What is Westmoreland Glass?

Over its 95-year history, there were two different Westmorelands divided almost equally in the middle. The first, the West period, lasted 48 years; whereas the second, the Brainard period, lasted virtually as long. (Including with the Brainard period the three years following the company’s sale in 1981, for there was no break in the type of glassware being made then.)

The West Period, 1889 – 1937

The West period is the more complex of the two, for there is little in the way of glassware the Wests did not make at some point during their period of ownership. In the case of their tableware lines, for example, they made two lines just for Woolworths, but they also made some of America’s finest cut glass, much of which was for table use. Nevertheless, when the Heisey Collectors of America reprinted Westmoreland’s 1912 catalog in the 1980s they wrote, “This catalog shows that the Westmoreland Specialty Co. produced not only the containers for which they are usually remembered, but several entire pressed glass lines.” In other words, even some of America’s most knowledgeable glass collectors a decade ago evidently associated West period Westmoreland with their containers and little else.

Just as Sir Arthur Sullivan is remembered today for his “Mikado,” and not for his beloved “Ivanhoe,” perhaps it is only fair that early Westmoreland is best remembered for its novelties and “packers’ goods.” After all, that’s where the brothers began in 1890, that’s what set them apart, and that’s where they made the bulk of their money. In early 1916 a trade reporter wrote: “Early last summer Westmoreland transformed the mustard department into the manufacture of tin and combination tin and glass toys of all kinds. The beginning was comparatively small but. .. today the new department is a formidable toy factory turning out the newest things by the thousands. Some of the articles produced are submarines, wagons, windmills, automobiles, trains, tin dishes, coffee pots and sets, glass dogs, glass watches, glass revolvers…in addition to a full line of novelties in the glassware line … ” (L 1/3/16).

Then almost six years later another reporter wrote: “A collection of exceptionally clever novelties in glass … include miniature automobiles, telephone, railroad engine and revolver. … The automobile Jitney has a glass wheel base with bright red tin wheels and body attractively decorated. A limousine is also treated in the same manner. The cab of the engine is also of brightly colored tin. The telephone and revolver have also gotten up in similar effects. All have spaces for filling with candy … ” (J 9/15/21).

But Westmoreland also had another side. A reporter two years later seemed to be referring to an entirely different company when he wrote, “The various products of the Westmoreland Specialty Co. are comprised mostly of hand decorated and cut and etched crystal” (L 11/19/23). Related to this, it is interesting to note that out of 3,120 moulds that survived at the facctory in 1991, 439 of them were blow moulds from the West period.

There is one thing that binds most of West period glassware together, and that is Westmoreland’s decorating. From the turn of the century, almost everything of importance at Westmoreland was decorated: souvenir items, mustard containners, early opal, candy containers, art glass, black glass, and even some of the table glass. We know that in 1900 a new foreman was hired (JD 12/28/00), a separate decorating building was erected (L 5/4/00), and by year-end it was found to be inadequate (JD 11/2/00). We know that in 1921 George West was able to describe Westmoreland as, “The largest decorating factory in the United States … the largest decorators of glassware in this country … ” (B 1/29/21).

At the turn of the century, Westmoreland turned to decorating to distinguish their glassware from similar glassware made by so many others; a generation later they used it to tailor their glassware to different markets and to different years. Decorating was key to so much of the freshness they brought to the Pittsburgh Exhibit over the years. While new moulds were expensive, new decorations were cheap. New decorations were another way of creating new glass. In 1936, Chas West’s last full year, Westmoreland seems to have introduced 43 new decorations: This, we believe, exceeded the total of all decorations used by Westmoreland in its last 30 years.

The Brainard Period – From 1937

In 1944 Ruth Webb Lee wrote: “The Westmoreland Glass Co. is still in operation under entirely different management. They have been intensely active during recent years, in making up reproductions of old time patterns”.

In 1937 when the Brainards took control of Westmoreland, they made a number of changes – all of which made excellent business sense at the time. They gave Westmoreland its first focus and brand identity. They pulled back from direct competition with all the other hand houses and carved out their own special market niche. They promoted their glassware directly to that market and used terms that were meaningful to that market. It may be significant that Fostoria and Westmoreland, two glass companies that went to the expense of advertising directly to the consumer, are two of those that survived into the 80s. This may be because they both cultivated slightly different markets, and because their advertising outlays were not matched by the rest of the industry.

Along with their “demand-pull” promotion, the Brainards increased their prices across the board. While this probably reduced their sales volume and employment initially, it gave the company, with its low break-even point, badly needed margin.

Thank you to our friends at Standard Encyclopedia of Carnival Glass.

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