The Whimsey Club

GLASS SOCK DARNERS - PART 1 by Lon Knickerbocker

I first realized sock darners existed when I was around 10 or 11 years old. My mom and dad had a small collection of them - about a dozen or so. Growing up in Corning, NY you could find them at local flea markets, shows and garage sales. They were not necessarily all over, but they were available. The spatter examples were commonly bought for $25 or less. My, how times have changed!

My dad was, and still is, a dealer. He has had and sold many great items over the years. I can remember outstanding Steuben pieces, Gone With the Wind lamps, beautiful cut glass, and a plethora of other great items in many categories pass through his hands. By the time I was in my early 20's, my parent's darner collection had been sold. My mother had really enjoyed the darners, so when I could afford it I would buy them for her at the local markets. Antique dealers would generally have them available at local events, but the prices were starting to go up. Spatter examples now brought $35-$65, and I paid a whopping $125 for a gold aurene darner for my mom.

As time went by I decided I would like to collect darners myself.. So in 1979 I bought the first darner I ever kept for myself, and in the last 20 years I've had over 800 of them (on my salary, I don't know how!) I would buy collections, or groups of several, then I would sell most of them off and keep what I could afford to.

It wasn't until 1986 or 1987 that I first bought a darner outside of the Corning area, and in 1989 when I first attended the Eastern National Glass Show in Harrisburg, PA, was the first time I had purchased darners outside of Western New York. I bought 4 glass darners at that show. 3 of them came from one dealer. I asked him where he had gotten them from and he had in fact bought them from a dealer in the Corning area. The point I'm trying to make is a tremendous number of darners were made in Corning in the 1920's and 1930's. To this day, there are several large collections in and around the Corning area, and I know of a few people who have a few examples that were made by family members in earlier generations at the glass works. They will not part with these whimsical treasures.

Today there are many collectors of glass sock darners, not only in the Corning area, but around the country. Many outstanding darners have showed up. If you take a close look at some of these creations you can see what incredible artists these glass makers were.

There were both whimsey and production darners produced. Most glass sock darners are whimsies that were made by glass workers for their own use and were not intended for retail sale. I believe most of this kind were made in Corning, NY. First there are the famous Steuben glass sock darners. They could have been made in most any of the Steuben colors, but to most collectors the Gold and Blue Aurene examples are most desirable. Of all Steuben sock darners they are also the most common, although seldom seen anymore. The Blue Aurene examples now command a price somewhere between $700-$1000 and continues to rise. Other Steuben colors do exist. but are very difficult to attain. Green Jade, Vere de Soie, Ivrene, Selenium Red, Mirror Black, Cobalt Blue, Celeste Blue, Spanish Green, and Amethyst are colors I've seen. There are some rare examples also, such as Mandarin Yellow and a possible Rouge Flambe. And even some which were made at Steuben in colors of glass that were never given names. There are also decorated examples of Aurene and I know of one Ivrene decorated darner. These are considered very rare and most desirable to collectors.

There were also many spatter darners, as I stated earlier, made in Corning. Most of this type are white milk glass cased in clear and are decorated with any number of colored splotches. These darners are generally between 5-8 inches in length, but can be found both shorter and longer on occasion. Corning was also home to many of the Nailsea Looped type darners. I have purchased many of these over the years which have come directly from families whose ancestors had made them. By no means did Corning make all glass sock darners, just a high percentage of them. Other darners have been traced to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, New England, and probably many other states. Where there were glass houses or factories, there were whimsies.

Another type of whimsey darner are what I now call the Western PA type, even though they were also made in Ohio, Indiana, New York, Kansas, and possibly other regions. These are generally quite long and made from aqua glass (sometimes being so light it appears clear). They may be either open or closed on the handled end and often have a white, silver, or gold powder blown in to accent the colors. This powder was used in much the same way as the white milk glass base was in spatter style darners - it helped highlight the splotches of colors. Also, because these darners were made in bottle factories where they didn't have an over abundance of access to colored glass, the powder served to make the darners more pleasing to the eye. The dates on this particular type of darner is approximately 1880-1920. There are many other blown darners out there that are different in style to either the Corning or Western, PA types - darners were made anywhere and everywhere. There were also molded and production glass sock darners produced.

There are a few basic types of molded and productions type glass sock darners which I will try to cover. The first has a raised ribbed handle design. It was made in a 2 piece mold. These are known in cobalt blue, and I've seen one of each in white milk glass, amethyst, and forest green. Two dealers I know have attributed them to Sandwich. I don't know about that, but they are extremely scarce and you find one in a color other than cobalt you have a very rare find. I've only seen 7 or 8 cobalt examples over the years. There is also a rare candy container darner that exists, made by the Royersford Glass Works, about 1910. These are also made in a 2 piece mold and are embossed "STOCKING DARNER PAT. APL. FOR - AMSTER" which was the name of the company that filled them with candy. These are known in cobalt blue, clear, and a very rare forest green. There are other molded darners, including 3 different shapes that I know of made in Czechoslovakia. These are generally marked "Made in Czechoslovakia" encased in a circle which is done by an acid stamp, as many glass companies signed their glass in the period between 1870-1930.

It is now known that a few other companies that made art glass also made darners, such as Durand, Imperial, and Fry. Although this is hard to prove, I have worked hard to trace these items. Sometimes I would come to a dead end, but seldom without some hint as to at least where, if not by who and when these treasures were made. We could go on a lot longer about all the different styles and types of darners, but Debbie will only type so much at one time!

In closing, I would like to say we know darners were made in other countries, but only Czechoslovakia mass produced them for retail. These are a wonderful collectible and what I once paid $15 for now can be priced as much as $500 or more. I hope you enjoy this small amount of information (there is so much more) and the colored pictures on the following pages. If you would like the only book on darners available, you can send $23.00 to: Wayne Muller, P.O. Box 903, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. The book is called Darn It and covers all types of darners. It has an excellent section on glass darners - all of the pictures are in color. It is truly a wonderful book to add to your library.

Because there are some things that I haven't covered, such as reproductions and new darners, I will make this a 2 part article. The next half of the article will have colored pictures as well.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people who have allowed me to take photographs or have sent photographs of their darners. This includes: Tom & Petie Dimitroff (Mr. Dimitroff is one of the curators at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY where the Rockwell Collection of Steuben is on Permanent display); George & Ann Jamison (two of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met on art glass, especially that produced in Corning); Wayne Muller (author of the book Darn It); Kathy Piersma; Mark & Laura Willes; Leigh Ann Osborn; Pam & Aaron Weber; Joyce Blake; Harlon & Edna Knickerbocker (my mom and dad!); Richard & Jill Pope, and I've thrown in a few of my clunkers too. Until next time... Lon

Pictures of Darners

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