Paden City Glass: Color, Form and Mystery

by Joy Lomax
Volume 18 No. 3 - October 1991

[Reprinted with author's permission, from Antique Week, October 1990]

Learning about glassware made by the Paden City Glass Manufacturing Company is like reading a poorly plotted mystery. There's not enough information available and some of the clues are red herrings. At one time, Paden City produced large quantities of glass and shipped it around the world. Today, only a comparative few pieces and patterns are absolute. Yet, interest in Paden City Glass is gaining - due, in part, to collectors like June and Jerry Collins.

The Collins began seriously collecting Paden City Glassware about 12 years ago when they saw a pair of candle holders they "just had to have." Since then, they've acquired quite a bit of information on the subject - information they're willing to share.

"The quality, the colors, the designs - Paden City had it all," said Collins. "They produced beautiful handmade glassware - either hand pressed or individually blown inside a mold. And they produced a railroad boxcar full each day. That's an incredible achievement for a small handmade glass house." he added.

According to Collins, in 1916 - in Paden City, West Virginia - the Paden City Glass Manufacturing Company began production with a working capital of $100,000. Under the leadership of David Fisher - formerly president and general manager of the New Martinsville Glass Company - all stockholders were repaid and the Paden City Glass Company was clear of debt within one year of its opening.

Paden City successfully weathered the lean depression years and the change in management from father to son. When David Fisher died in 1933, his son, Sam, became the new president. In 1949, Paden City bought the fully-automated American Glass Company with the idea of continuing to make containers plus a line of ashtrays and novelties. This was one financial outlay that Fisher couldn't handle. In 1951, Paden City was out of business.

During the company's 35-year run, the variety and scope of Paden City's output was amazing. The first known manufactured items were pressed tableware, vases, and lamps. Later, the company increased their product lines to include glassware for hotels and restaurants, offering shakers, pitchers, reamers, etc. - a wide assortment of items. Paden City also acted as jobbers; they actively sought private mold work - that is, using other companies' molds to produce glass for them.

But Paden City's main objective was to create beautiful glassware of their own design to be sold to other companies for decoration and sales distribution. Strangely enough, while Paden city sold boxcars of glassware to other companies to be decorated and sold, they also etched, cut and decorated Paden City items with their own distinctive designs. Yet, they never marked a single item or marketed anything directly to the public. "If they used a paper label the way some of the other companies did, I've never seen one" said Collins.

"Probably the main advantage Paden City had over their competitors products, was color," said Collins. From the very beginning of operation, Paden City offered opaque colors such as black and white as well as clear. By the mid-l920s on through 1951 when Paden City closed, the company was well known - at least within the trade - for their colored glassware.

Since company records are so sketchy, it's impossible to say which color was introduced in which year, but a list of colors developed by Paden City are:

  • Ebony - opaque black which frequently shows up as amethyst or violet-blue when held to a strong light
  • Opal - opaque white "milk glass"
  • Cheriglo - delicate, pale pink
  • Mulberry - rich deep amethyst
  • Yellow
  • Dark Green - called forest green today, but is lighter and more vibrant than Hocking's Forest Green
  • Crystal - the color name for clear glassware - not to be confused with the descriptive term crystal
  • Red - a particularly fine, rich shade
  • Amber - made in three shades: light, medium and dark. The medium shade was called Primrose and is distinguished by its reddish tint in thicker parts of the piece when held to light. The dark shade of amber is honey-colored
  • Blue - basically two shades of blue, with variations, were made: cobalt and pale blue
  • Rose - dark pink leaning towards red
  • And Green - several shades of green were produced, ranging from yellowish green to bluish green. No opaque "jadeite" greens are known to have been made.

"Even though many of Paden City's colors are distinctive, there are enough look-alike colors around to confuse collectors. For example, Cambridge's Apple Green looks almost exactly like one of Paden City's unnamed greens. So, you can't identify Paden City glass by color alone. You need to learn as many etches and blanks as possible," said Collins.

"The hard part is getting copies of the reference material that's out there," he continued. "It's all out of print. I've been fortunate in obtaining these out of print books, plus our friend and fellow glass club member, Marilyn Kreutz, recently loaned us several old issues of The National Glass, Pottery and Collectibles Journal which had a few articles about Paden City in them. Of course this paper is out of business now, too. But maybe there are other articles around."

According to Collins, here's where the going gets really tough. There are theoretically 35 different etchings in existence which may or may not have been executed on any number of different blanks. Known Paden City etchings include (names in quotes denote etches identified and named by Hazel Marie Weatherman):

  • "Peacock and Rose"
  • "Lela Bird"
  • "California Poppy"
  • "Cupid"
  • "Nora Bird"
  • Utopia
  • Trumpet Flower
  • Samarkand
  • Gazebo
  • Ardith
  • Frost
  • Orchid
  • Orchid II
  • Gothic Garden

There are other etchings that have been found, of course, but they have no name or it is not yet positive that they were done by Paden City. As far as cuttings go, Paden City favored cross-mitered cuts, flowers, vines, and leaves. A good clue to recognizing a Paden City cutting is to look at the color of the cut. Paden City usually has grey or whitish-looking cuttings because they were cut but not polished.

"Now about Paden City blanks - once you see one that's been correctly identified, you'll always be able to spot it because the designs are unique. That part is easy. The hard part is to recognize the blanks that were modified and renamed - usually with a different line number rather than an actual name. And sometimes, all they changed was the shape of the handle," said Collins.

Then there's the blanks with similar looks and similar names. For example, Line 412 and Line 890 seem to use the same decorative devices (a small fan at the edge with a vertical row of darts or tears underneath the fan) and are both commonly called "Crow's Foot." The basic difference between the two is shape, but there are other small differences. Line 4l2 - "Crows Foot" Square - has four fans with darts on each piece and do not touch the edge of the piece. Line 890 - "Crows Foot" Round has six fans with only three alternating rows of darts underneath, and the fan is part of the edge of the piece. To add to the confusion, while most of the "Crow!s Foot" fans are made of five parts, some pieces of Line 890 have only three-part fans.

"The only good way to learn the blanks is to study whatever articles and books you can find - or talk to Paden City Glass collectors," said Collins. "And now that I think of it," he added "June and I are ALWAYS ready to talk about Paden City!"

[COPYRIGHT 1990 by Joy Lomax. Reprinted with permission of the author.]

Check your local libraries and/or try inter-library loans on the following out of print references to learn more about Paden City Glass:

Paden City The Color Company
by Jerry Barnett
privately printed in 1978

Colored Glassware of the Depression Era, Book 2
by Hazel Marie Weatherman
published by the author in 1974

Supplement & Price Trends to Colors Glassware of the Depression Era, Book 2
by Hazel Marie Weatherman