From Grief to Glamour: The Enduring Beauty of Camphor Glass

I’ve had this necklace and bracelet forever.
I can only assume it originally belonged to my grandmother and was passed down to my mother.

Esemco camphor glass necklace, circa 1920

Esemco camphor glass necklace, circa 1920


I had no idea what it was, but I loved to wear it on special occasions (the bracelet is far too small). Then one night I found the pendant and chain tangled in my sweater — the bail was missing. I was heartbroken, but thankful that the bail was the only thing that was gone.

Suddenly I wanted to know more about the treasure I’d almost lost. It took hours of typing in “glass,” “filigree” and “silver” to discover that it’s camphor glass.

Esemco camphor glass bracelet, circa 1920

Esemco camphor glass bracelet, circa 1920

What is Camphor Glass?
According to the Antique Jewelry University, “Camphor glass is clear glass that has been treated with hydrofluoric acid vapors to give it a frosted whitish appearance. This effect resembles gum camphor (a fascinating thing to learn about itself!), hence the name…In jewelry the glass was often cast with a star pattern on the reverse to give it a radiant appearance. Camphor glass was made to imitate the carved rock crystal quartz (a semi precious stone) that was popular from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1930’s.”

Vintage camphor glass jewelry is quite distinctive, with its square, rectangular or oval shaped glass, typically framed with silver filigree metal (either pot metal, white gold, platinum or sterling), and featuring a single marcasite gem at the center. Some pieces have “rays” emanating from the gem; others, like my pieces, are plain. While most camphor glass is frosted/clear, some have been made in pale greens, pinks and varying shades of blue.

Art Deco glamour that began as a sign of sadness.

Antique White Gold Camphor Glass and Diamond Filigree Pendant Photo courtesy of The Copper Canary, Etsy

Antique White Gold Camphor Glass and Diamond Filigree Pendant
Photo courtesy of The Copper Canary, Etsy

The oldest necklaces and brooches were made in the Midwest in the 1890s as mourning pieces (the Victorians were big on celebrating death). They became extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s, with their lovely filigree and Art Deco lines. I was surprised to learn that they were produced until the 1940s, primarily by two companies.

The most prominent seem to have been the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company and Esemco (which later became Shiman Mfg. Co.). It seems next to impossible to find out much about Esemco, but their marks are listed here under the Shiman name.

Esemco logo, date unknown

Esemco logo, date unknown

Camphor glass is rapidly becoming more popular, and prices reflect the demand. I have no idea what my necklace and bracelet are worth, but I’ve seen some beautiful pieces for thousands of dollars! And some authorities claim that blue camphor glass made by the Sandwich Glass Company is “extremely rare.” Alas, mine is Esemco.

Naturally, reproductions abound.
Prices for camphor glass can range from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars. It can be difficult for the layperson to distinguish the old from the new, but here are some guidelines:

  • Check out the clasps. They can often help you date any piece of jewelry. Before 1930, the C clasp was in use.
  • Be suspicious of “customized” pieces. Most genuine antique camphor glass pieces have a simple marcasite gemstone or diamond in the center. But some pieces feature coral flowers, Eastern Stars and other ornamentation. This may indicate a newer piece by an original manufacturer or one that has been customizedIf in doubt, check with someone who is an expert before paying a high price.

The beauty and style of camphor glass lives on.
Many artisans are updating the look and creating new pieces that complement today’s styles. Some use flawed camphor glass; others re-recreate its look in new materials. Either way, camphor glass has a style all its own!

Dragonfly earrings camphor glass style Photo courtesy of BrightEchoVintage, Etsy

Dragonfly earrings camphor glass style
Photo courtesy of BrightEchoVintage, Etsy

PS: If anyone recognizes my necklace and knows where I can find a replacement bail, I’d really appreciate it. I’m dying to wear it again!



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Go vintage for a truly fun, old-fashioned holiday!

It’s getting to be that time of year again.
The endless search for that special gift for that special person. You know, the one who already has everything.

Another sweater? A fondue set? A candle – again?
Can you take another trip to the mall?

Why not go vintage this year instead?
For the right person, an antique or vintage item can prove that it really is the thought that counts.

Add to their collection.
Does a friend already collect Depression Glass, Carnival Glass or Noritake porcelain?
When you add to their collection you tell your friend that you share their enthusiasm.

Encourage a new collection.
Has someone recently moved into their first apartment? Inexpensive vintage glassware (especially the kind that will survive a dishwasher, such as Anchor Hocking’s “Wexford”) looks terrific and could encourage that someone to have fun hunting for additional pieces.

