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Fenton Art Glass

Fenton Art Glass

Brothers Frank L. and John W. Fenton opened The Fenton Art Glass Company as a cutting and decorating shop in July 1905, in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The business began as a decorating shop that used blanks supplied by various glass manufacturing companies. As the firm prospered it became evident to the Fentons that their suppliers either could not or would not meet their increasing demands for more glassware. Therefore, it was an almost inevitable decision that to survive and prosper, they would have to produce their own glass. A decision was made to purchase a site and build a plant in Williamstown, West Virginia. The first glass from the new Fenton Art Glass plant was produced on January, 2, 1907. The first plant manager was Jacob Rosenthal, a seasoned veteran of the glassmaking business. He had learned his skills in over twenty-five years of working at the various glasshouses around the country. He brought with him many secret formulas and his knowledge of color was soon tested by the fledgling Fenton operation. Colored glassware in opalescents, Persian blue, and chocolate was soon pouring from the plant. Upon Jacob's retirement, his son Paul became plant manager and glassware continued to be produced with the same unique formulas. Early glassware included pressed glass pieces in green, crystal, topaz opalescent, blue opalescent, ruby, and amethyst. Iridescent glassware soon became the rage and the Fenton plant produced vast amounts of carnival glass. Patterns were numerous, production expanded, and the company prospered. In 1912, the company was back into the decorating business. By 1918, the volume in the cutting shop peaked and then gradually declined until Fenton finally phased out the cutting operation in the early 1930s. I n 1939, Fenton stepped up production of the No. 289 Hobnail cologne bottle for Wrisley. At times there were as many as 8 to 10 shops making this piece. Production for the regular line of was concentrated on the Spiral patterns in Steigel Blue Opalescent, French Opalescent, Green Opalescent, Blue Ridge and Cranberry. Demand for the patterns and treatments that were popular in the mid-1930's was tapering off. Thus, most of the pieces in the Daisy and Button, Georgian, Lincoln Inn and Plymouth patterns were discontinued. Satin finished patterns were also diminishing in popularity and were phased out. Peach Blo--a cased glass with a gold ruby interior and a milk glass exterior layer--also entered the line for a single year. Although orders for the No. 289 cologne bottle from Wrisley were diminishing by the mid 1940's, Fenton made a major commitment to the future of both opalescent colored glassware and the Hobnail pattern. The 1940 general catalog showcases the introduction of the No. 389 Hobnail line in Blue Opalescent, French Opalescent, Green Opalescent and Cranberry. Crest patterns were also highlighted. Peach Crest spruced up and replaced the original Peach Blo pattern. In 1947, the Coin Dot pattern was added to the regular line in Blue Opalescent, French Opalescent, and Cranberry colors. On the economic front, the boom resulting from the limited competition of the war years was coming to an end. Increased competition from foreign manufacturers resulted in a sharp decrease in orders from domestic retailers. During the early 1950's numerous changes were implemented as the new generation became more familiar with the company's operations. Isaac Willard, a young chemical engineering graduate from the University of Pittsburgh came to Fenton to assume the duties of chief chemist. The sales organization was revamped to eliminate the role of jobbers in the sale of Fenton glassware. From now on only manufacturer's representatives would handle the sales. Manufacturer's representatives are sales specialists who work on sales commissions and usually represent several companies for specialized products. In addition, to spark interest in Fenton glassware, a national advertising campaign was begun. A noteworthy event for 1955 was the production of the first catalog with full color photographs. Milk glass Hobnail became the leading seller as more pieces were added to that line. During the mid 1960's Fenton explored the possibility of entering the lamp business. Previously, Fenton had made lamp parts for many years for numerous companies who then assembled and marketed the finished product. Recently, milk Hobnail lamps had been successfully tested in the Fenton Gift Shop. Also, other test market results indicated a strong possibility that a line of lamps could be successfully marketed. After this short but successful test marketing period, Fenton began production with an initial offering of 18 lamps. Lamp patterns included Rose, Poppy and a large Coin Dot style that Fenton dubbed Thumbprint. Fenton ventured into the 1970's with a brightly iridized new line of wares. This reintroduction of Carnival Glass was the first small step in the development of a major new line of glassware. These new pieces were marked with an embossed Fenton logo and all came complete with a descriptive tag attached. The first in a series of annual Carnival Glass collectible plates in the Craftsman series appeared in the January catalog supplement. Fenton began the process of affixing a molded identifying logo onto the bottom of each piece. Moulds were modified as time permitted and the process of incorporating the logo into all the moulds was completed by 1974. Also, during the mid 1970's with Louise Piper at the helm of the decorating department, lines of hand painted glassware had been steadily expanding and maturing. New decorations were developed and implemented and individual artists also began to include their signatures on their work. Production of popular hand painted glassware continued until the plant closed in the first decade of the 21rst Century.

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