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Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder
by Bob Brooke

 


As the old saying goes, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” And so it was with “Goofus” glass, a pressed glass hybrid. Some call it tacky, others tawdry, and still others ordinary. But collectors say it’s beautiful.

Manufacturers didn’t originally call it "Goofus" glass. They had no designation of Goofus glass in their salesmen's catalogs. They didn’t even recognize it as a specific classification of glass. Goofus glass, at its inception, was just a variety of pressed glass.

The term "Goofus" refers more to the use of unfired “cold” painted decoration to a piece of pressed glass, rather than to the glass itself. Many people believe the first users of Goofus noticed how easily the painted decoration on this glass wore away and felt that it was "goofy" or that someone had tried to "goof us."

America’s growing middle class had long admired cut glass, but it was expensive. Pressed, or pattern glass, became a substitute for cut glass by the end of the 19th century. So the demand for pressed glass rose tremendously. To keep up with the demand, a number of new factories appeared, mostly in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana due to the availability of natural gas to fire their furnaces. The most prominent of these was the Northwood Glass Company, founded in 1887 in Martin's Ferry, Ohio, by Henry Helling, Henry Floto, William Mann, Thomas Mears, and Harry Northwood.

Production began in 1888 with blown glassware. The original output of the firm included lampshades, tableware, water sets and berry sets. Northwood functioned as the general manager and chief designer, who, even at this time, showed a preference for vivid colors, years before the inception of goofus glass.

Harry Northwood founded his own company, H. Northwood and Company in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1901. Within five years, his company had developed a reputation as America's finest glassware manufacturer.

Always innovative, Harry Northwood was probably the first to make what has come to be known as Goofus glass and, a few years later in 1908, Carnival glass.

Other companies, such as The Imperial Glass Company of Bellaire, Ohio, focused immediately on Goofus glass. Other companies soon joined them, including the Crescent Glass Company of Wellsburg, West Virginia, Lancaster Glass Company in Lancaster, Ohio, Westmoreland Glass of Grapeville, Pennsylvania, Dugan Glass Company. of Indiana, Pennsylvania, McKee Glass Company of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, and Indiana Glass Company of Dunkirk, Indiana, which produced more Goofus glass than any other manufacturer.

Somewhere along the line, the idea to paint pressed glassware with bright colors— usually red, but sometimes green, pink, brown, orange, silver, and always some gold—gained popularity with the buying public, who scooped it up in large quantities. This popularity glass peaked between 1908 and 1918. This flashy glassware struck a chord with the buying public, or it at least caught the imaginations of average Americans, who scooped it up in large quantities.

Manufacturers marketed Goofus glass with names evoking faraway exotic places and wealth. Some of these included Egyptian Intaglio, Egyptian Art, Khedive (meaning "viceroys of Egypt, Golden Oriental, Artistic Decorated, and Intaglio Art.

Because it was mass-produced and relatively cheap, retail shop owners bought it to give as a premium for buying their goods. Goofus glass was given away by every sort of business— furniture stores, car dealers, even at World War I bond drives. A person could buy a house and get a complete set of dishes. Or buy a new suit and get an intaglio fruit bowl. Or buy an engagement ring and get a vase or a set of dishes. Fair owners even awarded it as prizes for winning games. It was the first Carnival glass, preceding the iridized glass known as carnival glass today.

Glass companies produced plates, bowls, vases, oil lamps, dresser sets, salt and pepper shakers and candle holders. Many of the Goofus patterns featured flowers and fruit, especially grapes, among other motifs, raised out of the surrounding glass as seen in vases, powder boxes and lamps. The pattern could also be pressed into the glass from beneath the surface providing an intaglio effect as found in Goofus plates, baskets and candy dishes.

Because of the extensive use of red, green, and gold paint, Goofus glass became known as “Mexican ware” because the colors reminded buyers of the colors in the Mexican flag.

Workers decorated the glass in one of two ways: They either covered one side or the other of the piece completely with paint, known as “All Over Decoration” or “AOD,” or they painted just the distinguishing pattern on the glass, leaving the remainder of the glass untouched, known as "Pattern Decorated" or "PD." The more frequently seen surface textures are various "basket weave,” "fish net," and "stippled."

By the beginning of the Great Depression, Goofus glass production had come to an end.

It’s difficult to find a piece of Goofus glass in perfect condition whether the paint was applied to the outside or the inside of a piece. The worn paint became so unsightly it was washed away by the original or subsequent owners.

Collectors pay more to own pieces made for special occasions or to commemorate a World’s Fair or another event than other nondescript pieces. They also look for complete sets such as a large berry bowl with matching smaller bowls. Goofus collectors seek out rare oil lamps complete with glass shade and matching base. Of course, Goofus glass in all shapes and forms in great condition with very little paint wear will bring a much better price than a piece with considerable paint loss.

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