Enhance someone’s pleasures.
Maybe a relative loves to collect vintage perfumes. Perhaps a friend displays dried flowers, while another prefers the funky BoHo look.

A vintage tea set will make that rooibos taste even better, and a genuine 1930s perfume bottle can be filled with a contemporary favorite scent. Dried flowers just seem to look better in antique vases or baskets – and tribal items are nicer when they’re truly old and one-of-a-kind. Vintage jewelry and even clothing can also add a dash of uniqueness for a friend who loves to look different!

And, of course, there’s vintage holiday decorating and hostess gifts, as well.

There’s something about older ornaments, candle holders and fabrics that brings back warm memories.
Whether you treat yourself to an old-fashioned Christmas or know someone who loves vintage charm, you’ll find a wealth of ideas at your local antique shop or online venue such as Etsy, eBay, or Ruby Lane.

This year, get out of the mall mindset. And enjoy the hunt!

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Ridgeleigh by Heisey: Art Deco Star of the 1930s

Heisey "Ridgeleigh" cigarette holder, 1930s or 1940s

Heisey “Ridgeleigh” cigarette holder, 1930s or 1940s

Every so often I take out this Heisey Ridgeleigh cigarette holder and prepare to list it in my Etsy shop. And every time, I end up putting it right back in the hutch. Why?

It’s just so pretty, and feels so good to hold, that I can’t bear to part with it. And I keep thinking that once I have more space, Ridgeleigh may be a pattern I’d like to collect more of.

Heisey "Ridgeleigh" candy dish. Photo courtesy of Orange Pawn Shop, Etsy.

Heisey “Ridgeleigh” candy dish. Photo courtesy of Orange Pawn Shop, Etsy.

Introduced in 1935 by A. H. Heisey & Co. of Ohio, “1469 Ridgeleigh” is the epitome of 1930s design. With its sharp angles and ribs, Ridgeleigh features the superb clarity and brilliance for which Heisey was known.

In addition to dinner service, “Ridgeleigh” was available in a wide variety of serving pieces, including candelabras, vases and cruets.

But Baby Boomers are probably most familiar with the smoking sets. I wish I still had my family’s Ridgeleigh ashtrays! Cigarette boxes were available with lids, and in upright oval and square styles.

Ridgeleigh Bridge Series Ashtray Set. Photo courtesy of Ravensbrooke Antique, Etsy.

Ridgeleigh Bridge Series Ashtray Set. Photo courtesy of Ravensbrooke Antique, Etsy.

The Heisey company was founded in 1896 by a German immigrant named Augustus H. Heisey after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. His company produced outstanding hand-made pressed and mold-blown glassware. And, of all things, Heisey also made automobile headlights and lighting fixtures!

In 1957 the factory closed, and Imperial Glass purchased many of Heisey’s molds. Most pre-1957 Heisey pieces are marked with the distinctive “H” in a triangle, although unmarked early pieces are known to exist. (My cigarette holder has no mark, but it was in our Janvier Road bungalow since at least the 1940s.)

While many Heisey pieces are available in crystal, the company began producing exotic colors in the 1920s. “Ridgeleigh” pieces were also made in a beautiful green Zircon, and today are very rare and sought-after.

Heisey glass is so beloved that the Collectors of America group was formed in 1971 to celebrate this ever-popular company.. And in 1972 the National Heisey Glass Museum for vintage Heisey glass was founded.

Keep a sharp eye out for “Ridgeleigh” in thrift stores and yard sales as well as in antique shops in your area and online. Other than Zircon, it’s still relatively affordable. And it’s a pattern that will enhance even the most sophisticated décor!

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Alice Annglow: The definition of cottage chic.

One of the best things about spending summers at my family’s Janvier Road bungalow was being surrounded by antiques. I’m sure that’s where I found my love for all things old.

The Janvier Road bungalow, circa 1920s

The Janvier Road bungalow, circa 1920s

The bungalow was built around 1910, and I assume relatives and friends gave my grandfather cast-off glass, lamps and furniture to fill the small rooms.
But probably in the 1930s my grandmother must have purchased a set of Edwin Knowles’ “Alice Annglow” dinnerware. I distinctly remember an entire set of plates, cups, saucers and serving pieces on the oak hutch in the country kitchen.

When we closed the bungalow down in 1960, my brother gathered up as much as his van could hold—and several of the Alice Annglow pieces were among his haul.
I also remember seeing Alice Annglow pieces in our local 5 & 10 in the late 1960s, and I suppose I assumed they’d always be around.

