The Whimsey Club

WHAT ARE GLASSHOUSE WHIMSIES?

Glasshouse whimsies, being non-production items means they were not part of the glass factory regular production. In fact, other than the use of factory glass, the whimsies have no connection to the glass company or factory. The 19th century was the hey day for glasshouse whimsies, and it extended into the 20th century until machines finally took over production at all of the glass factories. When this happened, the glass was no longer accessible to the glass blowers.

These whimsical items the glass blowers made on their own time included canes, chain, hats, sock darners, doorstop turtles, bellows bottles, bells, witch balls, banks, powder horns, pipes, rolling pins, horns, and many more items. In fact, there are additional items coming to our attention every year. These include witch wands, gavels, screw drivers, pistols, and swords. Some of these whimsies may be made of clear or aqua glass. Others may be of a single color like amber or cobalt blue, while others may have many colors.

The many whimsies of aqua color (canes, witch balls, chain, etc.) were probably products of a window glass or bottle factory. Bottle glass was usually aqua due to the natural iron in the sand, which discolored the glass. Window glass may have been chemically treated to produce a somewhat clearer glass. Seldom was green, amber, cobalt blue or ruby red available to the workers of these bottle and window glass factories. The more colorful whimsey items may have originated in larger glass works which had many pots and possibly several colors available at one time. Glasshouse whimsies are referred to as Friggers in England and as End-of-Day in other areas.

Glass workers did not have time to amuse themselves with their creations during working hours. Pay scales were equated to the volume of the product or numbers of piece work. At some glass houses there were terms like "Turn" which meant you worked a certain length of time, which may have been four hours. During that "Turn" the shop had to produce a "Move" which equaled a certain number of items. The number of items for a "Move" was derived through negotiations between the union and the company. Workers working together enabled a shop to produce a "Move" in a "Turn", thus preventing any work on personal creations, other than at lunch time or at the "End-of-Day".

Glass workers had a difficult life, with the heat, the smoky, dusty, air and the pressure to complete a "Move" to make the maximum wage. The opportunity to make a useful item for home or just an attractive item for pleasure was one of the few benefits that had the owner’s consent. Even though the glass workers had unions, they were not able to acquire many benefits because the owners would stop production and close before giving in to union demands. This happened at Sandwich Glass Works in 1888.

A major problem the workers faced when they made a whimsey, was preventing someone else from taking it. The item had to be cooled in the lehr overnight, and whoever was first to get to work the next morning had the opportunity to grab the whimsey if he was so inclined. Some workers just expected their whimsies to disappear and were surprised when it was still there for them to have.

There are some types of whimsies being made today. Are these reproductions or just the present day workers demonstrating their ability with glass? What classifies a glasshouse whimsey as being reproduced? When does the apparent time period of "originals" cease and the time period of "reproductions" begin? All glasshouse whimsies are one-of-a-kind and therefore should be judged on their own individual quality and beauty and not necessarily on their age. This is especially important with glass, because it is very difficult to judge the age of a piece of glass.

More Pictures of Whimsies

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