Glass Hats

In editor Sandy Neill’s farewell Wayback Times spring edition, April-June 2022, I wrote about Royal Crown Derby, my favourite collectible. 

Sandy has wonderfully passed the baton to Lynne and John Dokurno. I am pleased to share with readers the subject of glass hats. 

Glass hats. These items are called toothpick holders, top hats, hat vases, toothpicks, even candle holders.

Toothpick holders were made in various materials – ceramic (earthenware, bisque, and porcelain), glass, and metals, especially silver plate. I’m going to focus on glass.

From Victorian 1850s to 1900, glass hats were used by the upper class as decorative pieces. This told guests that you had arrived with purchasing power and status.

Glass is an inorganic solid, usually transparent or translucent (letting diffused light through such as frosted glass). It is hard, brittle, and impervious to natural elements.

Since ancient times, glass has been made into practical and decorative objects. In 3100 BC, earliest glass objects were found in Egypt. About 1000 AD, Murano Island in Venice became a major glass centre. Florence was making milk glass from 1575. By 1600, France was a major producer. From the 1800s, New World craftsmen took charge.

Glass manufacture evolved from “dip moulds” in the 1400s to mechanic presses of the 1820s, making production more accessible.                                

It is said the first mechanical pressing machine for glass making was invented in the United States. This machine was introduced about 1827.

It is argued that Deming Jarves, 1825 founder of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, was responsible for many improvements in the method of operation. His company was located in Sandwich, at Cape Cod near Boston. From 1830 to 1860, it was a better known factory, employing 500 men, and producing over 6,000 tons of glass daily. Due to excessive competition, the company folded in 1888.

American cut glass was exhibited at the U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Americans received greater respect for their glass making prowess compared to craftsmen from France, Ireland, and England.

The golden age of pressed glass was 1880 to 1910 when hundreds of patterns were produced in great volumes. For example, L.B. Martin and W.S. Brady established the Fostoria Glass Company in Fostoria, Ohio in 1887. It moved to Wheeling, then Moundsville, West Virginia where it remained until closing in 1983.

In this Victorian age, 1870-1890, production in England by the Sowerby glasshouse alone (Gateshead, south bank of the River Tyne near Newcastle) was 150 tons of finished glass per week. This was one of many factories producing pressed glass overseas.

Glass Hat Collection of Richard MacFarlane

One beautiful style was called Burmese glass, an opaque coloured art glass with shades from pale yellow to soft pink. The surface usually had a satin finish.

Burmese was made in 1885 by the Mount Washington Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was admired by Queen Victoria and, in 1886, the British company of Thomas Webb & Sons was licensed to produce the glass. Their version, known as Queen’s Burmeseware, was used for tableware and decoratives. The pink blush colour was fashioned by re-heating the object. Strangely, if the object was heated again, it returned to its original yellow colour.

Considered most well known was Fenton art glass. For one hundred years, Fenton was arguably the largest handmade glass manufacturer in the United States. Fenton glass works were renowned for their innovative colours and hand-painted decorations on pressed and blown glassware. For instance, Fenton’s carnival glass was first marketed as the “golden sunset iridescent assortment” in their catalogues. In 1907, these pieces sold for 85 cents. Fenton also sold glass with ruffled edges called “crests”. In 2011, the Fenton glass company closed. Since then, Fenton glass molds have been used by another firm in Ohio.

United States makers produced lacy style patterns, incorporating scrolls and geometric designs for their earliest pressed glassware. From 1825 to 1845, it was called the Lacy Glass age. A stippling technique masked irregularities.

From 1850 to 1910, there was the huge manufacture of EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass), also known as “pattern”, “pressed”, or “Victorian” glass. The estimated number of EAPG patterns is 3,000.

The rise of pressed glass making led to mass produced glassware in styles such as carnival, elegant, milk, crystal, and Depression glass. About this time, there was the American Brilliant Period in cut glass history. There was Uranium glass, nicknamed Vaseline glass in the 1930s. Its most common colour is a pale yellowish green. Vaseline opalescent glass was made with uranium oxide and fluoresces under a long wave black light. During the Cold War era, it was unpopular. 

Besides the Fenton and Sandwich factories, American companies included George Duncan Sons & Co., Aetna Glass, Adams Glass Co., Ohio Flint & National Glass Co., Westmoreland Glass Company, A.H. Heisey & Company, and Indiana Glass Co. From the New York area, there was Durand, Tiffany Studios, Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company, and Steuben Glass Works.

When the market slumped for carnival glass during the 1920s, pieces were given away at carnivals, hence the name. Some people describe carnival glass as marigold.          

What about the many glass hats produced? How many patterns and styles? There are countless variations in colours, styles, designs. Glass hat colours range from clear, white, red, green, yellow, amethyst, amber, light blue, cobalt blue, pink, and purple, and every shade and combination in between. 

