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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 20th century has been well recognized as "The Steel City." However, in the 1800's it became a prosperous region for glass manufacturing. Names like Stiegel, Wistar, and Amelung are important names in the early development of glassmaking. But changes to the new method of shaping glass articles made the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania one of the longest and most flourishing glass centers in the country. Glass collectors know that some of the rarest and finest examples of glassmaking come from the Pittsburgh, Monongahela and Ohio districts.
Pittsburgh in 1817. The smoke from the columns on the right are probably Bakewell's glass house at the foot of Grant Street
It is thought that the first glass works west of the Allegheny Mountains was the Geneva Works built in 1787 by Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury to Thomas Jefferson. Although the year is in question. The Gallatin Glass Works was situated ninety miles south of Pittsburgh. However, through correspondence between Henry Adams, author of The Life of Albert Gallatin, Philadelphia 1879 and the descendants of Major Isaac Craig, the date that the Gallatin Glass Works started was 1797. Here is an excerpt from The Life of Albert Gallatin:
Congress rose on the 1st June, 1796, and Mr. and Mrs. Gallatin passed the summer in New York. Meanwhile, the co-partnership in which he had engaged had resulted in establishing on George's Creek a little settlement named New Geneva, and here were carried on various kinds of business, the most important and profitable of which was that of glass-making, begun during Mr. Gallatin's absence in the spring of 1797.
Two Revolutionary War Officers, General James O'Hara with the help of Major Isaac Craig, are credited not only with the first glass houses in Pittsburgh but the first glass house west of the mountains. Preceding the Gallatin Glass Works by one month, it was called the Pittsburgh Glass Works. An advertisement in the Pittsburgh Gazette gives some indication as to the type of product being offered in their glass works:
Making window glass cylinders
"The Proprietors of the Pittsburgh Glass Works, having procured a sufficient number of the most approved European Glass manufacturers and having on hand a large stock of the best materials, on which their workmen are now employed, have the pleasure of assuring the public, that window glass of superior quality and of any size from 7 X 9, to 8 X 24 inches, carefully packed in boxes containing 100 feet each, may be had at the shortest notice. Glass of large sizes, for other purposes may also be had, such as for pictures, coach glasses, clock faces, &. Bottles of all kinds of any quantity may also be had, together with pocket flasks, pickling jars, apothecary's shop furniture or other hollow ware the whole at least 25 per cent lower than articles of the same quality brought from any sea port in the United States. A liberal allowance will be made on sale of large quantities. Orders from merchants and others will be punctually attended to on application to JAMES O'HARA or ISAAC CRAIG or the Store of Prather & Smiley Market Street, Pittsburgh."Papers found after the death of Colonel O'Hara mentioned of their first bottle made at the glass house. In his handwriting, he wrote, "To-day we made the first bottle, at a cost of $30,000." Essentially their factory was a window glass factory which made some bottles.
By 1813 there were five glass factories which produced $160,000 worth of glass. A new means of production made the American glass industry a sound operation. This was the invention of the mechanical press. One of the most successful glass houses to employ this method was that of Benjamin Bakewell.
Edward Ensell, an English manufacturer of both window and flint glass in Birmingham, England, sold his glass works and came to this country for a better living. He teamed up with a carpenter, George Robinson in the fall of 1807. They began to erect a flint glass house in Pittsburgh. Mr. George Robinson, a carpenter by trade, and Mr. Edward Ensell, an English glassworker, who had been a manufacturer of both window and flint glass at Birmingham, England, and had sold his works and come to this country to better his condition, commenced the erection of a flint glass works at Pittsburgh. Both partners lacked capital and were unable to finish the works which was then offered for sale.
In August 1808, Benjamin Bakewell and Benjamin Page purchased the property on conditions that Ensell understand the operations of running a glass house. The works were complete and the firm of Bakewell and Ensell opened for business. However Ensell misrepresented the equipment and the skill of the workmen and withdrew from the firm in 1809. The firm became B. Bakewell and Co. and became the first successful flint glass house in the United States.
