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American Glass History

By Carole Bess White

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Founded by the National Glass Company, a large combine of glass factories, the Cambridge Glass Company was built in 1901 and produced its first glass in 1902. When the National Glass Company collapsed, Cambridge remained in business. In the beginning, they used molds from their sister National companies, but by 1906 they were producing pieces from their own original designs.

Cambridge’s 1903 catalog offered some pieces in colors, including turquoise, green, amber, blue and opál (the early name for white glass, which was more delicate and translucent than later milk glass such as that produced in the 1950s and on by other factories). Color gained importance as time went by, and nearly every catalog featured several lines available in various colors. However, during WWII the minerals needed to make colored glass were needed for the War, so many colors were discontinued and most of them never came back.

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A big fashion fad from the 1920s on was acid-etched glass. A design was stamped on to a tissue in wax; the wax was applied to the piece of glass, and then the piece was treated with acid, usually hydrofluoric. The acid etched the pattern into the glass on the unwaxed areas. Both clear and colored pieces were acid-etched, and frequently the etchings were encrusted with gold as shown in the bowl with Wildflower etching below.

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Cambridge made sets of glass luncheon or dinner dishes including several sizes of plates and bowls, as well as pieces such as cream and sugar sets, salt and pepper sets, stemware and vases, all matching. Cambridge also made a lot of accessory pieces such as glass perfume bottles, powder jars, and covered candy jars that may or may not match the table dishes. Some Cambridge pieces have a C in a triangle molded into the glass (see below), but most had a similar paper label that washed off.

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The Cambridge Glass Factory closed in 1958. The remaining stock was sold at rock-bottom prices by the boxful off the loading dock, and factory workers saved some of it for themselves and their families.

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