There were many Glasshouse Whimsies made to depict actual hand tools, although they were probably not for use. Other whimsies were made to be used as toys. These whimsies were all non-production glass items, fabricated after hours by glass workers, to make some family member or friend happy. The terminology for the methods that these whimsical items were made include free-blown, free-formed, or made off-hand.
The Flip Flop is a novel Glass House Whimsey. Due to its noise making ability, it is considered a glass toy. The flip flop was very vulnerable to misuse, which probably accounts for so few examples in existence today. The flip flop consisted of a hollow stem connected to a funnel section which was enclosed on the opposite end with a f I at, paper thin, layer or membrane of glass. Since this enclosure was very thin, it would vibrate in and out if air pressure was gently applied by blowing through the stem. The vibrating glass would emit a popping sound. Obviously, if too much pressure was applied, the membrane would burst. Additionally, if the glass membrane was activated continuously, it would fatigue and break.
The Flip Flops were only made for family members and were probably not available to the public because they were so fragile. It took great skill to make the membrane thin enough to vibrate without breaking. The thinner the membrane, the longer it would last. Also, t h e membrane had to be perfectly flat to allow it to move outward and then return to its original form. Since the membrane was thin, a better quality clear or light aqua glass was used to make them. Flip Flops o f other colors are unknown. The stems were sometimes only a few inches long and, on others, the stem would be curved and twisted and possibly twelve inches long. Due to the scarcity of Flip Flops, most of those in existence are in Museums. It is very doubtful that any flip flops have been made in recent years.
According to Jim Travis of Clevenger Bros. Glass, Clayton, N.J., Vermont (Mott) Frie made flip flops while working at Clevenger Bros. Glass in their earlier years (1930's). Mott might make fifteen or twenty attempts before he was successful in producing a good example. Even though such great effort was required, Mott supposedly never charged for a f lip flop.
Other favorite toys made by the glass workers were various free-blown miniature tableware items. Mostly cups, saucers, and pitchers were blown in very small size for the children to play with at home. These small size items were also made in the cut glass shops as whimsical toys for children.
Glass workers also made small animals for children. The chicken, rooster, pig, and fish were favorites. The chicken and rooster were formed of solid glass and sometimes given as parade souvenirs. Some would be a single color and others would have full color and might be 1 to 2 inches high. The fish and pigs are generally hollow and one toy pig has 4 little piglets sealed inside. Another type of toy pig is hollow with a hole at the snout and another underneath. When filled with water, the water would remain inside as long as a finger was held over the snout. When the pig was placed in the hand of an unsuspecting visitor, the finger was removed from the snout and guess���..what.
Another parade souvenir made at Sandwich, Mass. was the glass bracelet. These were given to little girls from a company float in the Fourth of July parade.
Horns and whistles, that actually made noise when blown were also made by ingenious glass workers. A toy that makes noise is always favored by children. Examples of noise making whimsies are scarce, probably because they were in the hands of children. A whistle could be made from a small perfume bottle. The horn would have a trumpet end and then a tube several feet long, either coiled or bent to look like a trumpet. Some would have a trumpet-like mouthpiece and others would just have the tube sheared off.
Another toy, made mostly in England, was Prince Rupert's Drop. Keith Vincent tells about this toy, a tadpole-shaped piece of glass in NAILSEA GLASS. The Rupert's drops were made by dropping a blob of glass from a gathering iron into cold water. This set up serious stresses between the glass on the surface and the interior, which released when the tall of the drop was broken, causing the entire drop to explode to dust with a very loud snap. I imagine that present day OSHA regulators would not approve of this joke.
There seems to be as many whimsical tools as there are toys. The free blown hatchet and gavel. were not made in any type of production, nor do they seem to have been made in recent years. The hatchet was strictly for decoration and may have been used as a gift. Some hatchets are very simple, almost looking like a Tomahawk, while others are very exacting to the point of having been ground to have a sharp blade. Hatchets can be found in aqua or other solid colors and in varied colors including multi color strips encased in clear glass. Overall it does not appear to require tremendous skill to make a hatchet compared to some of the other whimsies. The hatchet is a very scarce whimsey, probably made in the late 1800's.
The gavel (sometimes called a mallet) is much more common and probably was a presentation item. The colors can be clear glass, aqua, and many times a combination of red, white and blue. Some have several solid or opaque colors either striped, swirled, or twisted and encased in clear glass. Greater skill was needed to make a gavel than the hatchet, the head of the gavel having to be made symmetrical.
The paperweight gavel seems to have been a favorite. This type has a barrel paperweight at the hammer end. The gavel was probably made for special occasions for family members or friends who were associated with a club or organization. These gavels could possibly have been used to call a meeting to order if the owner dared to take the chance and did not bang too hard. In this manner, the gavel did have a useful purpose. The gavel is another reasonably scarce whimsey probably made in the late 1800's.
The free blown hatchet & gavel are not to be confused with molded souvenir examples produced by many pressed glass factories. Libbey Glass had a molded hatchet embossed with a profile of George Washington for the 1893 World's Fair. Either type may be found at flea markets and antique shows. The free formed Whimsey type may vary widely in price, but if it has nice color, it could cost many hundreds of dollars.
Another handled whimsey is the hammer, They can be found with or without a claw. Some are completely free blown while others were reformed from large stoppers. The known hammer examples are not as attractive as hatchets and gavels and are most likely of more recent origin.
Screw Driver (actual size), two Forks, Button Hook, two Parade Bracelets
Other tools include the screwdriver and the pitch fork. The screwdriver is made in true dimensions and took good skill to make. I t has a striped handle and a good blade. It was also probably a presentation item for someone retiring from the maintenance shop at a glass factory. The pitchfork, about 8" long, is only a miniature and was probably just for show or possibly to stab olives. The pitchfork may be just clear glass or may have some nice color in the handle.
There are some whimsical items the glass workers made that were somewhat plain and useful rather than colorful and fancy. The workers made these items for their own home and only made what they could use. This would include the linen smoother which is a plain looking solid glass item used to smooth lace, linen, and other cloth. It is simply a very smooth round base 2 to 3 inches in diameter with a handle about 3 to 6 inches high formed to easily fit the hand. It is an early version of the flat iron. A home only needed one which may be the reason for so f e w examples. Additional whimsical items are the string holder and the wig stand.
The wax (envelope) sealer was used at every desk to seal the flap of the envelope closed with wax. The wax was dripped on the flap and then spread around with a flat tool to insure the envelope was sealed tight to assure privacy. These wax sealers were usually made of metal, but sometimes the glass workers would make the sealer from glass. They were solid glass and looked somewhat like a small darner with a flat foot. The sealers were held at the knob end while the hot wax was spread with the flat end. The sealers sometimes had an embossed monogrammed metal disk permanently attached on the bottom of the foot to emboss the wax with a personal imprint. The wax sealer can be found free-formed of colorful glass or of clear cut glass with initials engraved.
The button hook may also be considered a tool. The ornamental glass button hook was a favorite of the glass workers. The original metal button hooks were required to pull a button through the buttonhole when clothing materials were stiff, thick, or heavily starched. One didn't want to create wrinkles In that fine looking shirt while attempting to button up. Many plain whimsical button hooks can be found of aqua, amber, or clear glass. There are only a few with nice color or stripes with twists or knobs in the glass.
Making toys for children or imitating tools was always pursued by the early glass workers on their own time, using the nearly empty pots of glass which would not endure another production shift. Many times there were pot stones and other impurities remaining at the bottom of the pot. This glass would have otherwise been discarded.
String Holder, and four types of Linen Smoothers
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