Higbee Pressed Glass

My mom is a collector at heart, and she has an eye for beautiful objects from days past.  In the interest of learning more about some of the objects she has, she’s asked me to research them, and boy, am I finding some gems!

One of the objects she’s loaned to me is a water pitcher she acquired several years ago.

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She pointed out the maker’s mark inside the bottom of the pitcher: a simple etched bee with the letters ‘H’ in the left wing, ‘I’  in the body of the bee, and ‘G’ in the right wing.  It’s barely noticeable, but sits in the center of the 12 petaled star on the base of the pitcher.  What strikes me as odd is the fact that it’s on the inside of the glass, not on the outside.

Look closely at the center of the flower.  Can you see the bee?

Look closely at the center of the flower. Can you see the bee?

This little mark stands for J.B. Higbee & Co., a Pennsylvania based glass company that has both murky origins and closure. J.B. Higbee, a former salesman from Bryce Brothers Glass, went into business with Edwin Bryce in 1879, starting Bryce, Higbee & Co.  This company had a fairly prosperous go, but sometime around 1907, J.B. Higbee branched out on his own, creating J.B. Higbee & Co.  This company lasted until 1919, when it abruptly shut down, and the building was sold to General Electric.  Records don’t show why it shut down, only that it did.

This particular pattern is called Alfa or Rexford.  Different sites have different dates for the Alfa pattern, but the consensus in between 1908-1910.

pattern2

pattern

Pressed Glass versus Cut Glass

This pitcher is made of pressed glass, and there are a number of tell-tale signs between it and cut glass.

Pressed glass started being manufactured in the 1850s, with the majority being produced in the late 1880s.  The trend died out in 1910 to the 1920s, when crystal became the “in” thing to have (with all of the extra money, why not?).  Pressed glass was used by many Victorian families as part of their daily routine, and many companies made entire place settings for this purpose.   Pressed glass was attractive, functional, durable, and most importantly, affordable.

The easiest and most noticeable of the differences between pressed glass and cut glass are the seams surrounding the exterior the piece.  Pressed glass can have as little as one seam up to four or five seams, depending on the extent of the piece.  For a smaller item, this pitcher has 4 visible seams: one on the handle, one on each side, and one on the front running down the center of the pitcher.

Each of the seams, minus the one on the handle, have been sanded down at the top of the object, with the seam blending into the design.  It’s clearly visible along the exterior portion of the base, though.

IMG_8260

Can you see the seam running vertically down the front of the pitcher? It’s most noticeable at the base. Also, look at the right and left edges of the base. You’ll see a seam on each side there, as well.

The handle is a completely different story.  Whereas all of the other seams meld into the pitcher, the handle’s seam is raised and extremely noticeable.

Near the top, you might be able to notice the worn seam where the thumb would sit.  Further down the handle, notice how sharp the seam looks.

Near the top, you might be able to notice the worn seam where the thumb would sit. Further down the handle, notice how sharp the seam looks.

It is worn along the top, perhaps from constant use and thumb pressure, and about seven indentations down from the top, it becomes sharp.  Even at the crest of the handle, there’s a noticeable difference in texture along the glass.

These seams were created from liquid glass being poured into a cast iron mold.  In higher quality pressed glass, these seams were sanded off to resemble cut glass.  Cut glass is hand carved by cutting deep grooves into the glass instead of the mold creating the design.

Here’s some other ways (besides the seams) to tell if you have cut glass or pressed glass:

  1. The designs on cut glass are well defined. Pressed glass designs are blurred or fuzzy.
  2. Cut glass sparkles in the light.   Because it’s made with silica, potash,and lead, it catches and reflects the light, sending rainbows to closest walls.
  3. Cut glass feels sharp when you run your fingers over the designs.  Pressed glass feels dull and worn.

One of the coolest things about this pitcher (minus the little bee in the bottom) is the wear along the inside of the base.

Look closely at the center of the flower.  Can you see the bee?

You can really see the scratch marks in the upper left.

The numerous circular scratches show evidence of constant or aggressive stirring.

The base of the pitcher also shows signs of wear-most likely from being picked up and put down constantly, or from being dragged across a surface.

Can you see the wear at the edge of the base?

Can you see the wear at the edge of the base?

Don’t be fooled if you find a piece of glassware with a bee in it.  Make sure the bee contains the HIG inside; LG Wright used the bee as their makers mark until 1999, when their company shut down.  The molds were sold to Japan, which is still making reproductions of LG Wright glassware.

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Filed under 1900s, Glass

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