Cambridge Glass Company
Apr 13, 2016 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Welcome to our short and sweet article focused on the Cambridge Glass Company. For any collector venturing into American glass manufacturers, this is a key company to know. We have thunderstorms beckoning and lightening threatening the internet tonight, so while this five cent tour will be brief, you can always reach out with questions in the comments section. As you can see from our featured image, this company is known for its stunning craftsmanship and elegant designs.
A brief history
The Cambridge Glass Company is not from Cambridge, Massachusetts as you may have assumed. Nope, this is a company born and bred in the great state of Ohio. Their first glass works debuted to consumers at the exact turn of the century: 1901. What made this location special to the company’s five founders? The abundance of two ingredients key for any glass making venture: natural gas and coal. Proximity to both these elements gave Cambridge an instant competitive edge and what business person wouldn’t find that appealing. Much of the company’s early success can also be attributed to the selection of its plant manager. Mr. Arthur Bennett was incredibly well-versed in all things glass and china (not to mention his name carried considerable weight in New England). With that, Cambridge had the setting and the staff. Now it was a matter of getting to work! Fun fact: the first item to roll off the assembly line: a three pint pitcher.
A word on our feature image – the swan punch bowl set: This is a prime example of the pressed pattern work or “near cut” we mention below. The process is simple (hot glass poured and then pressed into a mold), but it is also remarkably easy to poorly execute. This attention to detail definitely set Cambridge apart. This set is also a prime example of their figural work. While Cambridge was sold in department stores and gift shops, it was still considered a nice quality. Something you’d put on your wedding registry. With the housewife as their key demographic it’s easy to see how the cheap imports took the lion’s share of the market in the 60s. The age of consumerism and savings had arrived. Exquisite glass work, like this punch bowl set, was no longer seen as a household investment.
Cambridge was known for intricate pressed pattern work (this gave a feeling of ye olde world etchings, but with the benefit of ye new modern techniques). The mere aesthetic qualities alone are not the only indication of this glass type – the collector will see a marking on the underside that states “near cut.” Cambridge differentiated themselves from their competitors by adding a final step to their pressing process: once the item was shaped that was the end of the line for the average manufacturer, but not for Cambridge – the piece was then fire polished for a brilliant shine. For the first couple decades of its history, near cut was Cambridge’s calling card, but as we fast forward to the jazz age tastes changed and the company adapted.
This new era in design and emphasis was celebrated with a logo. Collectors can rejoice because in true Art Deco fashion it’s elegantly simple and geometric: a “c” within an equilateral triangle. You can see an exact rendering here. The moodiness and energy of this era inspired the use of opaque glass, rich hues, and a collection that is still desirable today: Crown Tuscan. This line featured a black glass accented by a gold treatment. If that doesn’t ooze luxury I don’t know what does!
Collector’s note: It is possible to find un-marked Cambridge pieces that date after the 1920s. While most pieces during this time were marked, the practice was not 100% consistent
Another popular collection was the Statuesque line which, as the name suggests, housed their figural designs. During the 1930s Cambridge’s aesthetic became more ornate, but by the mid-century the high-quality that once was the talk of the industry became their downfall. Even crisp design work now responsive to the modern eye (such as the award-winning Square Pattern) couldn’t turn the tide. Enter cheaper imports with a fickle consumer market and exit Cambridge. In the 1960s a competitor company, Imperial, bought the rights to some of Cambridge’s molds but the appeal never surged again.
A stunning slideshow of several key Cambridge pieces can be found here.