Dugan Art Glass: 1906-1907 – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – November 2003
By: Alfredo Villanueva-Collado, Ph.D , Photos by Abersio Núñez
As an avid collector of Czechoslovakian iridescent glass, I buy whatever books appear on the subject. In two of these books, I recently found pieces that did not seem Czech to my eyes. In fact, they resembled a piece I had found at a flea market and dropped a couple of times on my way home, only to find out it had not even developed a scratch.
A similar piece appeared on e-Bay as “rare Loetz,” at the startling opening bid of $1,200 (it remained unsold). Then, at a Pier show in New York, Andy and Donna Schilero identified for me a piece they had on display as having been made by the Dugan Company, of Indiana Pennsylvania. I bought the two reference books they suggested, and coincidentally started on a new collection.
Dugan glass poses a bit of a mystery that requires some sleuthing. The most complete information on the history of Dugan glass can be found in [amazon_link id=”0915410915″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dugan/Diamond: The Story of Indiana, Pennsylvania, Glass[/amazon_link], started by William Heacock and completed by James Measell and Berry Wiggins after Heacock’s death (thereby referred to as HMW).
Dugan glass begins its history as the Indiana Glass Company, operating from Indiana, Pennsylvania, from 1892 to 1896. In 1896 Harry Northwood, accompanied by Samuel Dugan and his three sons (Thomas E.A., Alfred and Samuel Jr.), took over the company, which changed its name to Northwood. From 1900 to 1903 it was known as the national Glass Company, under the direction of Harry Bastow and Thomas E.A. Dugan. From 1904 to 1909, it was called the Dugan Glass Company, creating the “Diamond-D” mark for some of its pressed ware, most notably, Carnival glass. Finally, from 1913 to its closing in 1931 due to a plant fire, it was known as the Diamond glass Company.
Although much information has been lost, several facts about the glass have been established. According to the HMW, “there was ample evidence from Thomas E. A. Dugan’s books as well as other sources to indicate he was experimenting with iridized techniques as early as 1902,” though Dugan’s iridescent lines are produced from 1905 to 1907. Thus, they precede Imperial’s art glass, which appeared around 1916, by a full 10 years, becoming probably the first mass-produced, mass marketed “poor man’s Tiffany” in America. In a 1906 Sommers catalogue, vases from the “Pompeian” line are described as “art vases, of exquisite Tiffany glass” made “to appeal to the most exquisite tastes.”
Second, Dugan iridescent glass was produced in a deliberate attempt to compete with foreign, imported glass, particularly Webb and Loetz. In a 1906 Butler Brothers catalogue, pieces denominated “Venetian” were described as in HMW as “exact reproductions of expensive imported vases,” and in a Sommers catalogue from the same year as “perfect imitations of relics found in the buried cities of Italy.”
Third, judging the advertising in trade catalogues for 1905 and 1906, and later 1907-1908 catalogues, it is impossible to distinguish between “Japanese,” “Pompeian,” and “Venetian.” It seems that the company itself did not discriminate between the three names. Articles called Venetian in some ads appear under Japanese or Pompeian in other ads.
Carl Burns, an expert on Carnival glass, points out in [amazon_link id=”1574320823″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dugan and Diamond Carnival Glass: Identification and Value Guide[/amazon_link] that Thomas Dugan was producing mold-blown, iridescent art glass as early as 1904. Probably he is referring to the Venetian line. The molten glass was collected on the gathering rod and rolled in “frit,” very finely crushed glass. The frit became embedded in the molten glass. When the piece was hand shaped and “warmed in,” the frit oxidized, resulting in a silver-gold iridescence.
James Measell calls the process “blown molded,” pointing out that “at the end of the ‘blow,’ the worker pulls the blowpipe away from the mold, creating a thin glass ‘overblow’ which is otherwise sheared off or otherwise removed when the topmost rim of the article receives its final shape.” I must point out that mold marks are quite visible, and there are no pontil marks. Burns illustrates the Venetian line with the picture of an aqua-blue vase. Soon I was able to find an identical piece. Thus I identified the first of the art glass lines from Dugan.
