Libby glass is a leading manufacturer of glass items on the international scene. It began in northeastern United States and grew through ceaseless emphasis on innovation, customer service, quality, and expanding markets. Beginning with cut glass handmade by artisans, it now mass produces glassware of all types for use in private homes and the hospitality industry.
In 1878 William L. Libbey acquired a company that had been producing glassware in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since 1818. During the Brilliant Period, the heyday of American cut glass, the company gained in prestige with its hand cut and polished items. Artisans used iron or steel wheels to cut patterns in hand-blown blanks. The development of molded blanks expanded the available supply and the market for products such as water pitchers.
By 1893, Libbey patterns were winning world renown at the World Fair, or Exposition, held at Chicago. ‘Columbia’ and Isabella’ took the top awards in this event’s international competition. The family saw its glassware at the White House, the court of King Edward VII, the mansions of fabulously wealthy industrial tycoons, and the palaces of many world leaders.
The earliest products were cut and polished by hand, using iron or steel wheels to grind and expert craftsman to guide the process. Hand-blown blanks were replaced by molded and later shaped blanks. Subsequent innovations introduced machinery and acid baths to replace the hands-on processes. Mass production of more affordable products became the focus of the twentieth century. Many items were hand-painted, but this was discontinued after World War II.
The company abandoned its exquisite hand cutting practices in the early 1900s and all handmade products after World War II, when it began to focus on production for a large market. It is now the second largest producer of tableware, cookware, and decorative items for homes and restaurants. It can be bought in many retail outlets, both mass marketers and specialty shops, as well as restaurant supply houses.
If you are interested in either learning more about historic brands of glassware or about the business side of this international company, go online to the manufacturer’s own website. You will find its business profile, its mission statement and guarantees of quality, and career opportunities for those seeking employment with a dynamic world player. For information on this brand as a collectible, look for antique dealers’ postings and the pages of collector’s clubs and associations.
If you want vintage items – dating from the 1940s to the ’70s – or the truly antique examples from the days of hand crafting, the internet is a great resource. There are informational sites as well as commercial ones, and this brand name is well-represented on auction sites. There are photo galleries and videos of exhibits and shows that will let you see items that range from glorious to whimsical. Prices run the gamut from affordable to ‘Wow!’
Libby glass can be a frosted tumbler, a tall glass decorated with a carousel horse, an exquisite punch bowl too heavy to carry, a water pitchers, or a set of utilitarian drinking glasses for your kitchen. Knowing the history of what you own or see in a shop, as well as the company’s pride in its products, will make any item more appreciated, whether it is in your dishwasher or on a display shelf.