The Glass City Museum:
How Edward Drummond Libbey’s Glass Collection Started the Toledo Museum of Art
Edward Drummond Libbey was one of the most influential leaders who innovated the manufacturing of glass and fostered its craftsmanship and design in the U.S. His management style was based on the powerhouses of the time—Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, etc.—but brought a level of support for his talented employees and community that made this titan of industry show the importance of art and involvement in a new way.
By the time Edward Libbey was born in 1854, the New England Glass Works (NEGW), located in Cambridge, Massachusetts had been incorporated for over 40 years and was currently managed by Libbey’s father, William L. Libbey. At that time, NEGW was considered the largest glassmaking plant in the Western hemisphere, employing an average of 450 men, women, and children, many of whom were considered the most skillful glassblowers of that time. However, NEGW quickly began to experience problems with its workers – mainly, theft of ideas, items, and information. In 1878 William Libbey leased the plant out and the glassmaker was down to one furnace and ten pots in operation; three furnaces were idle.
In 1880, Edward D. Libbey became a partner and continued to operate the factory. His father passed in 1883, and after several strikes, Edward vowed to close the factory if one more occurred, and it did, and he did. Libbey was not willing to give up his dream of creating a “Glass City,” and moved the business to Toledo, Ohio in 1888 where natural gas and the type of sand needed for quality glass production were readily available, and he brought some of his talented glassmakers with him.
After a chance meeting, Edward Libbey married socialite Florence Scott of Toledo in 1890, and the couple went on to bring the economic and cultural environment of the region to all-new levels of success. In 1892, he changed the name of his business to The Libbey Glass Company.
According to the book Edward Drummond Libbey, American Glassmaker by Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., “Edward Drummond Libbey was a glassmaker, industrialist, artist, innovator, and art collector. Both practical and creative, he forever changed the glass industry with the automatic bottle-making machine and automatic sheet glass machine. … the long career of Libbey, particularly his innovation of American flint cut glass, his contributions to the middle-class American table through affordable glassware, and his enormous art glass and painting collections, eventually formed the basis for the Toledo Museum of Art’s collection. Libbey single-handedly revolutionized glassmaking.”
Beyond his prowess as a man who “pioneered the role of the CEO,” Libbey had deep-seated love and admiration for fine art and the art of glassmaking. He continually encouraged craftsmen and designers to push their limits and fostered their education and development. Florence was one of the founding members of the Toledo Art Museum which had its beginnings in 1883. Following the death of their only child at nine months, the Libbeys threw themselves into the world of art and travel.
From libbeyhouse.org/history-the-libbeys, “in 1901, the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) was founded by a group of seven charter members including Mr. Libbey. The museum’s building sits on the property of Mrs. Libbey’s father’s estate, given by the Libbeys for this purpose. In order to encourage community support, Libbey encouraged Toledoans to pledge money toward the new building. With the help of the director of the Museum, George Stevens, $50,000 was pledged by the community for the new building in a few short weeks. Edward Drummond Libbey served as the Museum’s president from 1901 to 1925, funded building construction, and bequeathed to the Museum his personal collection of art.” This included Dutch and English fine and decorative art, as well as his ever-growing glass collection.
Libbey’s vision for a glass collection included the desire to document the history of American glass from the 17th century forward but added more historical glass by gathering significant collections starting in 1913 when he purchased a group of 53 European Rennaissance and Baroque glasses from the estate of German publisher Julius Heinrich Wilhelm Campe. This purchase gave the TMA the status of having one of the most important historic European glass collections in the U.S. By 1920, the TMA glass collection was considered on par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vast collection. Libbey fulfilled one of his prime directives by using these works to provide inspiration to glassmakers, inviting them to study and create by giving them unprecedented access.
Edward Libbey tried to retire but was always pulled back to the world of glass and art. He kept few written records, and what he did keep he requested his wife and lawyers to destroy on his death. Libbey died of pneumonia on November 13, 1925, at the age of 71. His endowment left to the TMA was and continues to be used to fund its operations and ongoing, judiciously selected pieces of glass.
After his death, Florence gave up her interest in his fortune, choosing instead to fund a major expansion of the Museum in order to keep 2,500 talented craftsmen working during the Great Depression (libbeyhouse.org).
The glass objects at the Toledo Museum of Art comprise one of the most comprehensive and historically significant collections dedicated to the medium in the world. The once considered “inferior” American glass found its home where it and other glass works of art are continuously acquired, studied, conserved, published, and exhibited – the collection’s creation and growth are as unique as the Museum itself.
In recognition of the Toledo Museum of Art’s role as the cradle of the Studio Glass Movement, many artists and collectors have donated works of art. And with the opening of the 74,000 square-foot TMA Glass Pavilion in 2006, Toledo acquired a state-of-the-art facility to house, care for, study, and display its renowned glass collection.
“As founders of the Toledo Museum of Art, the Libbey family was instrumental to the advancement of arts education and art appreciation in this region,” said Brian Kennedy, TMA’s Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director. “It is our honor to recognize the Libbey legacy of innovative glass design, practices, and production and to celebrate the Museum’s longstanding commitment to the medium through collections development, exhibition, research, and programming.”
Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St., Toledo, Ohio
One of America’s finest museums with over 30,000 works of art in over 35 galleries. Edward Drummond Libbey was the founder of the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901, serving as its president from 1901 to 1925, funding building construction, and bequeathing to the museum his collection of Dutch and English art.
Glass Pavilion at Toledo Museum of Art, 2444 Monroe St., Toledo
Opened in 2006, the 74,000 square-foot postmodern Glass Pavilion is home to TMA’s world-renowned glass collection that was started by Edward Drummond Libbey. The Museum features more than 5,000 works of art from ancient to contemporary times.