Fantasies in Flight: Glass Birds of the Depression Era

by Kathleen & Pat Ervin
Volume 20 No. 8 - April 1994

During the yeats of the great Depression, many people struggled to earn enough for food and shelter, with little left over for luxuries. Yet even in the most difficult of times - perhaps especially in such times - there is something in our souls that insists on looking beyond the drabness of the moment. It is perhaps this imperative that motivated many to part with a bit of their hard-earned money and buy a small glass or pottery animal to brighten their day. For those in more fortunate circumstances, there were larger, more impressive examples available from companies specializing in finer quality glassware.

Because the animals were quite popular, many were produced by the larger glass houses and were featured in their catalogs, making attribution easy for us today. However, as is so often true of specialty items, the parentage of others cannot be reliably determined.

The animals were used as shelf sitters, centerpieces, or just as "friends" to be enjoyed. In many respects, they were ideal pets as they did not require grooming, walking, or feeding. Just a bit of dusting now and then. A wide selection was available, so it was easy to pick just the right species to suit one's personality or need. Often chosen was a bird of some sort, perhaps as a wistful wish to leave behind the troubles of the time and soar away to somewhere "Over the Rainbow." The wings for this flight of fantasy could be those of a swan, a songbird, a goose, a duck, or just a nondescript "bird" of an imaginary species.

Spring has finally arrived here in the north. With it has come the return of many of our feathered citizenry to entertain with their songs and soaring flights across the warming skies. In the following photographs, several "fowl" representing some of the major glass houses also return for our enjoyment.

Pheasant Pheasant The winged denizens of photographs one and two are popular whenever sighted in fields along a rural road. Of Paden City manufacture, these pheasants are large table pieces with beak-to-tail mold seams running down the back and stomach. Measuring 13½" from head to tail tip, the forward-looking bird in photograph one is the Chinese pheasant, made of solid glass and weighing 3 lbs. The quality of its pedigree is evident in the clarity of the glass and the attention to mold detail shown by such features as the distinct eye rings. The down turned feathers about midway up the tail are sometimes broken off, which is easy to miss if the piece is not examined carefully. Except for the slightly recessed center, the bottom of the stylized base is ground and polished.

The head-turned cousin in photograph two is made of glass having slightly less clarity and is of somewhat simpler form. Ii stands 6½" high at the head and holds its tail just slightly off the ground. With a ground and polished solid base, the piece also weighs 3 lbs.

Goose The aggressive goose in picture three came from Heisey's barnyard and measures 7½" beak-to-tail and 6½" to the wingtip. The eyes consist of small blobs of glass pressed into the sides of the head. Part of a trio, its companions have wings down and wings half (straight back). Heisey produced crystal and crystal frosted geese in solid glass. Imperial later made the wings up and wings half versions in crystal and assorted colors. The pictured goose is distinguishable as Heisey because it appears yellow under a black light, which Imperial examples do not, according to Hahn and Kikeli. The glass is of high clarity, although a few bubbles are present. It is bisected by a mold seam and sits on a ground and polished base.

Mallard The mallard in picture Four, frozen in take-off with wings up. is from a mold purchased by Imperial Glass Co. when Heisey closed. Acquiring these molds allowed Imperial to extend its business life and provide additional employment for its workers. Produced in a variety of colors, this one is made of caramel slag and measures almost 7" to the wingtip. Water cascades from the rising bird to form a pedestal base. Except for the molded eye rings and the edges of the wings, the figure exhibits little detail. The mallard also has wings down and wings half companions.

Heisey Swan Photograph five shows a Heisey swan master nut dish in crystal. Following momma should be several smaller swans forming individual nut dishes. The family adds a II touch of elegance to any table and is sure to be a hit with the children. Momma stands 4" high at the neck and is 7" long with the usual bisecting mold seam. The horizontal ribs continue under the piece to form the bottom. Its eyes are made of small pressed-in blobs of glass. The apparent crack in the back of the neck is actually a mold line. Although the lower side of the neck contains a single mold line running its length, the top side has a single mold seam back to the midpoint of the neck, where it divides into two lines running down each side. Presumably, the three-part construction for the base of he neck made it easier to open the mold and put the curve in the neck while the glass was still soft.

Cambridge swan The Cambridge swan in photograph six is 9 ¾" long and 3 ½" high at the neck. The swan is found in lengths ranging from 3" to 16" - from a salt dip to a punch bowl. Produced in many colors, the one shown is dianthus, or peach-blo. Although not easily seen in the picture, these swans have trailing feet and exquisitely detailed feathers. The hidden wing also contains a large bubble. The base is a ground and polished oval with a recessed center containing the Cambridge triangle mark. The wings and feet are often chipped, as is the tip of the pictured wing. Imperial later purchased the molds and pressed the swans in various colors. It is very difficult to distinguish between those produced by the two companies.

Janice Swan The Janice S-Line swan in picture seven is a product of the New Martinsville Glass Co. Shown here in crystal, examples are also found with colored necks. Production extended from about 1930 to 1970, suggesting that this was a popular line. A large swan, it is 7¾" long and stands over 6" high at the neck. The body is quite stylized, showing almost a draped effect, while the unseen tail appears as if it were made by a thumb pushing out and slightly down, forming a depression that is about the correct size to hold a cigar. Two depressions forming eyes are the only detail shown in the head. The base is a ground and polished ring with a recessed center.

Westmoreland bird The amber iridescent bird in picture eight is a personal favorite. An original sticker on the bottom identifies it as having been made by Westmoreland Glass Co. before 1960. A light reflection in the photograph highlights the distinctly molded eye. The wingspan is 5" and the length is 4½". This little fellow is somewhat of a star, having also had its picture in Glass Animals of he Depression Era. Although others must have been made, this is the only one that has surfaced to date, insofar as we are aware. Feathers am denoted by ridges on the upper sides of the wings and split tail. The bottom has been ground, but not polished.


Bibliography

Garmon, L.. and Spencer, D., Glass Animals of the Depression Era. 1993. Collector Books.

Hahn, F.L. and Kikeli, P., Collectors Guide to Heisey and Heisey by Imperial Glass Animals, 1991. Golden Era Pub.

Schneider, M., Animal Figures, 1990. Schiffer Pub. Ltd.

Zemel, E., American Glass Animals, A to Z, 1975. A. Wilson, ed. published by author (out of print).

Pat Ervin is a member of the NDGA Board of Directors and represents the North Central Region. Each member of the NDGA Board is responsible for a monthly article for the News & Views. Thanks Pat and Kathleen.