Libbey glass has been an industry leader since the 1880s. Starting in the northeastern United States and making its name known worldwide from Toledo, Ohio, this American product is now produced and sold all over the world.
William L. Libbey bought a Cambridge, Massachusetts, glass works in 1878 and ten years later the family moved its operation to Toledo, where the sand was first quality and there were ample supplies of natural gas to fire its furnaces. The new location also had both railroads and steamships for transportation of raw materials and finished products.
By 1893, Libbey patterns were winning world renown at the World Fair, or Exposition, held at Chicago. ‘Columbia’ and Isabella’ took the top awards in this event’s international competition. The family saw its glassware at the White House, the court of King Edward VII, the mansions of fabulously wealthy industrial tycoons, and the palaces of many world leaders.
The earliest products were cut and polished by hand, using iron or steel wheels to grind and expert craftsman to guide the process. Hand-blown blanks were replaced by molded and later shaped blanks. Subsequent innovations introduced machinery and acid baths to replace the hands-on processes. Mass production of more affordable products became the focus of the twentieth century. Many items were hand-painted, but this was discontinued after World War II.
Today the company is represented in all the major markets of the world, selling kitchenware, tableware for both private and public establishments, and decorative items. It distributes its products through mass merchandisers, specialty shops, and wholesale supply houses on several continents. It is a public company, traded on the stock market, and is still growing.
If you are interested in either learning more about historic brands of glassware or about the business side of this international company, go online to the manufacturer’s own website. You will find its business profile, its mission statement and guarantees of quality, and career opportunities for those seeking employment with a dynamic world player. For information on this brand as a collectible, look for antique dealers’ postings and the pages of collector’s clubs and associations.
If you want vintage items – dating from the 1940s to the ’70s – or the truly antique examples from the days of hand crafting, the internet is a great resource. There are informational sites as well as commercial ones, and this brand name is well-represented on auction sites. There are photo galleries and videos of exhibits and shows that will let you see items that range from glorious to whimsical. Prices run the gamut from affordable to ‘Wow!’
Libbey glass can be a frosted tumbler, a tall glass decorated with a carousel horse, an exquisite punch bowl too heavy to carry, a water pitcher, or a set of utilitarian drinking glasses for your kitchen. Knowing the history of what you own or see in a shop, as well as the company’s pride in its products, will make any item more appreciated, whether it is in your dishwasher or on a display shelf.