In the mid-1820s, the development of press-molding radically changed the American glass industry, increasing output and bringing affordable decorative glasswares within the reach of a broader consumer market. In this new production process, workers placed gathers of molten glass in a machine press and applied pressure, forcing the glass into the contours of a mold. In about two to four weeks a worker could learn to run a glass press that replicated the time-consuming handiwork of cutting glass.
Firms such as James Gillinder & Sons, based in Philadelphia, produced a range of new patterns that took advantage of press-molding’s abilities. For their exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 the firm erected a small glass factory, measuring 96 feet wide by 109 feet long, where visitors could observe a variety of glass-making processes and purchase the wares for sale. Also at the 1876 fair, French glass with an acid-etched finish was on view for the first time in America. Gillinder adopted this technique as can be seen in the banding and finial of this compote made around 1878. The compote’s pattern, first called “Pioneer” and then “Westward Ho,” includes charging buffaloes, deer, and a woodland backdrop with a seated Native American to form its finial. This pattern’s celebration of America’s westward expansion earned it a place in the exhibition Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape at the Cooper Hewitt in 2006. After curator Gail Davidson requested a loan of this important example of American glass for the exhibition from the Brooklyn Museum, the curators enabled the loan to become a donation, as they had a duplicate and kindly offered this one to the Cooper Hewitt.
Emily Orr is Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.