The year following the 1929 merger of Owens Bottle Company of Toledo and the Illinois Glass Company of Alton, Illinois, it was my good fortune to become associated with Owens-Illinois Glass Company as assistant advertising manager, starting a career in the glass industry lasting almost 40 years. Some of my first responsibilities included supervision of the company's advertising items such as catalogues, calendars and similar materials.
One item in this inventory was a small supply of 50 or so glass paperweight busts in the likeness of Mike Owens. Although these had been made a few years earlier, the remaining inventory was used to handle requests from company sales people who would on occasion ask for one for presentation to a favorite or special new customer.
Now, many years later, the fact that the Mike Owens bust is eagerly sought by glass collectors prompted us to research the facts and report them for interested readers.
The Owens bust is approximately five inches in height, pressed of clear glass, with etched or frosted surfaces. (See Lindsey's American Historical Glass Vol. II, page 461). The base panel is mold-embossed "1859 M. J. Owens 1923" commemorating the year of birth and death of Michael Joseph Owens, the genius who revolutionized the glass industry.
Financially backed by Edward Drummond Libbey, Owens invented the automatic bottle blowing machine in 1903, at which time the two glass pioneers founded the Owens Bottle Machine Company.
For years researchers had probed to discover which glass company made the busts. Was it Libbey? A logical conclusion because of the sentimental attachment of the two men. However, an official Owens-Illinois intra-company memo has just surfaced that disproves that assumption. The August 26, 1959 memo from R.C. Schwyn, Factory Manager of 0-I Libbey Division, reads as follows:
"The following data regarding the Pressed Glass Bust of M.J. Owens was secured from John Moll, retired head of Libbey Mold Shop:
- The idea was started at the Clarksburg, West Virginia plant of Owens Bottle Co. as evidenced by an order No. 42591 for a mold to be made by the Toledo Mold Co. dated 12-28-26.
- The first mold was sent to the Heisey Plant in Newark, OH for experimental work.
- In November 1927 the second (revised) mold was sent to Heisey, and it is believed that actual production was made during November and December of 1927 at Heisey using the second mold".
Further, we do not know how many of the busts were made. Knowing that its use was limited to Owens bottle Co. customers and friends, we would think a reasonable guess to be a conservative quantity of a few hundred to one thousand.
As a historic piece of collectible glass, the Owens bust or statuette, as it is sometimes called, is frequently found in antique shops in the Toledo area, which is as might be expected.
Offerings by these and other dealers price the item in the $80 to $100 price bracket. This is warranted more by its scarcity than its being an outstanding example of glass craftsmanship.