Glass Hats, Part of Robert MacFarlane Collection Given at Christmas Time by Richard
Glass Hats, Part of Robert MacFarlane Collection Given at Christmas Time by Richard

Hats were made to commemorate special events, to display replicas of wildlife and animals, and they are used for many different purposes. As ashtrays, toothpick holders, egg cups, match  holders, floral centrepieces, creamers, jelly servers, the largest ones as champagne and ice buckets, and even pin cushions. Also, there was a top hat piece for the timeless Monopoly board game.

Here are some descriptions for glass hats:

Fenton Art Glass Amber Swirl Snow Crest 

Fenton Stiegel Blue Spiral Optic

Fenton Aubergine Opalescent Daisy and Fern

Fenton Le Stars Stripes 2001 Patriotic Americana 9/11 Tribute

Fenton Top Hat Pin Cushion, Daisy and Button

Italian Murano Galliano Murrine Art 

Vintage Kemple Lace


Vintage Kemple Lace

Opalescent Coin Dot


Blue Threaded Plug Hat

Thousand Eye Clear Glass Hat

Patterns include hobnail (called “dewdrop glass” in Victorian times), swirl, daisy and button, honeycomb, scalloped rim, coin dot, rain drops, petticoat, and snowflake. Some hats have two patterns such as “threaded” under the rim and “hobnail” around the remaining hat. Crackle glass is also a beautiful style for glass hats.

Daisy and Button (DB) is one of the most popular patterns. The pattern consists of eight-sided buttons which surround geometrically stylized flowers. Some DB variation was made by almost every major Victorian era glass company.

An example of DB by Hobbs, Brockunier & Company of Wheeling, West Virginia was named “Pattern 101” in company catalogues. Colours included blue, green, yellow, crystal, and amberina (ruby to amber shades).

Talk about hats. One day, a dealer told me that an American collector had enough glass hats to put together in the shape of the   U.S.A. Stars and Stripes flag. Imagine that!

Collectors evaluate glass hats by researching the maker, era, region of manufacture, glass making method such as blown or pressed glass, how it was decorated, and its colour and design.

A clue to the age of glass hats is imperfections. If you notice tiny air bubbles or carbon dirt specs, this can be a sign. This is also evidence of authenticity. The tiniest wear marks show that the glass hat has been used for a while. Larger wear marks, cracks or chips can lower the value.

To verify that your glass hat is a genuine antique before the 1960s, look for the “ring of fire” by holding the piece up to a natural light source. For instance, older milk glass was made with iridized salts and it should produce a halo of iridescent reds, blues, and greens in the sun.

How did I begin my glass hat journey? During the 1970s, my fraternal twin brother started acquiring hats. I saw his hats grow in variety and beauty. My brother found Murano, Carnival, and Loetz glass. 

I augmented his collection, adding Fostoria, End of Day, and Cobalt hues to his total. The End of Day hat was milk glass with blue, green, yellow, and red paint splotches, arranged artistically. This was a wonderful find at an antique shop along the old Florida highway in West Palm Beach, Florida. 

Glass Hat Collection of Robert K. MacFarlane
Glass Hat Collection of Robert K. MacFarlane

Most exciting finds were at Pagnello’s Antiques store on Bayview Avenue in Toronto, sadly no longer. I saw a beautiful, forlorn Art Deco silverplate top hat ice bucket, with the copper base showing. My brother re-silvered the bucket and added a curved deco silver stand. I also spied a Monopoly game black tin top hat likely from the 1937 edition. I bought both pieces.  

If this wasn’t enough, I surprised him with 12 hats one Christmas Day. During the 1980s and 1990s, the glass hat search continued for me and my twin. An incredible coincidence occurred. After       I snapped up hats from antique stores while stopping along the Interstate 95 in New York State, I found a Cranberry Swirl glass hat in Boston. I returned to Toronto. Two weeks later, I visited Whim Antiques on Mount Pleasant Road. Mary McQueen had a replica Cranberry Swirl glass hat. I had to buy it. Such is serendipity with the antique hunt.

To assemble my brother’s collection, I found an Edwardian mahogany display cabinet with tan fabric walls and glass shelves. It highlighted brilliant colours and patterns of what became a sixty-six glass hat collection.

My twin sold his hats but I wanted to continue. By 2013, I began my own collection. It has grown to 16. It includes a beautiful Fenton hat with rosy pink fading to milk white, a striking American Blue Stars glass hat, and a Vintage Hand Blown Multi-Colour Swirl hat. 

The beauty of glass hats is affordability. With exceptions, prices range from $10.00 to $100.00, depending on age, rarity, and condition. Collecting these artistic ornaments is a passion. I truly hope you discover your own excitement in the world of antiques.