The Fenton Art Glass Company was the premier manufacturer of handmade American glass during the Twentieth Century. Founded in 1905, the company produced a large variety of glass in a rainbow of colors. Their glass became ubiqutious in American homes: the "Carnival Glass" of the 1910s and Stretch Glass of the 20s; the common Hobnail Milk Glass; the practical dinnerware patterns of the Depression; the pastels and bright overlays of the 1950s; the intricately hand-decorated patterns of the 1970s and 1980s; and famously innovative color treatments like Rosalene and Burmese. Skilled craftsmen made works of art right in Williamstown, West Virginia. Thousands of collectors across the country bought and cherished Fenton Glass. These collectors organized into clubs like the National Fenton Glass Society (NFGS), a charity based in Marietta, Ohio, dedicated to the study, understanding and enjoyment of handmade glass, the handmade glass industry, and especially glass made by Fenton.
Sadly, in the years after 2001 the Fenton company fell on hard economic times and had trouble competing with cheaper, machine-made imports. The Factory ceased traditional glass production in 2011. The furnaces, which had burned for over 100 years, went cold. Although the Fenton Gift Shop continues to have glass produced at other companies for decoration and sale through the Gift Shop, the Factory building is scheduled to be demolished beginning in Fall 2017 and no more Fenton Glass will be manufactured in Williamstown.
During the 100+ years Fenton was in business, Fenton created or purchased almost 9,000 cast iron glass moulds. The moulds allowed the molten glass to be blown or pressed into decorative shapes-- to make a vase, a sugar/creamer set, a basket, a bell, a candleholder, or other item. Many of the moulds represent iconic and recognizable Fenton designs. Today, although a few moulds have been sold to other glass companies or collectors, most of the moulds still sit in the empty Factory building in Williamstown. Contrary to rumor, they have not been shipped overseas or otherwise dispersed.
A Rose Burmese Vase
The mould used to create that vase
Fenton is selling the moulds; the asking price is between $300 and $1,500 per mould, depending on the piece. Any mould not purchased before the demolition of the Factory is likely headed for the scrap heap.
I am deeply grieved at the thought of these moulds being lost. They are a piece of my childhood. Once they are scrapped, the ability to produce that piece of glass is lost forever. Even if similar mould were one day made, it is impossible to recreate the original design exactly.
Colonial Blue Roses Comport
Mould used to create comport
Although we know that it is impossible to rescue all, most, or even a substantial minority of Fenton's 9,000 moulds, the NFGS is committed to doing what it can to save what it can. The NFGS has purchased several moulds already, but its limited resources prevent it from buying more. I'm launching this campaign for donations to the NFGS Mould Fund in an effort to raise money to save as many of the moulds as possible.
When the NFGS purchases a mould, it preserves a small piece of the Fenton legacy. Because the NFGS is itself made up of collectors, it can be trusted to use its moulds responsibly-- this means that mould will never be shipped overseas to create cheap Fenton imitations, or otherwise misused to confuse the public. The Fenton logo is removed from every mould purchased and the NFGS logo is imprinted on it, to prevent confusion with Factory-produced Fenton Glass. Finally, the NFGS will be able to take the moulds to Mosser Glass or another company to be used to create beautiful new glass in the Fenton tradition-- but without trying to pass it off as Williamstown-produced. Through the NFGS, the moulds can live again-- discharging their function to produce beauty and honoring the artists who designed and created the moulds to begin with. New generations will come to appreciate the grace and care that characterizes Fenton design. Finally, a donation to the mould fund is a great way to honor the joy that Fenton has brought into your life or the life of a loved one who adored it.
Milk Glass Hobnail Footed Salt/Pepper set
Mould for salt/pepper set
The NFGS is a public charity with exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, so your donations are tax deductible. Your gifts will be legally unrestricted, but NFGS is passionate about applying the gifts towards the purchase of moulds and the accompanying crimps and associated equipment, as well as the costs to remove the Fenton logos and replace them with the NFGS logo.
Because the Factory is scheduled to be demolished in the fall, time is of the essence. Fenton management has set a target of early September for the removal of moulds. Your quick donation will enable the NFGS to purchase and remove moulds before the deadline. If you love Fenton, you should also consider joining the Club; for more information, visit its website at www.nfgs.org
The NFGS wants to pass the beauty and tradition of Fenton glassmaking and collecting on to the next generation. Pictured: My daughter, Emma, with a "Holly on Silver Crest" basket.
Even very small donations will help! We welcome donations of $10, $20, or any amount. Your donations, together with others, might be enough to enable the NFGS to purchase and preserve a mould that would otherwise be destroyed.
Thanks for reading; feel free to contact me with any questions.
- Candace Barnhouser
- Lori Palmer
- Lisa Demars
- Rene Mewes
- Cindy Minor
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