Venetian ware vessels are characterized by a grainy, “overshot” surface. Most pieces I have found are usually small, between four and seven inches. The tallest in my collection is a 10-inch graceful pinched bottle with an elongated twisted neck. Vases sport triangular or square spiked tops, or fan-shaped tops. The same grainy surface appears on vases with “hexagon button” decoration, (see HMW, page 50 for an advertisement for a 1906 Butler Brothers catalogue). The “Stippled Estate” decoration is characterized by a pattern of irregular crisscrossed lines and commonly appears in only one size and shape, though I have seen a bowl in this pattern on eBay. Colors for Venetian ware in my collection include blue-green or aqua, green, yellow, and amethyst.
Some early pieces already show the characteristics that reappear later in Dugan’s other art glass lines. I have three celery vases that appear in an “Oriental” assortment in a March 1901 G. Sommers and Co., catalogue. The celery stands are described as “6 inches tall, fluted top; assorted blue, green and rose coraline glass.” They all have an optic “polka dots” “bull’s eye,” or “thumbprints” pattern and a surface decoration of white glass in the manner of Northwood’s “Granite Ware,” first introduced in 1893 and characterized by “Opal” (white) frit. I also have a 1903 “iridescent antique green” honeycomb rose bowl with golden frit bands, looking like applied glitter, over the honeycomb pattern, creating, in effect, vertical ribs.
The optic effect is characteristic of Dugan’s most extensive art glass lines, be it vertical ribbing or a polka dot pattern covered by opal and amber-gold frit in what dealers call the “starburst” pattern: “After the glass is gathered on the blowpipe and made smooth in a marver, it is rolled in frit (powdered glass) and expanded by blowing into a spot mould which imparts narrow vertical ribs. Still on the blowpipe, the glass in then blown to its final shape in another mould. The ribs imparted earlier by the spot mould [sic] become an internal ‘optic’ pattern, and the frit is now part of the surface of the glass, often appearing thinner where the final shape is its greater diameter,” HMW tells us. Measell additionally points out that the frit adheres “only to the outermost area of the vertical ribs.”
Many times Dugan glass is mistakenly classified as Czech glass. Collectible Bohemian Glass I (141:2) shows a rose bowl from an unidentified private collection. Das Böhmische Glass 1750-1960 (Band IV) shows three pieces (227:IV 400,401.402) belonging to the Höhl collection at the Passau Museum (thereby referred to as the PMC). Both labeled the glass as “Unidentified Bohemian production.” (I was able to acquire all three pieces. Photographs of them can be found on line at loetz.com.)
Two of the pieces featured in the Passau Museum catalogue as “unidentified Bohemian” are purple and one is “dark pink.” All three show the same manufacturing process. The rose bowl, IV: 400, is shown in the Fall 1906 Butler Brothers “Japanese Vase and rose Bowl Asst.” (HMW, page 51). The larger piece, IV 401, is illustrated in a 1906 Butler Brothers catalogue featuring a “25 c Venetian Vase Asst.” (HMW, page 50). In the PMC, the rose bowl is described as “light violet glass, pre-blown in a ribbed mold, colorless and silver yellow glass speckles. Mold blown and free formed, three deep indentations, rim pinched three times. Reduced and brilliantly iridized” (translation by Eddy Scheepers). The “glass speckles” correspond to frit and give the glass what has been described as a “crushed ice “ effect. “Reduced” refers to a technique whereby glass threads containing metal are coaxed back to their originally metallic prototype. I find the dark quality of purple glass tends to absorb the light and not allow the ribbing to show through; on the other hand, it maximizes the iridescent effect.
Amber frit over colorless, blue, or light pink transparent glass, instead, de-emphasizes the iridescent effect and gives a quite lovely “chipped ice” brilliance to a second variant of the same surface treatment, which also reminds me of colored sugar crystals or hard candy. Some pieces were blown in “hexagon buttons” mould used as well for Venetian pieces. The “buttons” are barely visible through the vertical ribbing and the frit; the rose bowls do not have them.
