanawha.

The collector will often find cranberry and cobalt pieces of glass represented to be Victorian.  Usually, Pilgrim can be identified by its distinctive colors, shapes and finished pontil.

Pilgrim Glass is highly desirable for its quality and design even though collectors are seldom able to identify Pilgrim as the manufacturer. Because Pilgrim is not readily recognized, pricing is often variable and bargains can be found.

Pilgrim Closes:

     Pilgrim Glass closed on April 1, 2002, when the plant that was owned by 86 yr. old New York City resident Alfred Knobler who wanted to retire and could not find a buyer. 

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