Confusing Worlds Fair Glass HatchetsBy Mark Chervenka
Confusing World's Fair Glass Hatchets
Pressed glass hatchets with George Washington's portrait are widely represented as souvenirs of the 1893 Worlds Fair. Although there are old counterparts, the great majority of these pieces in the market today are reproductions.
The first authentic glass hatchet was introduced at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair by Libbey Glass. Co. Libbey installed a working glass factory on the Fair grounds and sold large numbers of glass souvenirs such as the hatchet. The original Libbey 1893 hatchet was made primarily in clear crystal, but is also known in milk glass and vaseline.
The reverse of the blade on original 1893 Libbey hatchets has the raised glass lettering, "World's Fair 1893." The handle on the hatchet is marked "Libbey Glass Co. Toledo, Ohio" in raised glass lettering. The Libbey mark appears on the same side as Worlds Fair 1893, opposite the side with the portrait.
Reproductions of the 1893 hatchet began appearing in catalogs of AA Importing Co., a large reproduction wholesaler, in the mid-1970s. Blades of new hatchets also have the Washington portrait on the front of the blade and World's Fair on the reverse. The most important difference between new and old 1893 hatchets is that the Libbey mark is missing on the new handle. The edge of the new blade is also more rounded, almost semicircular in shape. The original blade is almost straight-edged.
Washington's portrait on the new blade is less lifelike and more cartoon-like. The original portrait is quite realistic and natural. The top of the original hatchet is nicely ground; the same area on the copy is very coarse and rough. If you have a clear example, you can also test it with your black light. The original clear crystal Libbey hatchet fluoresces a bright yellow-green in long wave black light. Clear reproduction hatchets do not fluoresce.
It is likely that Libbey did not actually manufacture the glass hatchets that bear its name. Demand for souvenirs was so great at their 1893 Fair exhibit Libbey couldn't keep up and jobbed out work to other glass shops1. Since Libbey's main product line at the time was cut and engraved glass and colored art glass, they would not have the pressing equipment to produce large quantities of pressed novelties.
The likelihood some other company owned the hatchet mold is reinforced by the mold being used again for the 1904 World's Fair. The reverse of blades produced for that fair are embossed, "World's Fair 1904" are marked in raised letters. The backs of the 1904 handles are marked "St. Louis." No reference is made to Libbey on the St. Louis handle.
No example or advertising for reproductions of the 1904 hatchet could be located. Judith Katz-Schwartz, antiques writer and specialist in World's Fair collectibles, agrees that so far at least no reproductions of the 1904 pieces are known. "I have never seen a reproduction of a 1904 St. Louis hatchet," said Katz-Schwartz.
After St. Louis, the glass hatchet continued to be produced without the 1904 inscription. It remained a popular souvenir item through the late 1920s. It is most commonly decorated with painted or printed city names or celebrations. Quite a few pieces have names of persons engraved, usually on the handle.
Keep in mind, though, that all authentic 1893 World's Fair hatchets will be marked Libbey. All authentic pre-1930 glass hatchets will have the same blade edge, portrait quality and other characteristics discussed in this article. Special thanks to Craig Rice for his help with this article.
1. Fauster, Carl Libbey Glass since 1818 © 1979, Len Beach Press (out of print). Discussion of Libbey commissioning 1893 souvenirs from outside suppliers discussed on page 229.
2. Examples of the 1893 and 1904 originals are shown and discussed as #252 and #253 respectively in American Historical Glass by Bessie Lindsey, ©1967 Charles Tuttle (out of print)