Collectors are beginning to realize that Blenko glass has had an important influence on glass design in America.
The Eureka Art Glass Co. (later renamed Blenko Glass Co.) opened in Milton, W.Va., in 1921. William Blenko, Eureka's founder, had tried glassmaking before but had failed. He soon introduced some manufacturing improvements. He invented a process for making large sheets of antique-looking glass and developed a ruby glass that didn't change color when reheated. The company made a good product, and Blenko's son Bill was a successful salesman.
The glassworks sold colored glass for stained-glass windows, but the Depression destroyed that market. So the company started to make tablewares. Blenko hired two trained Swedish glassblowers who made classically shaped glass in many colors. They also made reproductions of old glass as well as modern designs.
By the mid-1940s, after the war, unusual forms of colorful glass were sold. Blenko glass became a favorite in gift stores and an ideal decoration in a '50s room. Chartreuse-colored glass was a hit, abstract designs sold well and very tall colored vases were designer favorites. The glass was considered important enough to be included in museum exhibits right next to the best Swedish and Italian pieces.
Blenko is still working today, and its glass pieces are still cleverly designed and sell well. Collectors have started to buy the earlier pieces, and prices are rising. Signed pieces bring the highest prices.
Q: The 2005 "Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price List" shows the price for Bing & Grondahl's 1969 Mother's Day plate at $450. Is this a typo? I have not found that price anywhere else.
A: It's important to look at our latest book to get current prices. Prices for collector plates have been going down since the 1980s. "Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2008" lists the retail price of the 1969 Mother's Day plate at $225.
Q: I have a small, silver-plated tray with an engraved and embossed image of President James A. Garfield in the center surrounded by some sprigs of laurel. The tray sits on four short legs and has two side handles. Its raised rim is embossed with birds and more laurel. The mark on the bottom is round with scales in the center and "Meriden B Company" around it. What was the tray used for, and why is Garfield on it?
A: Meriden Britannia Co. of Meriden, Conn., made your commemorative tray, probably shortly after Garfield was assassinated in 1881 (he died in September, two months after he was shot). Meriden was in business from 1852 until it joined many other silver companies to form the International Silver Co. in 1898.
Your tray is made of white metal plated with silver. It's probably a "card receiver," a small tray meant to hold the calling cards of visitors. During the Victorian era, both men and women carried calling cards, to be left at the homes they visited. A similar Garfield commemorative calling card tray made by Meriden auctioned this year for $46.
Terry Kovel's column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.