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into the Development of Burmese Glass:
By Jane Chester Young
American Glass Club
With revisions and comments based on independent research by
Few glassware's have ever inspired the intense proliferation and competition, and gained the instant celebrity status that Burmese glass did in 1886. Within a year of its discovery, Burmese had been introduced in over 200 shapes; spawned a "sister" colored ware (Peach Blow); been successfully licensed for production in England; inspired a series of competitive colored wares by other American firms and caused litigation against at least one (The Phoenix Glass Co.); received British royal patronage unprecedented for an American product; and been heralded on two sides of the Atlantic as "the dawn of another day" in glassmaking. (Ref 1.)
The year 1886 was tremendously eventful for Frederick Shirley, agent of the Mt. Washington Glass Company, as he shepherded his 1885 discovery through the processes of design, production, and public introduction. It is a year which remains intensely interesting to glass scholars today, as they seek the identity and origin of early Burmese forms and decorations, whether created in New Bedford or in Amblecote, England.
The public enthusiasm for Shirley's new colored ware was fed not only by the infamous March, 1886 auction of Mary Morgan's Tang He vase with "peach bloom" glaze, but also by Shirley's early effort at celebrity endorsement: his presentation of some spectacular Burmese vases to Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice in London during the summer of 1886.
Shirley was in England from June (No: Ken W.) until August 26, 1886. His English patent for Burmese was registered June 16, and his presentation to Victoria and Beatrice occurred before their mid-August departure for Balmoral, Scotland. At some point during his prolonged visit, Shirley negotiated the licensing of his English Burmese patent (No. 8023) to the firm of Thomas Webb and Sons, at the Dennis Glassworks in Amblecote, Stourbridge.
While the details of Frederick Shirley's discovery and marketing of Burmese have been covered extensively (?) in an earlier publication (Ref 2.), new insights into the introduction and adaptation of Burmese into Webb's production can be found in a previously unpublished pattern book (?) of Jules Barbe, who was responsible for enameling and gilding at Webb's from 1879 to 1900. Consisting of Barb's sketches for shapes (?), decorations, and cut glass patterns, the pattern book begins in 1879 and continues into the late 1880s. Contained within its pages are the only known depictions of the Burmese ware taken to England by Frederick Shirley in 1886. (No evidence or proof) In addition, the drawings and Barb's accompanying notes provide the first clear picture of the chronology and development of Burmese under Barb's influence.
Note: Jules Barbe was not the chief designer at Thomas Webb, he was a decorator of glass and headed an enameling and gilding department. (Dil H.)
The earliest dated Burmese sketches are for October 1886, the "First lot of Patterns Made" (Figure 1). Using the 1885-86 Mt. Washington Glass Company trade catalog illustrations of Burmese for comparison (Figures 2, 3), we can identify two New Bedford forms, a classic gourd vase (Mt. W. no. 146, Webb no. 15747) and the smaller waisted gourd (Mt. W. no. 145, Webb no. 15748), as well as shapes of Webb variation. Another October, 1886 page (not illustrated) depicts Mt. Washington shapes 147 and 78.
Note: With regard to the comparison of shapes. Those pointed out in the article can be found much earlier in the Webb patterns. Neither is there any evidence that Shirley sent samples to Stourbridge, on the contrary Thomas Wilkes Webb had paid an extensive visit to America returning in October 1886. Webb already traded with America and would naturally supply the shapes required by that market.(Dil H.)
To a large degree, Barbe seems to have willingly continued into the first Webb Burmese line the simple, Japanese-inspired shapes developed by Shirley and his designer, Albert Stefan, Note: Stefan may not have done these earliest designs. (Ken W.) along with some of Steven's naturalistic floral decorations.(?) What astounds, however, here and on several surrounding pages, are designs for air twist and "honeycomb mould" Burmese forms. Given the difficulty of working the brittle, heat-sensitive glass, and the four-month experimentation period that Webb's gaffers probably had, Jules Barbe was demanding some truly bravura glassmaking on the part of the Stourbridge gaffers.
Note: JCY writes about "working the brittle glass", the glass only becomes brittle when it has been annealed not in the molten state. As previously mentioned the shapes and techniques were already being produced in other wares, notably Bronze ware and Peach and did not call for practice. As for the development of the colour the Patent describes that this is achieved by the normal glass making process and again would not need any experimentation in the hands of experienced glass makers. (Dil H.)
