By, Jabe Tarter
Mrs. Degenhart, Owner of the Crystal Art Glass Co.
Please keep in mind as you read the story about Degenhart Glass, that the Glass Factory is no longer in business. After Mrs. Degenharts death in April of 1978 the factory was sold to Bernard C. Boyd. I wanted to keep the story exactly as Jabe Tarter told it in 1974. You will find links at the bottom of the page for articles on Degenhart Glass as well as a newly published book by Gene Florence, and how to join the "The Friends of Degenhart" glass club.
The Degenhart story covers three generations beginning with the birth of Charles Degenhart in Germany in 1845, and extending to the present time (1974). Charles Degenhart was born in Germany as a member of eight children in the family. This was long before the Child Labor Law in effect in any country. He grew up as the eldest of children, and at the age of ten he went to work to help support the other members of the family. He worked as a shoe repairman, an iron worker and apprenticed as a mold maker. By the age of 15, he was working full time in the mold making business for glass and pottery factories in Southern Germany. When he was thirty years of age he migrated to America in hopes of making a life for himself, finding a bride and starting a family. He settled first in New Jersey area. But the climate, dampness of the land, soon drove him further inland. He went to Wheeling, West Virginia where he was destined to find his mate and begin his family. He was working as a mold maker for the Dalzell Glass House when he first met and married Louise Franc, a girl of German descent. The first of six children, Charles, Jr. and John were born in Wheeling. Because the Dalzell Glass House was moving to Findlay, Ohio, Charles, Sr. moved his family there. He worked as a mold maker in Findlay before 1900 and in points in Western Ohio and Indiana. Possibly his two most famous molds were the "Last Supper Bread Tray" with the open edged grape leaf design and the "Dewey" pitcher. There were several followers of the Last Supper Tray, but his was the first with the open or lacy edge. The two Dewey pitchers, one with the cannon balls in a pile, the other with bullets forming a row around the lower base have never been duplicated. Because his designs were never patented, many have claimed that their forbears made these. At the age of eleven and nine, Charley, Jr. and John went to work in one of the glass houses in Findlay. Their father was still a mold maker. But he was traveling so extensively that the two older boys were left the job of supporting the family. Both did odd jobs around the nineteen glass houses located in Findlay. The gas fields were so abundant that every glass house thought of locating there. But in 1900 the gas fields went out, leaving the glass houses "high and dry". After the glass houses closed, it was nip and tuck for the family to keep body and soul together. The father was sending in a little money, but it was not enough to support the steadily increasing family.
John Degenhart as he makes one of his world famous paperweights.
In 1901, a man asked John Degenhart to go to Cambridge with him. He agreed to support John until he found work and could pay his own way. On his arrival in Cambridge, he met Mr Arthur J. Bennett of the Cambridge Glass Company. Mr Bennett had just been brought from New York by the United States Glass Conglomerate to manage the building of the new glass house in Cambridge. John drove the horse and buggy for Bennett until the Cambridge Company opened in 1902. Mr Bennett liked John, the 15 years old, and immediately took him into the Cambridge plant as a worker. His first job was that of a gatherer for the blowing shop. It was he who had learned the business so well that his first day on the job, he was immediately dubbed the "blow-shop" head. He worked and saved his money for the first two full years the Cambridge Glass Company was in business in order to bring his mother and 8 brothers and sisters to Cambridge. His father had died in 1901 in Findlay. When the family came to Cambridge in 1904, some of the boys had died and others worked as mold makers. Only Charley and John had gone ahead to make the glass business their life's work. And both worked in the Cambridge Glass Company. John was in the glass blowing shop and Charley in the mold making shop. They continued working in the Cambridge Glass factory for almost 40 years. John became the head of the pressing shop - and any foreman is automatically the manager of the shop in which he works. A look at John and Charlies life in Findlay makes an interesting story. They were so poor and had such a hard time getting along that they had one pair of shoes between them. John worked the day shift and wore the shoes, while Charley worked the night shift wearing the same pair of shoes. Taking up in Cambridge again, John met Elizabeth Garrett in 1907. They courted one year and were married in 1908. Elizabeth had been working in the packing plant of the Cambridge Glass Company, but on her marriage, she stopped work to take care of her home and her husband. John didn't believe in the wife leaving the home to work outside. After John's mother died Elizabeth and John took the entire family into their home for eight years. The only exception was Charley who had married. It was the dream of John and Elizabeth Degenhart from the courtship days to have their own small factory. After they were married, Elizabeth immediately went into the antique business to save, work and materialize their dream. She bought and sold for more than forty years to make their dream come true.
Famous Rose and Window weights and portrait weights made by John.
