Mary Gregory Glass: 19451990sBy

Mary Gregory
Glass: 1945-1990s

The end of WW I brought numerous changes to the Czech glass houses, but the during the period after WW II they were completely reorganized.

For a brief time, the glasshouses struggled to resume their prewar production. At that time, the glass industry was still in the hands of Czechs of German origin including such firms including such firms as Lobmeyr, Moser, Muhlhaus, Riedel, Hartman & Ditrich and others.

Then in 1947, the Communist Party took power in Czechoslovakia. By 1951, the Communists had nationalized every glass factory and expelled everyone of German ancestry which included thousands of glass decorators. Fortunately most of the glass makers were native Czechs and Slovaks and production of undecorated glass could continue. Committees were set up to run the glass industry with all the glass factories united under the single name of Crystalex. The name Glassexport was used for the organization which would market the glass through world wide offices.

As production resumed, one of the first types of decorations produced was "Mary Gregory." Painting Quarkmal, which translates from the German as "white people," was not a simple task. In years past, German decorators had the benefit of many generations of father-to-son training and many persons started painting by the age of ten. The post-war decorations were not as well done as pre-war decorations and over time the differences in quality became more and more obvious.

To speed production, standard designs were simplified and the variety of designs available was greatly reduced. Occasionally custom orders were processed that required more skill and time. The decorators were also often called upon to create paintings that would pass as "old."

For several years after the war, the shortage of raw materials forced the glass houses to produce mostly clear glass of mediocre quality. Most cranberry glass of this period is actually clear glass with only a cranberry stain or flashing. By 1960, the quality of the glassware improved and solid red and blue glass was back in wide use. Even as the glass itself improved, however, the quality of decoration continued to decline.

The oldest and finest decorations were previously done over a period of several days. Usually the entire figure would be painted and allowed to dry. Details were then added to the piece and it was fired with all the white-on-white lines flowing together. In many pieces, small details called points would be added and the piece fired a second time. These points stand out vividly even though the decoration is entirely white-on-white. (Fig. 6)

A second firing is naturally more costly than a single firing and since 1945 it has been nearly abandoned. The search for ways to lower production costs eventually lead to what is called the take away method of painting. Instead of emphasizing details by adding paint such as raised lines or points, the take away method creates details by removing paint. The lack of white-on-white detail is a definite indication of postwar glass, but the presence of white-on-white decoration is no guarantee that the piece is pre-war. (see Figs. 7&8)

By 1970, Czechoslovakian artists and engravers had re-established themselves as world class glass decorators. They had little interest or desire to recreate the past. Crystalex continues to process orders for "Mary Gregory" glassware, but on a limited basis and offers a relatively small selection of subjects.

Although "Mary Gregory" glassware was primarily a Czech product, it was not entirely limited to the Bor Region of Czechoslovakia. Switzerland, Holland and Germany also produced glassware of this type. In the postwar years, American importers have been willing to purchase Mary Gregory glassware anywhere if the price was right.

The history of this type of glassware would not be complete without including some reference to the American decorators who also worked in this style. In 1957, Robert Rupp was Vice President and General Manager at Westmoreland Glass Company in Grapeville, Pennsylvania. His staff of decorators included two brothers, Edward and Edmond Pohl. The Pohls, being of German ancestry, were forced to leave post-war Czechoslovakia and had come to the United States by way of South America. The Pohls were experienced "Quarkmanl" painters and worked with Rupp to create a series of "Mary Gregory" decorated glassware.

Westmoreland launched their "Mary Gregory" line on an 8" plate with pierced forget-me-not border (Fig. 15). The Mary Gregory decorations were successful and by the time Westmoreland closed in 1984, there was a great variety of glassware available with the white enamel decorated figures.

With the closing of Westmoreland, many of their decorators turned to free lancing for private glass wholesalers who contracted with glass makers to reproduce the Westmoreland line. In 1982, Rupp left Westmoreland and opened "Treasured Editions" in Jeanette, Pennsylvania. Over the years, he has been joined by several former Westmoreland employees, including former head artist Ernest Brown. They have reproduced many of the Westmoreland products, most notably the #750 basket with a variety of the old Westmoreland Mary Gregory decorations. Other entrepreneurs have also reproduced the Westmoreland line. Phil and Helen Rosso (of Rosso Wholesale Glass) have contracted with former Westmoreland decorators and continue to offer a variety of "Mary Gregory" style glassware.

Experienced collectors of "Mary Gregory" glassware should have no problem separating pre-war glass from post-war pieces. Beginners, however, might benefit from a few general guidelines.

1. Look for well done figures. Very few of the post-war decorations are of high quality.

2. Cased glass was rarely, if ever, produced after 1945. A white lining with a tan, yellow, blue or red outer layer generally indicates pre-war glass,

3. 10 and 12 sided glass (as opposed to perfectly round) is generally pre-war.

