The Hansen Glass Story
by Scott Ackerman
Hansen - a glass company ? No - a glass pattern ? No - the cadillac of new carnival glass ? Yes. What Millersburg is to old carnival glass, Hansen is to the new carnival glass. Many people like old carnival glass but dont like the new. They think new carnival is cheap imitated glass that will hurt the old. Those people have probably never seen the good new carnival glass, and Im sure theyve never seen Hansen carnival glass, for if they did Im sure that they would think a bit differently. The Hansens work is hard to beat.
There are three Hansen brothers, whom I know of, Ronald, Robert and Richard, who have all worked with glass. Ronald has lived all his life in Mackinaw City, Michigan. Robert lived in Bridgeport, Michigan, near the Saginaw and now lives in Corning, California. Richard, deceased, lived in New York and is the lesser known of the brothers. He did the least glass work and is not as well known for his glass work. I would say that most of his work was with paper weights or art glass. Iridized glass from Richard is not known, but if a piece were discovered it would surely be a very rare find. Richard is not the main concern in this story, so lets turn to the main brothers, Ronald and Robert.
Ronald is the one who I visited and interviewed the summer of 1983 while on vacation, so this information is from Ronald, mostly himself, Ronald and his wife, Dorothy, live in an ordinary looking but large house. When entering the house one sees glass all over the place. Much of it Ronald worked on and many pieces he never finished because of poor health. Dorothy said that the health problems of both Ronald and Robert are partly due to breathing in of the materials that were sprayed on the glass, even though the fumes were vented outside. They dont really want to claim the spraying as the true fault, but no dought it had some effect. Ronald is in poor health but still has a very good memory. The Ronald Hansens have a son and a daughter of whom they talked. The son will be briefly discussed later.
Ronald graduated from college with a major in chemistry. Roberts education never got as far, but what he knew was good for working with glass. Ronalds knowledge in chemistry is what gave him most of the ideas and formulas for the great iridescence which he achieved. Ronald and Dorothy started to experimenting with iridescence in 1950, which was the start of the new carnival glass. Ronald said he taught Robert how to iridize glass. Many people probably think that Robert was the main iridezer, but that is not true. Which one iridized more glass, will probably never be known, but Ronald was the developer of their processes.
In 1960 Ronald started to iridizing glass to sell, which was probably the true beginning of new carnival glass. Robert started about the same time. The two brothers never really worked together as many people think. Ronalds shop was in Mackinaw City, Michigan and later worked in his garage workshop when able. Roberts shop was in Bridgeport, Michigan, but I cant say if hes done any glass work since moving to Corning, California. Suprisingly to me and probably most readers, A & A Imports was the first buyer of Ronalds carnival glass shortly after 1960.
Carnival glass people may find it hard to believe, as I did, that Ronald is actually better known for his paper weights than his carnival glass. In fact, I didnt even have proof of any Hansen paperweights until I visited him, he really had some beautiful examples of them. He told me that he has at least one paperweight in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.. Ronalds son, Robert , apparently named for his uncle Robert, is as good or better with paperweights than his father. Roberts paperweights are really pretty and selling for over $300.00 a piece. The people buying them are those with money. If anyone stumbles onto one of his pieces at a good price, I would say that should be grabbed up for either its beauty, value or future profit that could be made on it.
While talking to Ronald, his wife got out the very first piece of glass that Ronald iridized. It was a compote from which he removed the stem and base and made it into a bowl. It was purple glass with beautiful iridescence. It could be the very first piece of new carnival glass.
Many people have misconceptions about Hansen carnival glass. For instance, I have heard from sources that the Hansens never iridized old glass, but that is not true. Ronald showed me one example of a Northwood Grape & Cable tumbler with an N on it that was old glass. Ronald iridized and signed it. There are other pieces of glass iridized by the Hansens made from old glass, but most of the Hansen Carnival is new glass. I would consider any old glass iridized by Hansen to be very good, because there probably isnt very much of it around. Another idea people have is that all Hansen carnival glass has a pontil mark on it, but that is not true either. Most of the Hansen glass does have a pontil mark, but there will be a few that dont. Still another misconception is that all Hansen carnival glass is signed, but again that is not true either. Some pieces slipped through without a signature, and an interesting note is that warped, cracked or marred pieces werent signed on purpose. Unsigned pieces arent worth as much and I would say that from what Ronald said, unsigned pieces should be about half the value of the same pieces that are signed.
The Hansens bought most of the glass that they iridized, which created a slight problem. They had to iridize the glass when it was heated near the melting point. Many items melted before they finished, which Dorothy said was part of the business risk.
What is it that makes the Hansen carnival glass so beautiful ? There are three main processes for the beautiful glass. One thing that Hansen did was to use rare and different metals than what the main carnival companies used. Some of the metals that they used included selenium, molybdinum, iron chloride, stanischlioride, and gold chloride. Some of the gold that they used came from dental gold fillings. Another thing that Ronald said they did was that they fired and refired some of the pieces several times to make the iridescence more permanent. Ronald said that the iridescence on some of the pieces would last longer than most monuments. The third thing that the Hansens did to get beautiful looking glass was to use a process known as soaking the glass. In the process they would turn a piece of glass in the glory hole when it was very hot. This would burn off the skin of the glass making it velvety smooth.
Some of the pieces of iridescent glass may look finished to most people, but Ronald said while we were looking at one piece at a table we were sitting at, "this piece was never finished". He meant that it did not get enough spray, but to most people it would be beautiful and finished looking. Some pieces such as the Stippled Stars salt dip have a very light spray. Dorothy thought that they were only sprayed with tin.
When I showed Ron a vase that I own, he told me a story of two art glass pieces. When Ronalds wife was in the hospital, he made a vase and iridized it for her. When brother Robert saw the vase he wanted to duplicate it and what he came up with was from Blenko Glass Company. Ronalds vase is bulbous at the bottom, skinny neck, and the top is flared and crimped. It isnt to tall and is rather delicate looking. Roberts items arent at all duplicate, but they are nice. The vase that I showed Ron is heavier, shorter and more spittoon-like shaped with a ribbon of glass running around the neck. There are other sizes all similar in shape.
As stated earlier, the Hansens bought most of the glass which they iridized. The known companies that they bought from include Blenko, Deganhart, Fenton, Guernsy, Imperial, L.G. Wright, Mosser, Rainbow, Smith, St. Clair, Viking, Westmoreland, and Taiwan. There are probably other companies, but those are the proven ones.
When Imperial started working with carnival glass, they picked out a time when they would go into production. But after finding out about the Hansens work with carnival glass, Lucile J. Kennedy told Ronald that they were forced to go into full production a bit earlier than planed. There must have been people around at the time who really wanted carnival glass produced again.
Robert Hansen never reached more than 300 on any one item, and Ronald didnt say if it was the same for him, but it probably was. That is one reason that so many of their pieces sell and value well over $300.00 a piece. I would say that the Hansen carnival glass is much like the Millersburg carnival glass of the old. Both are rare, both are sought after, both have cheaper pieces that people want anyway, and both are beautiful.
The Hansen carnival glass is glass that I feel will live in peoples hearts forever, once they see a piece, and the true beauty of a Hansen piece is to own one. Everything that I have said in this article cant compare to actually seeing what a piece can do.
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