Finally in 1947, after years of scrimping and saving, the Crystal Art Glass factory was opened in a small one-room plant at 1103 Morton Avenue on South Eleventh St. in Cambridge, Ohio. Elizabeth was 58 years old at the time! Charley continued working in the Cambridge Glass Company until 1 950 when he passed away. But John and Elizabeth immediately began with a few molds to make the perfection of glass they "dreamed of". They had five molds, and John, who had learned the art of paperweight making in the Cambridge Glass Company continued with the making of the superbly fine weight, a boon on today's market. John didn't invent the Rose weight but he had made some of the finest Rose weights in the world before his death in 1964. When the Crystal Art Glass opened in 1947, some of the weights were dropped. The Rose and Figural weights were no longer made. And the window weights, formerly made in the Cambridge Glass Company with full permission of Arthur J. Bennett, were not a part of the new firms production. Possibly one of the most famous weights made by John Degenhart was the overlay cobalt window weight with George and Martha Washington with the Olive branch painted by his wife Elizabeth. The painting is on a cube of white glass embedded in clear crystal and an overlay of cobalt blue. Only three were made. One is in the Burgstrum Paperweight Museum, one is privately owned and Mrs. Degenhart has the 3rd. John was famous, even in the Depression days for his wonderful overlays using Royal Crown Tuscan from the Cambridge Glass Co. in combination with crystal and the nude or lady leg from the crown Tucson wine glass. But the extent and scope in weights with roses in blue, yellow and red, double tree forms using black diamond dust and innovations of his imaginative mind are world famous. John and Elizabeth Degenhart worked their own factory with help from 1 947 until the sudden death of John in 1964. His work was not limited to paperweights, but this is the field in which he personally became world famous. Jean Melvin, in her book AMERICAN PAPERWEIGHTS AND THEIR MAKERS said of John Degenhart at his death, "The world has lost one of its most valuable artists in weight making in the passing of John Degenhart".
Top Row: Daisy & Button salt dip, Daisy & Button wine, Buzz Saw wine, 2" covered hen. Bottom: bridge set ash tray, bird with cherry salt, Bi-Centennial bell dated 1776-1976.
Before John's funeral someone was overheard to say, "Well I guess this is the end of the Crystal Art Glass". But that person failed to count on the determination of John's widow, Elizabeth Degenhart. She had already contacted one of the former workers of the Cambridge Glass Co. And at that very time, the man, John Novak was ladeling out the tank in preparation of making new glass. Another worker from the defunct Cambridge Glass Co. was called later in the week for temporary glass pressing. He worked from May until September, 1964, when Zack Boyd, another former worker for Cambridge came to work for Mrs Degenhart. Many colors evolved under the able hand of Zack which have been named for him and possibly will never be duplicated. In the years from 1964 to 1974 more than 27 different molds evolved. Some of them are copied from old glass with variations but the majority are from her own imagination and work. She continues making paperweights two months out of the year. And name weights, those depicting the trademark of the different national collecting organizations, and weights for individuals are most important. Each time a new color in crystal is made, a few weights take form under the hands of her nephew, Bill Degenhart and Rolin Braden. At the death of Zack Boyd in 1 967, Rol in Braden, another former glass worker came to work at the Crystal Art Co. and became head of the mold shop. Bernard Boyd, the son of Zack is now employed part-time as the glass maker and paperweight maker. No shop can operate without the glass maker. He is the one who mixes the ingredients in their correct proportions, shovels into the tank, regulates the temperature, and waits until the mixture melts and comes to the proper degree, stabilized, before he can leave the plant. Because Bernard Boyd also had experience in the glass making shop of Cambridge he is a master at pressing and working in glass.
Top row: covered 5" turkey, 3" covered hen, 5" robin with cherry on nest. Bottom: 5" covered lamb and 5" covered hen.
The Degenhart trademark is a capital letter D encircled with a heart. This trademark has been registered with the U.S. Patent Office. Every piece except the two cup plates is marked. The Great Seal of Ohio cup plate has proven to be one of her more famous molds. Miss Frances Murphey of the AKRON BEACON JOURNAL is a world traveler and has introduced it into every country except Russia and China. The Sandwich Glass Museum contracted with the late John Degenhart to have the use of the Lacy Sandwich (Heart and Lyre pattern) cup plate mold for as long as the plant was in operation. A great number of each press of glass is sold to the Sandwich Glass Museum for resale to those visiting the famous museum. It is not flint glass as was the original but the various colors from the Degenhart factory give it instant approval from the purchaser. Mrs Degenhart has the only known complete book of formulas from the defunct Cambridge Glass Co. It was given to her husband when the plant closed its doors. The molds include the 3" owl, bird design salt and pepper, covered heart jewel box, 3" and 5" covered hen on nest, 5" Robin on nest with cover, turkey on nest with cover, lamb on nest with cover, gypsey kettle or witches pot, baby's pottie, 2" mini pitcher (diamond prism pattern), tiny hand ashtray or card holder, child's mug in "Stork and Peacock" pattern, elephant head match holder (or toothpick), "Daisy and Button" hat, covered candy dish in "Wildflower" pattern (also sold with no lid as a candleholder), a 4-pc bridge ash tray set (hearts, clubs, etc.). The toothpick holders are the Bird design, Stippled Heart, Colonial Drape, Michigan Beaded Oval, Forget-me-Not Band, Daisy and Button and the 2-handled basket. The salt dips are the Bird with Cherry, Star and Dewdrop, Daisy and Button and tiny covered chick. The shoes are the tall skate boot, Puss In Boot slipper, Colonial Bow slipper, baby (or tramp) shoe, miniature slipper and "Daisy and Button" high boot. There are two different sugar and creamers: the "Texas" pattern and the "Daisy and Button" pattern. The two 4" wine patterns are "Daisy and Button" and "Sunburst".