4. Cranberry stained glass is typically post-war. Most pre-war cranberry was solid cranberry.

5. Gold trim should show logical and natural wear. Glass with shiny, "good as new" trim is probably new.

6. Note the method of how the enamel was applied-- is it white-on-white or "take-away". White-on-white may be post-war, but take-away paintings are all post-war.

7. Most tableware is post-war. Pre-war sugar shakers, syrups, cruets, etc., are scarce and would have only highly detailed paintings of excellent quality.

The widespread belief that the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company and other American glass houses produced Mary Gregory glass has undoubtedly increased American interest and prices for this type of glassware. Now that the facts have come to light, I believe a period reevaluation will follow. Historically, when new information on a specific antique becomes available, prices for that antique rise. In the case of Mary Gregory glassware, I feel the opposite may be true--at least for items near the bottom of the scale in quality and for items made since 1945.

Robert Truitt is the author of the book Mary Gregory Glassware.

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Fig. 1 Two vases and a goblet as shown in a Crystalex brochure from the late 1980s. Crystalex was the name of the government-controlled glass industry in Czechoslovakia controlled by the communists up until the early 1990s.

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Fig. 2

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Fig. 3

Figs. 2-3 The major exception to the post-war decline is shown in these barber shop items. Just after the war ended in the summer of 1945, a specialty glass house opened in Novy Bor to produce glassware for barber shops. The products were copied from pre-war designs but in nearly every instance, the new pieces were better decorated than the originals.
The design in Fig. 2 appears on a tonic bottle of the 1930s; the decoration in Fig. 3 is on a shaving tissue vase made in the post-war glass house. The glass house that produced the barber items was destroyed by fire in 1947.

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Fig. 4

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Fig. 5

Figs. 4-5 This "girl with a bird" decoration is an example of an old decoration that has been updated. Figure 4 shows the old, detailed decoration; the modem, simplified version of the same decoration is shown in Fig. 5.
Written descriptions in catalogs, price guides and advertisements offer little information about the quality of the decoration. These two decorations could be described with nearly the same words but there is a world of difference between the quality of the decorations.

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Fig. 6

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Fig. 7

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Fig. 8

Figs. 6-8 Fig. 6 shows a typical Third Period, post-1945 decoration. The photograph looks as though it's overexposed and all the detail in the clothing and body are lost. In fact, the photo is accurate because this is how post-war decorations appear. Note the use of tinting on the face and hands which highlights these features with very thin paint. Compare the facial details in the while-on-white built-up lines from a Middle Period piece, Fig. 7, and a First Period piece, Fig. 8, to the post-war example.

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Fig. 9

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Fig. 10

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Fig. 11

Figs. 9-11Fig. 9 shows the take away style of decoration. Details such as the creases in the clothing, the eyes, etc., are made by removing paint. Details in old pieces were created by raised lines. The figures on the post-war cruets in Figs. 10 & 11 should be memorized. They are on thousands of pieces of glassware made in the 1970s and 1980s. The decoration is in the "take-away" technique. Prior to 1960, very few oil cruets were made; any cruet you examine should be viewed with caution.

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Fig. 12

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Fig. 13

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Fig. 14.

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Fig. 15

Figs. 12-15 American examples of Mary Gregory from Westmoreland Glass Co. have a distinctive appearance which is unlike their European counterparts. All the figures from Westmoreland are decorated in the take-away style (closeup Fig. 14). Westmoreland first used the Mary Gregory decoration on its #2 eight inch plate with forget-me-not border, Fig. 15. It was later applied to an 8" vase, Fig. 12, and an 11" plate with basketweave border. Fig. 13. Note the distinctive dog in all scenes.

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Fig. 16

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Fig. 17

Figs. 16-17 Fig. 16 is a Mary Gregory decoration done by former Westmoreland painter for Rosso Wholesale Glass. Fig. 17 is another figure to be memorized. This German import, 1970-1980s, is an example of a modern white-on-white painting technique. Although it can be essentially described as "a boy chasing butterfly" this decoration bears no resemblance to pre-war designs. There is a matching girl figure.

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Fig. 18

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Fig. 19

Figs. 18-19 This boy fishing (Fig. 18) was usually paired with the "girl with bird" decoration shown in Fig. 5. They appeared in the 1970s. Fig. 19 is a grouping from a 1983 wholesaler's catalog. Note the use of "Girl w/Bird" and "Boy Fishing".

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Fig. 20 In 1992, the selection of Mary Gregory decorations from Czechoslovakia included the two "Quarkmal" designs shown in Fig. 20. Many of the new decorations are based upon earlier designs found on Victorian period glassware.

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Fig. 21 Tinted features and the use of colored enamel are not by themselves reliable tests of age. Many decorations from all time periods used tinting.

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Fig. 22 This boy on cycle design is painted white with tinted hair, face and hands. This decoration began showing up in the early 1970s on pieces of tableware some of which are shown in the catalog reprint in Fig. 21. It was usually paired with an updated version of the girl with bird which also has tinted details.