There was a time when a particular product made quite the mark on Cape Cod – glass. Its history can be traced to the Sandwich Glass Museum, an institution that is still thriving today.
Originally called the Boston and Sandwich Glass Museum, it was founded by Boston businessman Deming Jarves, who typically hired his staff from Europe because of their talent and craftsmanship as glassmakers.
His company was very prosperous and focused on producing quality pieces of glass. The company continued to grow and expand, creating an entire community around the factory, both fueling and depending on the factory’s business. The community incorporated all of the factory buildings, the workers’ houses, the mercantile buildings, and other support buildings, such as the train roundhouse.
Designing and producing decorative glass, household windows, doorknobs, plates, lamps, and even toys, the Sandwich Glass Museum served as a pioneer in the art of glassmaking. “Anything that could be made out of this formidable material was,” said the museum’s Executive Director Katharine Campbell.
Known around the world, it once was the largest glass producer in the world. Farmers who couldn’t rely entirely on their crops for a living often worked in the glass factories.
“This industry transformed the economy, but also the workplace,” said Campbell. Jarves was known to hire women, most of whom decorated the glass and were among best-dressed ladies in town.
In addition, they were well-compensated for their services. “In the 1800s, that was pretty unheard of,” Campbell explained.
Jarves’ welcoming attitude toward women in the workforce wasn’t the only way he established himself. To get a leg up on the competition, he patented different functions of a lever machine that specialized in pressing and molding designs.
One of the first items easily and cheaply pressed was the cup plate. It was the custom in the early 19th century to drink tea from a saucer. The cup plate became the coaster for the tea cup.
The early pressing process often created surface imperfections due to the different cooling rates of the glass and molds. Small circles or dots were added to the early pressed designs, called stipples. The dots help to refract the light through the glass and to draw the human eye away from those surface imperfections. Collectors often call this type of glassware LACY glass.
Before making its way to Cape Cod,
Sandwich Glass trademarked its products uniquely. Artists would leave a maker’s mark for themselves or their company using stickers, as opposed to the traditional mark imprinted on the product. In doing so, it is often difficult to determine which pieces are from Sandwich Glass. The only product bestowing a traditional mark is that of the commemorative salt bowl that was placed on tables.
Sandwich Glass was home to many unique and distinctive styles during its prime. One in particular was the dolphin candlesticks. Another style of significance was the celery vase, a large free-standing vase set at the center of elegant tables. Instead of containing flowers, they would hold stalks of celery. In addition to the scallop top, this vase also featured colored glass.
The art of glass-blowing dates back to ancient Rome, evolving to a time when 1,000 pieces could be made on a press each day.
Eventually, glass makers incorporated decorations into the glass, including diamond patterns that were very ornate – hiding imperfections in the product. Overlaying colors created two-tone looks.
“There was an absolute skill that was involved there,” Campbell said. “They were everyday objects, but they were making them more beautiful. They were playing around with the art of glass.”
While a familiar item in households today, glass wasn’t always so accessible. At one time, it was a luxury enjoyed only by the very rich – with most families only being able to afford a single drinking glass. Mass production led to a decrease in price and much greater availability.
By the 1920s, the entire glass industry in Sandwich had come to a complete halt. The factory buildings were slowly torn down and dismantled. By 1944, there was barely a trace of a factory building near the marsh. A marker at the location of the factory is all that remains of this enterprise.
But the mantle of Sandwich’s glass industry was absorbed by The Sandwich Historical Society. Founded in 1907, The Sandwich Historical Society had its first glass exhibit in 1925 commemorating a century of Sandwich glass.
They produced many other exhibitions and came to focus primarily on interpreting the glass industry of the town in its Sandwich Glass Museum, yet still collecting the historical material of Sandwich’s past.
Campbell said that glass-making technologies used many years ago still are utilized today. The Sandwich museum uses some original molds from the 1800s.
“It’s fire, silica, and sweat that make glass,” Campbell said. “The cool thing about glass is that it can do almost anything. It’s something that is so commonplace; it’s really intriguing.”
The Sandwich museum accentuates the presentation of its extensive glass collections by exploiting an abundance of natural light. “It incorporates the history of time and its reflection in the glass.”
Visitors are treated to glass-blowing demonstrations several times a day, showcasing the traditional ways to blow glass and the processes were used many years ago that still thrive today.
In addition, the museum is also child-friendly, with a treasure hunt designed specifically for little ones.
The Sandwich Glass Museum has “relit the fires in sandwich” with a glass furnace and new exhibits to better tell the story of the glass industry in Sandwich, said Campbell.
“While we will not be able to completely recreate that booming, smoking glass factory, our visitors are able to feel the heat from the glory hole on their faces. They can watch the glassblower turn and twist the hot glass into wonderful forms, and visions of those former days will not be so difficult to understand or imagine.”
She adds: “You are actively involved in the glass-blowing experience. You understand the essence of what we do and are a part of that experience. That’s our takeaway.”
Visit the Sandwich Glass Museum online. Click here.
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