The exact date of Shirley's initial contact with Webb is unknown, but as an emigrant from London, it is probable that Shirley had corresponded with the factory even before his arrival. The October sketches would, therefore, seem to illustrate objects brought over by Shirley himself during his summer trip.(?) Subsequent pages, dated November 1886 and titled "American Shapes," apparently depict glassware's shipped to Webb after Shirley's return to America.(?) This chronology would indicate a shipment to Webb of mainly undecorated shapes just prior to the December shipment of the elaborate tea service and vases ordered by the Queen. (Ref 3.)Note: There is no evidence that Shirley worked in the glass industry or came from Stourbridge; it is known that he was born in London. (Dil H.)
The three November pages (Figures 4, 5, 6) show that at least twenty-five New Bedford pieces were sent to Webb at this time, (?) although Webb illustrated a total of over forty Mt. Washington shapes, many on undated pages. The November 1886 pages probably include some of the forms being concurrently prepared in New Bedford for Buckingham Palace. Among the Mt. Washington cream pitchers illustrated are the classically inspired number 135, the plain ribbed number 62, a goose-beaked creamer, number 99 (all illustrated in Figure 5) and the squat form number 98 (Figure 6, no. 15815). The many American vase forms drawn (deleted "by Barbe") on these pages include the lily and jack-in-the-pulpit in all sizes, the Egyptian (Mt. W. no. 103), and the elegant footed egg-form (Mt. W. no. 70). Several bowl shapes are also depicted, among them Mt. Washington numbers 122, 72-74, and 109.
The Webb firm seems to have taken the possibilities of manipulating Burmese glass to the furthest limits. In addition to the air twist and honeycomb-molded forms, the Webb pattern book illustrates Burmese "water wave" and diamond-molded forms (Figure 7); as well as Burmese forms cased with "brown shaded" glass and applied clear glass decorations (Figure 8).
Note: The illustrated designs in Figures 7 & 8 are satin glass patterns and not Burmese. Burmese is a homogeneous glass.Contradictory Note: The illustrations in Figures 7 & 8 are ALL Burmese. The contentious ones in Figs 7 & 8 have associated text stating that they are, and in addition to the design books there are price ledgers with entries for every design and these also describe these pattern numbers as Burmese. That is not to say some of these designs are for Burmese in combination with another colored glass, and are indeed satin glass. Others have the molded design as a surface pattern. (Dil H.)
While it is commonly accepted that English firms had been producing shaded wares previous to 1886, it is interesting to note that (Deleted "Jules Barbe describes") no fewer than three shades of Burmese in various pages of the pattern book: "Burmese yellow," "Burmese blue," and "Lilac Burmese." He goes on to illustrate that Burmese forms cased with "Olive" or "White" glass, as well as the above-mentioned "brown-shaded" ware. These later colored variations apparently date around 1887 to 1888, according to their placement in the pattern book. This would also coincide with the time when Webb is said to have altered the original Burmese formula to produce consistently darker pink shading. (Ref 4.)Note: Blue Burmese does exist and is identical to Mt Washington Peach Blow. I have a signed example. This color was also included in Shirley's original Patent. The other colors are listed and I am sure did exist. The Blue Burmese footed bowl described in the text is incorrect; Manley in his book incorrectly describes a similar piece, as have other authors. (Dil H.)
That Webb's designs for molded, cased, and variously colored Burmese forms were actually produced is confirmed by objects in numerous private and public collections, most notably the former collection of the Webb Museum in Dennis Hall, Amblecote. Until the dismantling of this collection in 1987 (Ref 5.), the Webb Museum contained superb examples of cased and molded Burmese forms. Also of note are a Webb Burmese cameo vase in the Hit collection in Tennessee, and a pair of Webb Blue Burmese footed bowls in the collection of the New Bedford Glass Museum. (Where are they now?) The latter have applied amber crimped rims and trailed feet, (Deleted "typical of Barbe design") the interiors of these homogeneous glass (Note: (the interior would have been cased with an exterior of colored glass. Ken W.) bowls are bright turquoise, while their exteriors are pale robin's egg blue.
Since attribution of Burmese forms to Mt. Washington Or Webb are based as much on decoration as on shape, it should be noted that the Barbe pattern book illustrates thirty-two floral patterns on Burmese glassware, as well as some Oriental motifs. (?) Stan Eveson, former curator of the Webb Museum, dated four floral patterns to 1886: Hawthorn, Ivy, Virginia Creeper, and Ivy and Berries. In his correspondence with the author dated March 1987, Eveson also dated twenty-four floral patterns to 1887 and five other Burmese patterns to 1888.
