WHIMSIES OF THE COLONIAL DAYS
The 19th century was the heyday for Glasshouse Whimsies. The 100 years, from 1800 to 1900, was the time when the glass workers used their ingenuity to make many different types of whimsical items after hours. One of the concessions the factory owners allowed the workers, was access to end-of-day glass to make items for themselves. As a whimsey collector, it is always exciting when an item might possibly have been made before 1900. This having been said, a very large amount of whimsies were made after 1900. Most of our collections mainly consist of 20th century items. This is because 19th century whimsies are not as available.
There were also whimsies made in the fledgling American glass industry of the Colonial Days of the 18th century. Some of these early whimsies were the linen smoother and the horn. A linen smoother is a smooth piece of flat glass with a handle. They were actually used to smooth items made of fabric like linen. The glass worker would make a linen smoother for his wife to try to make her clothes less wrinkled. The linen smoother shown below is a classical 18th century example, although this one may be English.
The horn was another favorite for the glass workers. The earlier horns were a short type, with one loop. They had a mouthpiece and usually contained exterior decorative threading, and possibly prunts. These horns were compact, and yet made noise when blown. An improved sound could be made from a horn with a longer tube. This longer tube could be two to four feet long. If the tube was left straight, the horn was cumbersome. For this reason, many early horns were coiled, making them very compact, or they were bent to form a bugle type horn. I mention in the "Sleigh Rides" article, at www.wistarburg.org, how the winter sleigh ride revelers would buy a horn from the glass workers to make plenty of noise on the ride home in the wee hours.
Another noise maker was a whistle, which was a child’s toy. They were three to four inches long, and had two segments to the body, which were held together with prunts. There are two examples shown below, although their age is not known.
Animals were another colonial whimsey. The dog shown below is thought to have been made at the Wistarburgh Glass Works in Southern New Jersey. This type of dog is actually a bottle, with a large opening in the tail for filling, and a small snout opening for consumption. You can imagine what the contents might have been. The dog bottles originated in Europe some years earlier, and the immigrant glass workers brought the tradition with them.
The early glass workers made hollow balls, some sealed and some not sealed. The ones with the blowpipe hole sealed with a blob of glass were used to cover pitchers or bowls on the kitchen table. This prevented flies from entering the pitcher or bowl. Another use for the sealed ball was as a float for the shad nets in the Delaware River. Some of the float type balls could be a foot in diameter. It is difficult to differentiate between an 18th century float and a 20th century float. The market is flooded with floats, many being art glass examples.
The hollow balls, which are not sealed, are considered to be witch balls. The witch ball, if hung in the home, was supposed to fend off evil spirits and witches, and keep the family healthy and safe. The witch ball folklore actually came from early England, where the glass workers were very superstitious. The folklore of the witch ball continued into the 20th century.
Glass rolling pins are another early glasshouse whimsey. They were used in colonial days to store salt and tea. The rolling pins were hung near the fireplace to keep the ingredients dry. Both salt and tea were used to barter in addition to consumption. The rolling pins were sealed at one end and fitted with a cork in the blowpipe hole. The rolling pin could be filled with water, and used in making baked goods. The rolling pin also had it’s origin in Europe.
A Colonial whimsey that probably originated in America, at the Wistarburgh Glass Works is the powder horn. Some of the powder horns look like flattened reveler horns, while others take the form of an animal horn. The flattened horns were sometimes decorated with applied threading and added prunts. The powder horn was actually used to carry dry powder for the fire arms. The flattened type could be carried in a pocket, while the horn type were carried on a leather strap over the shoulder.
For more on a Colonial Glass Factory, check www.wistarburg.org
Back to Home Page