A third variant shows “opal” frit (coarsely crushed white glass) used in conjunction with finer amber frit “glitter.” The opal frit is randomly distributed on the vessel’s surface. The amber frit marks the vertical ribbing. Therefore, pieces in this third variant, are related to Northwood’s “Granite ware.” A fourth variant has appeared so far only in cobalt blue. It an optic “thumbprint” pattern covered with white and golden amber frit, from which it has earned its “starburst” denomination. However, in comparing two identical vases from this line, I have found a subtle but definite difference in surface decorative treatment.
Among Dugan’s art glass I include a series of vessels made in what is commonly classified as a type of “ carnival” glass known as “Peach Opal.” The pieces I have found not only preserve the Art Nouveau aesthetic of flowing, asymmetrical shape, the vertical ribbing and even (in one case) applied frit. A friend has suggested they mark the transition point between art glass and carnival glass.
At the time I wrote my first article on Dugan in 2001, I stated that it came in a limited variety of shapes, decorative patterns, colors and sizes. At that point, I only had about 20 pieces. Now that I have over 100, I have discovered that the range is really much larger than I had realized. It may be possible to find unique pieces or decorative combinations previously unknown. The collector may also find same-shaped vessels with different decorative treatments, simply by altering the treatment of the frit. Rarity of shape, color and decoration affects value. I also wrote at the time that Dugan’s iridescent lines were still quite affordable to budget-conscious collectors. For some of the rarest items, that may no longer be quite true. As a rule prices will be higher in shops and lower on eBay.
There are factors that could lower the price of some samples. Sometimes Dugan art glass shows flaws incurred while in the manufacturing process. The frit may have failed to adhere, creating areas devoid of metallic iridescence. Mineral impurities can also be found, as well as straw marks. But the worst, given its complex optic effect patterns, is the ability to hide stress cracks. Cobalt Starburst seems to be particularly affected by this condition. I have had to buy three of mine twice because of breakage of this kind. I advise Internet buyers to ask specific questions about condition, ask for insurance and maximum wrapping. If buying in person, it is a good idea to use one of those “snake” reading lights to inspect the piece before buying. The collector must decide whether imperfections interfere with the enjoyment of the piece. I, for one, always say that I cannot expect perfection in a piece considerably older than I am!
I still find it surprising that Dugan’s art glass lines are not better known by collectors and dealers. It is unfair to compare them to Loetz, since there is no visible similarity between them. However, some of the shapes reflect a conscious effort to repeat shapes associated with Czech Art Nouveau glass, which was being abundantly imported into the United States at the time Dugan was creating his designs. Ultimately, distinguishing between “Venetian, “Pompeian, or “Japanese” becomes less important than giving these Indiana, Pennsylvania, beauties the place they deserve in the history of American iridescent art glass.
Recommended Reading on Dugan Glass
- Adlerová, Alena, et. al. Das Böhmishe Glass 1750-1900. Band IV, Jugendstil in Böhmen. Passau: Passauer Glasmuseum, 1995.
- Burns, Carl O., [amazon_link id=”1574320823″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dugan and Diamond Carnival Glass: Identification and Value Guide[/amazon_link]. Paducah, Ky.: Collector Books, 1999.
- Heacock, William, James Measell and Barry Wiggins. [amazon_link id=”0915410915″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dugan/Diamond: The Story of Indiana, Pennsylvania, Glass[/amazon_link]. Marietta: Ohio: Antique Publications, 1993.
- Measell, James. “Dugan’s Pompeian, Japanese and Venetian Glass.” Antiques and Collecting, Jan. 1993: 26-27/32.
- Truitt, Robert. [amazon_link id=”0966837614″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Collectible Bohemian Glass 1880-1940[/amazon_link]. Kensington, Md.: B&D Glass, 1995.
- Villanueva-Collado, Alfredo. “Dugan: An American Original.” www.loetz.com