Free Hand Art Glass Display at the National Imperial Glass Museum

by Fred Ottoson
Publicity Secretary, National Imperial Glass Collectors' Society

In this seventh season of operation, the National Imperial Glass Museum offers a special treat for visitors. We are delighted to present a stunning exhibit of Imperial Free Hand glass until October 31, 2009. Features of much of Imperial's Free Hand line are its vibrant colors and eye-catching iridescence.

The various decorations found on Free Hand glass are also fascinating. They include dragged loops, leaf and vine, "spider webbing," where threads of contrasting glass were applied to the exterior of the vase or candlestick, and hand cut crystal. However, the most impressive feature of free hand glass is in the name itself. Free hand glass, also called off-hand, was and still is hand crafted by artisans the world over without the use of a mould. Even though most pieces of Imperial Free Hand were produced as part of a line with specific numbers for shapes and decorations, each piece is unique.

Imperial began production of Free Hand glass in 1923 when Victor Wicke, president of Imperial, enticed a number of glass artisans from the East Coast to come to Bellaire to create the glass. They brought with them not only their expertise, but also the designs for the art glass that Imperial made. Even after some of these artisans had moved on, they had considerable influence on Imperial's art glass production in the 1920s, for they had passed their skills on to others at Imperial.

Imperial found that Free Hand was prohibitively expensive to produce. Thus, some of the motifs and methods of free hand production were incorporated into the production of a less expensive line called Lead Lustre. Production was more efficient because the glass was blown into a paste mould. Since the use of a paste mould leaves no mould marks on the glass, and many pieces bear the same decorations as Free Hand, some confusion between the two lines occurs. Imperial produced the less expensive Lead Lustre until 1929.

The museum, located at 3200 Belmont Street in Bellaire, Ohio, is open Thursday through Saturday from 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM.

For more information about the National Imperial Glass Collectors' Society, the museum, or the special exhibit, visit on the Internet, or call the museum at 740-671-3971.

Below are some photographs from the National Imperial Glass Museum, showing the Free Hand vases. Click on the small photo to see a larger version.

Free Hand VaseFree Hand vase

Free Hand VaseFree Hand vase

Free Hand bowlFree Hand bowl

Free Hand vaseFree Hand vase