|By Susan Blower
As a youngster, Fred Ottoson was happy to get a rare glass of pop at his grandfather’s house. He would drink ice cold 7-Up from his grandpa’s 4 ounce juice glasses. What kind of glasses or who made them did not matter at the time as much as the contents.
“I was happy with four ounces of pop. How times have changed,” an amused Ottoson commented.
Ottoson’s connection to Imperial Glass did not start or end with juice glasses. His grandfather, Carl Ottoson, came to Bellaire, Ohio to work in the cutting shop of Imperial Glass Corp. The company had begun making utilitarian glassware in 1904 and expanded into art glass in the 1910s and 1920s until the market crashed, forcing its close, Ottoson said.
When Imperial Glass reopened, Ottoson’s grandpa was hired, and later Ottoson’s father, Axel Ottoson, also was employed by the company. Ottoson himself also “caught a turn” working as unskilled labor on several occasions before becoming a high school science teacher. The glass company closed its doors for good in 1984.
Now retired, Ottoson collects the line of Imperial glassware called “Washington” or no. 699, which featured those juice glasses.
“I was not interested in Imperial Glass until I hung up my teacher shoes. A lot of us have a similar connection (to Imperial Glass). Some have dads who worked with my dad,” said Ottoman, who is more comfortable talking about different lines of glass than his own story.
The most important and well-known of those lines is the Candlewick, introduced in August 1936. This design features clear glass as opposed to varieties with color.
“It is designed with beads somewhere on the piece, usually the perimeter of plates, the foot of tumblers, or on the handles of cream and sugar sets. They are mostly crystal clear, which meant that any defects would show up. It required extra attention and skill to produce good work,” Ottoson said.
At its annual convention this year, the National Imperial Glass Collectors’ Society (NIGCS) will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of its museum on Thursday, June 6. The rededication ceremony will take place on the lawn of the museum, 3200 Belmont St., Bellaire, Ohio, at 4 p.m., followed by a reception in the museum’s library. Both events are free and open to the public.
The former medical office building was purchased and renovated before being formally dedicated on June 5, 2003.
Today, the museum displays thousands of Imperial Glass exhibits (with a QR Code), a well-stocked gift shop and a research library. Ottoson estimated that the National Imperial Glass Museum is about 4,000 square feet.
Whether it was coincidental or planned, the museum sits on a lot that has direct ties to the humble beginnings of the Imperial Glass Corp.
“What is not generally known is that the lot next door to the museum was the site of the bank where Imperial had its first office,” Ottoson said.
The convention will feature a glass show and sale in conjunction with the Fostoria Glass Society of America, with a $10 admission or $18 entrance fee for the entire four-day convention, June 6-9. Other planned convention events will include an All-Imperial auction, educational seminars, a session for former employees, Glass Fest and a banquet.
For a complete schedule and more information, visit the Society’s website at www.ImperialGlass.org or call the museum at (740) 671-3971. Also, the museum has its own Facebook page.
The NIGCS has been able to install a new air conditioner at the museum with recent tourism grants, Ottoson said. Two other future endeavors may be adding an elevator and climate control, he added.
With declining membership, which is now at 542, the NIGCS has been fortunate to secure increased grant funding, which allows the museum to reach school children, local businesses, and civic groups with the story of Imperial Glass and America’s handmade glass industry, Ottoson said.
More on Imperial
Beginning in 1909, Imperial was an early manufacturer of Iridescent Ware (early Carnival), Ottoson said. The company began its NuArt line in 1912, leading to two other lines of art glass in the 1920s. Its main competitors were Duncan and Miller, Cambridge, Heisey and Fostoria, Ottoson said, but the company also began to compete with high-end companies such as Tiffany and Steuben in 1923 with the introduction of its Free Hand line.
“Its major competitors did not do this. In Free Hand, there is no mold work. It’s all done by hand to create design patterns. There were lots of colors and numbers. With multiple pieces, it’s remarkable how consistent the artisans were,” Ottoson stated.
After Candlewick, with its beaded clear glass, the next most popular line for collectors is Cape Cod, which is more durable than Candlewick, Ottoson explained. Cape Cod originated in 1931. Cape Cod and Candlewick pattern lines were popular with buyers for 50 years.
Imperial created many more lines of blown, pressed, cut, etched and decorated glassware in more than 80 years.
The museum is open April 1 through Oct. 31 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $3 per person. A self-guided tour offers an overview of how Imperial’s productions mirror the trends of the American Handmade Glassware industry and the interests of the consumer throughout the 20th Century.