Billhead of Bakewell, Page and Bakewell, ca. 1815
The term "flint" does not mean that the glass is produced from flint. In the early days, powdered flint was often used as a source of silica. Instead flint indicates glass has a high lead content, such as that used for the manufacture of art glass and tableware. Bakewell with the first to make fully cut glass in America. Bakewell factory produced objects that reflected the highest quality of craftsmanship and decoration achieved in 19th-century American glass.
The company also became the first glass manufacturers to make cut glass wares commercially in America. The furnace completed in 1808 held six 20 inch pots. This was replaced in 1810 by a 10 pot furnace, and in 1814 another furnace of the same capacity was added to the works. The Bakewell operation underwent nine name changed which covered a period of 74 years until it closed in 1882. Along with all the records, the glass factory was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1845, but the plant was rebuilt at the same site.
Pittsburgh Flint Glass Manufactory
In 1810, the firm engaged the "ingenious German" William Peter Eichbaum, former glass cutter to Louis XVI, late King of France, as a glass cutter. He was the first to make prisms for chandeliers and was the first to cut a crystal chandelier ever made in America. The chandelier was six light affair with prisms which was suspended in the house of Mr. Kerr, an innkeeper. Bakewell & Company took over the glass works in 1813 which was erected 1809 by George Robinson on Water Street above Grant and called the works the Pittsburgh Flint Glass Manufactory.
Bakewell Whale Oil Lamps which are blown, pressed, and engraved, 1820-1840 purchased by Corning Museum of Glass
Bakewell & Page was the only factory in America that was producing cut and engraved tablewares up until around 1819. The invention of the pressing machine in 1825 was a major advancement in the production process. Through the painstaking work of mechanics, carpenters, and glass men between 1820 and 1830, the mechanical press production method became a highly profitable operation. It would take two men with minimum experience a quarter less time than a team of three experienced glass blowers. The mechanical press method not only made blowing unnecessary, but encouraged the creation and artistry of a greater variety of glass items and decorative patterns. Matched sets were very easy to produce. The pressing was used for vases, candlesticks, table glass, and oil lamps. Molded tablewares in both colored flint glass and clear, window glass, bottles, furniture knobs, and historical flasks were also produced. Even though pressing was used, Bakewell continued to blow glass until 1834 when John and Thomas Bakewell patented a glass blowing machine.
Compote, decanter, and celery vase, Pittsburgh 1825-1840
Bakewell hosted many visitors in his glass works including a President and a General. His glass products were equal to the finest French and English glass. In 1817, President James Monroe visited the glass house. He ordered $1032 worth of Bakewell glass. After delivery it was described as "a splendid equipage of glass ... consisting of a full set of Decanters, Wine Glasses and Tumblers of various sizes and different molds, exhibiting a brilliant specimen of double flint, engraved and cut by Jardelle, in which this able artist had displayed his best manner, and the Arms of the United States on each piece have a fine effect."
Blown Three Mold Celery Vase Pittsburgh from the Bakewell, Page & Bakewell Glass Works, 1820-1840
In 1824 Bakewell & Page had received honorable mention for good specimens of their cut glassware, shown at the First Exhibition of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and in October 1825, the new firm received a "Reward for the best cut glass pair of decanters" at the Second Exhibition of the same Institute. By 1825, Bakewell's factory was making "cameo incrustations" which were made in France and England ten years earlier. These ceramic images, imbedded in the bottoms of glass tumblers, on the sides of decanters and glass mantel ornaments that sparkled the fire's light, featured the profiles of Washington, Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, and Benjamin Franklin.