But now, this delightful pattern seems to have disappeared, at least online. Perhaps people have held onto their set all these years, and I don’t blame them! Alice Annglow is a perfect pattern for those who love cottage chic.

In 1900 Edwin Knowles started a pottery in Chester, West Virginia, following in the footsteps of his father, who had founded Knowles, Taylor & Knowles—the world’s largest pottery. Edwin was committed to making the finest semi-vitreous tableware. “Crockery and Glass Journal” agreed, stating that the “weight is light, its finish the finest, its shapes graceful, its decorations artistic, and its body and quality most durable.”

It was during the 1930s that “Alice Annglow” was introduced. The Edwin M. Knowles China Co. used the famous ship backstamp, with the year and month of production shown underneath.

Typical 1930s Knowles backstamp. The first number is the year of manufacture; the second number is the month.

Typical 1930s Knowles backstamp. The first number is the year of manufacture; the second number is the month.

The company closed in 1962, and I guess that the pieces I saw in our local 5 &10 were the last of one of the Knowles’ classic patterns.

Alice Annglow is still affordable, and it worth seeking out at thrift shops and flea markets. I hope you like it as much as I do!

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So. Is it Cronin or Cameron?

Anyone who was alive in the 1960s must remember these pottery pieces. They were everywhere! The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P to most of us) gave them away as premiums to encourage customer loyalty. In fact, A&P was the first company to do such a thing!

The distinctive teal blue serving pieces included trays, covered handled soup bowls, tea pots and pitchers, and were produced mainly in the 1950s.

They’re almost always listed as Cronin Pottery “Blue Tulip” pattern, perhaps because the mark on the bottom was similar to a mark used by Ohio’s Cronin Pottery. But researchers now believe the pieces were made by Cameron Clay Products of West Virginia. Little is known about Cameron, but a website is being created to help collectors learn more.

Cameron Pottery tea pot, 1950s.

Cameron Pottery tea pot, 1950s.

Regardless of who made “Blue Tulip,” it’s a wonderfully retro line that has held up remarkably well. While they command higher prices than you’d find at a yard sale, “Blue Tulip” pieces are still quite affordable, making it easy to assemble a collection. And their sleek lines allow them to complement virtually any décor, from cottage chic to minimalist.

An article by Antique Trader says that Cameron Pottery pieces, especially art pottery, should be collected now.

“With most pieces selling for less than $50, and many selling for less than $20, the time is now – before it’s as well-known and sought after as McCoy, Haeger and Red Wing!”

Enjoy the hunt!

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Patrician (aka Spoke): The “everyday” Depression Glass Pattern

As with Federal’s “Petal” bowl, just about everyone owns an item in the Patrician or “Spoke” pattern, or knows someone who does.

Gene Florence says it’s so common, in fact, that people tell him they use their pieces every day. The larger diameter of the dinner plate (101/2”) could be one reason why.

Just four years – and a lot of pieces!

Federal Glass Company produced Patrician for only four years, from 1933-1937. Yet they made so many items that, in Florence’s words, they “saturated the market.” Plates were given away in sacks of flour, but Florence isn’t clear how the other pieces were sold.

Patrician is known for its distinctive central “spoke” surrounded by a lacy pattern and a triple design on the rim. The shape is pentagonal, with five sides that at first glance appear to be six!

Amber is the most common color, followed by green, then pink and crystal. According to Florence, green dinner plates are scarce, and it would be “impossible” to collect an entire set in crystal. Pink, he says, is possible.

If you decide to collect Patrician/Spoke, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The applied-handled pitcher in amber is difficult to find.
  • Check sugar lids for signs of repair – Florence says mint condition sugar lids are very difficult to come by
  • Saucers are harder to find than cups.
  • If you find a cookie jar – even without a lid – consider yourself fortunate!
  • Unlike with many other patterns, cookie jar and butter lids aren’t impossible to find.

Patrician/Spoke is a terrific pattern you can confidently use today (although it definitely does not belong in the dishwasher, and you should be careful of sudden temperature changes, since older glass was probably not tempered.) Replacements are readily available and relatively inexpensive, should one of yours come to misfortune. It’s a quaint style that would go exceptionally well in a shabby chic setting, or even with more formal “Americana” décor.

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Gold Plate. Gold Fill. Gold Wash. Confused?

I’ve always wondered about the differences in these jewelry terms, but not being a “jool,” I didn’t feel qualified to write an article about them.

Then voila! I stumbled upon this terrific article by Daye Salander of Daye Salander Antiques & Collectibles. Read and enjoy — and thanks, Daye, for allowing me to link to your blog!

Gold Plate. Gold Fill. Gold Wash. Confused?

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