Of the four 1886 floral patterns, one has caused considerable misattribution, at least on the part of English collections. The Virginia Creeper pattern (numbered by Jules Barbe as 2475) is a documented Mt. Washington pattern that was created by Albert Stefan (?) at least as early as 1885. Note: This pattern has not been found on Mount Washington design list, or at least not by that name. (Ken W.) It exists on numerous Mt. Washington Burmese and other glass forms, including some Burmese wares that retain their "Burmese Pat. Applied For" 1885 paper labels. It is probable that a Virginia Creeper-decorated piece was among those carried or shipped from New Bedford in 1886 (?), because Barbe records the decoration on Mt. Washington shapes, without notation, in several drawings (Figure 9).
Note: The pattern book illustrations are all, with the exception of Fig 9 and Fig 10, taken from the Thomas Webb pattern books. Jules Barbe did have his own book of designs, illustrated in color and entitled "Burmese, Gold Fish, Birds etc." This book had always been kept safe by Mr. Stan Eveson in the Webb museum until the demise of the company. Contrary to the concluding remarks of Chester Young this book did get separated from the Webb pattern books, which are held safe in the Dudley MBC archives, and has disappeared. The hope is that it will reappear from a collection somewhere. However Figs 9 and 10 are pages from neither the Barbe book nor the known Webb pattern books. In the past I have attempted to get more information from Chester Young without success, I know she took many more photographs; perhaps they are held at the museum where she last worked. (Dil H.)
Webb went on to produce Virginia Creeper in such numbers that Cyril Manly was moved to note, incorrectly, that this triangular-leafed pattern was "almost a trademark" of the Webb firm and could be invariably attributed to Webb, although he cautioned that there were many "imitations." (Ref 6.)
A lovely example of an original Barbe pattern is his design for a Burmese vase celebrating Queen Victoria's 1887 Jubilee (Figure 10). The richly gilded pattern features a "Jubilee" banner draped over a design of birds and flowering branches. The design was particularly appropriate, since Webb was producing the glass under the label "Queen's Burmese Ware."
In seventy-six pages of designs for Burmese the Jules Barbe pattern book traces the evolution (Webb's, Barbe's or both?) of the ware from purely American forms into new and distinctive Webb shapes and patterns, some of which were in production until October 1922 (Dil H.) Many pages contain inspired masterpieces of Burmese, some of which may never have existed beyond the designer's hand.
Shortly after the designs were photographed for the author, the Dennis Glassworks was acquired by Coloroll, a conglomerate that also owns Edinburgh Crystal. The Webb Museum was abruptly and mysteriously closed in June 1987 by its new owners. For months, inquiries by English glass scholars and even Webb family descendants went unanswered. Finally, investigative reporters for the Dudley Evening Mail revealed on October 15, 1987, that a large number of the Webb Museum's greatest masterpieces had been privately sold through Florida dealer Ray Grover to an unnamed American collector. The ensuing scandal over this apparent breach of the tough English export regulations resulted in a government investigation into the sale, and a trial for the Coloroll firm in Crown Court has been set for April 3, 1989
Meanwhile, the exact whereabouts of the Jules Barbe pattern book and other Webb archival material has been uncertain.
Note: It is my understanding that the Webb archives are now, December 2002, in the library in Dudley, England. I am not sure where the Barbe pattern books are at this time, January 02, 1003.(Ken W.)Note: The Webb Pattern books are at the Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) Archives not the library. (Dil H.)
As this article goes to press, Charles Hajdamach, director of Dudley's Broadfield House Glass Museum, has confirmed that Coloroll does have the pattern book in its possession. Hajdamach has been leading negotiations with Coloroll representatives in hopes that what remains of the Webb Museum collection can be identified and acquired for a public British institution. Certainly, those hopes are shared by all glass scholars on this side of the Atlantic. We can only wish a speedy and safe return of these important artifacts to the public domain.
Note: Reference book "Mount Washington and Pairpoint Glass" is now in process by Ken W., January 2. 2003
In addition, the following is an abbreviated excerpt from Ken E's. comments on the Barbe article and Burmese glass in general.:
The Jules Barbe Pattern book was for glass manufactured by Webb and designs were used for various types of glass and not all for Burmese glass. Webb, as you know, manufactured cased glass, satin glass, cameo glass. etc. This leads me to the statements in Barbe article which states Burmese in different forms.
Three other Companies tried to revive this glass, but could never achieve what it originally was, in color or quality, they are as follows:
True Burmese Glass:
Finally, an interesting note from Queen Victoria to Shirley:
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