Sulphide furniture knob with Benjamin Franklin. 1826-1845
Bakewell achieved international attention with the visit of General Lafayette in May 1825. Lafayette came to Fayette County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, where he was met by his friend, Albert Gallatin, who later became the fourth United States Secretary of the Treasury. During the second day of his visit, as Auguste Levasseur, Secretary to General Lafayette during his journey in 1824-1825 wrote:
Bakewell, Pears & Co. ad
After having devoted the day on his arrival at Pittsburg to public ceremonies, the general wished to employ part of the next day in visiting some of the ingenious establishments which constitute the glory and prosperity of that manufacturing city, which, for the variety and excellence of its products, deserves to be compared to our Saint Etienne, or to Manchester in England. He was struck by the excellence and perfection of the processes employed in the various workshops which he examined; but that which interested him above all was the manufacture of glass, some patterns of which were presented to him, that, for their clearness and transparency, might have been admired even by the side of the glass of Baccarat.
The factory that Lafayette visited was Bakewell, Page & Bakewell where he was presented with two cut-glass vases. One was engraved with an image of the Château de la Grange-Bléneau, Lafayette's château in France, and the other with an American eagle. Lafayette wrote a letter of thanks for the gift which is currently in the Archives of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.
One of the vases presented to Lafayette on his trip to Pittsburgh in May 1825. The vase sold at Christie's in Paris for $267,022. It is signed and dated on the base of the vase 'Bakewell Page Bakewells Pittsburgh 1825' or '1829.' The body of the vase was restored and has some chips, cracks and losses.
The pair of vases along with other souvenirs Lafayette received on his American tour were exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. They were not seen again until 1934, the centennial of Lafayette's death. The exhibit was in Paris at the Musée de l'Orangerie. The provenance was from Lafayette where the pair of vases were kept at the castle of La Grange Bléneau, then to Clementine progeny Tower Maubourg Baroness Brigode, his granddaughter and then to the current owners.
The one vase appeared at its first auction on June 23 of this year at Christie's in Paris. The estimate was $6,700-$11,000. Instead one of Bakewells works of art in glass commanded a record price for Early American Glass and realized $267,022. There whereabouts of the other vase is unknown. There is rumor that it might be in the United States. Is it not fitting that Bakewell's vision and dedication along with workmanship of his highly skilled artisans in the glass manufacturing industry should command such record prices. Bakewell died at the age of 78 in February 1844. The obituary in the Pittsburgh Morning Post read, "To the prosperity of Pittsburgh, he essentially contributed. ...In him were combined the affability and courtesy of a perfect gentleman."
Signed on the bottom of the vase
List of Bakewell Firm Names - 1808-1882
Bakewell & Ensell. 1808-1809. This firm in the fall of 1808, completed the works. It was composed of the firm of Robert Kinder & Co., represented by Thomas Kinder; Benjamin Page; Benjamin Bakewell; and Edward Ensell, who withdrew in 1809. "Bakewell & Ensell offer for sale complete assortment; Qt. and pint decanters, Qt., pt., 1/2pt. and gill tumblers, cream jugs, sugar basins, pocket flasks., salts, phials, &c., &c; also, coachee and harness complete, and pair of handsome bay horses.
"October 19,1808."Succeeding membership of the firm of Bakewell, Pears & Co. was; Benjamin Bakewell Campbell, admitted August 1, 1854, Benjamin Bakewell Jr., admittted August 1, 1859; retired August 1, 1877. Jacob W. Paul, admitted August 1, 1864; retired August 1, 1872. Thomas Clinton Pears, Benjamin Bakewell Pears and Harry P. Pears assumed the interest of their father, John P. Pears, deceased August 1, 1874.
The plant of the Pittsburgh Flint Glass Works was removed in 1854 to the site occupied by the Oliver Wire & Fence Company. Limited, bounded by Bingham street and the bank of the Monongahela River and Eighth and Ninth streets, South Side. In 1873 the warehouses of the firm were removed to the works, from Nos. 31 and 33 Wood street, in which locality, northwest corner of Wood street and Second avenue, they had been since 1840.
Bakewell, Pears & Co., Limited. 1880-1881. In 1880 this limited partnership was formed, but dissolved the next year, and the concern finally wound up. B.B. Campbell, chairman; Harry P. Pears, secretary.
Source: Text by Bryan Wright
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