Top row: Forget -me-not toothpick, Daisy & Button t.p., Daisy & Button hat, Colonial Drape t.p., mini pitcher. Second row: witch pot, elephant head match holder, tramp or baby shoe, Beaded Heart t.p., and Michigan or Beaded Oval t.p. Third row: Basket t.p., skate boot, bird salt & pepper, Daisy & Button high shoe, baby pottie. All marked with D enclosed in a heart.
The Cleveland Indian Tomahawk was made in 1915 for the Cambridge Glass Co. for the incorporation of the Cleveland Indians as a baseball club. It was difficult to make, requiring alot of glass, and the breakage was great in turning out the finished item. This mold was given to John Degenhart by A.J. Bennett when John opened his own shop in 1947. It is still a part of the production line. Recent mold additions are a 6" plate showing in profile the face of Mrs Degenhart and a 2" bell made for the Bi-Centennial and dated 1776-1976 (the bells have been available since the middle of 1974!). The glass of Elizabeth Degenhart, who turned 87 on Dec. 22, 1976 is sold in every country in the world except behind the iron curtain. She has had queries from Mainland China, Australia, Greece and Spain for her glass in huge quantities. There are NO price lists or catalogs available from the Degenhart plant. If one wishes to order, he must take "pot luck" with colors and items available at any given time.
Top: Daisy & Button creamer, Wild Flower covered compote, Texas sugar. Bottom: Puss in Boots slipper, 3" owl, hand, Daisy & Button slipper.
To date (12-76) there are 145 official colors. Very few of the official list are available from the Crystal Art Glass since it was sold as it was made. Basic colors can be made for a relatively low cost but the ingredients and coloring agents for the more unusual and highly collectible colors have increased tremendously in the last few years, along with rise in salaries, gas, electricity and other costs. Therefore, buyers must be aware that prices will have to be passed along to them - not because Mrs Degenhart is out to "make a killing" - she is running a business and must meet her high overhead.
GO HERE TO VIEW The listing of Official colos and patterns made by Elizabeth Degenhart
On October 2, 1975, Governor James A. Rhodes of Ohio proclaimed that day to be ELIZABETH DEGENHART-FIRST LADY OF GLASS DAY. A proclamation was read, written on official State of Ohio Executive Department stationery and signed by the governor.Mayor Robert P. Scott of Cambridge honored Mrs Degenhart on the same day with a Key to the city of Cambridge. She was presented on radio and television with autographed photos of Mrs Lyndon B. Johnson, former first lady; President and Mrs Gerald Ford and their separate photographs personally autographed to "Elizabeth Degenhart - First Lady of Glass". A standing ovation was given to her at the special luncheon held at the Ramada Inn of Cambridge. She said, "I can't believe this is happening to me I'm speechless and overwhelmed." When asked when she planned to retire, her answer was , "Never!"
The TEXAS BOOT was introduced in April, 1975. It is copied from a boot that Jabe Tarter had in his possession that had been made for his mother in 19] Only his brother who had Harry Northwood make it. The original mold was made in Texas and originally had 1910 down the front, the number 12 engraved on one side and 'Mom " on the other. The 12 stood for her 12 children (2 more came later, including Jabe and his sister). Imperial Glass Company has recently reissued this boot without the star and hobs. Note the detail on the base of Mrs Degenhart's.
The DOG was introduced January 24, 19 76. It measures 3 " tall and 2 112 wide (from tip of nose to tail). He is hollow up to the neck and marked twice: on the outside and in the inside underneath. 7his mold is a copy of an earlier glass seen usually in crystal To avoid confusion, remember that ALL Degenhart dogs are signed.
The newest mold made by Degenhart Glass Company is PRISCILLA, the Colonial Lady, introduced June 1st 1976. The signature of a D within a hart is on the back of the base. She has been dubbed, the "doll" by collectors.
There is so much more you can learn about Degenhart Glass. The colors the moulds the patterns and even more History.
"DEGENHART GLASS & PAPERWEIGHTS"
A Collector's Guide To Color And Values
By Gene Florence
The book contains the history of Degenhart Crystal Art Glass with color illustrations of Degenhart Glass and Paperweights. Over 225 colors are shown along with pictures of all the moulds. A price sheet of glass and the values are included. There are a few additions and changes from the first edition. The book has a soft cover and spiral bound.
(!!! If you are a collector of Degenhart or a collector of contemporary glass this book is a must !!!)
Table of Contents
Articles on Degenhart Glass