You may think Viking glass sounds like something that those ancient Scandinavian warriors used to battle their enemies. The truth is very different, but not any less interesting.
Viking glass is a type of decorative glassware created by what was originally the New Martinsville Glass Company from the 1940s to 1980s. The company used a variety of colored glass to create pieces of glass art. Some of the pieces are vases, while others are glass sculptures of animals or plants.
Viking glass has a fascinating history, and there are a lot of beautiful pieces to learn about.
The New Martinsville Glass Company opened its doors in 1900, owned by Mark Johnson and George Matheny in New Martinsville, West Virginia. Within 7 years, the factory was destroyed by fire and flood. It was rebuilt, only to be destroyed by flood again 4 years later. It went bankrupt in the late 1930s due to the Great Depression.
The company was in a favorable place, with easy access to the railroad and Ohio River. It was purchased by the Silver Glass Company in 1938. A year later, the company acquired the Rainbow Art Glass Company, which sparked both the addition of color into pieces and the rebranding 5 years later into Viking Glass Company.
Viking glass is hand-blown, but some pieces are only partially hand-blown. Swung Viking glass is blown in a mold before it is removed and swung.
Viking glass became known as an American product for American homes. It was one of the most famous producers of Mid-century glass art. It also became known for its vibrant color. An explosion of new colors–almost 30 different options–were added from the 1950s to 1964 when the available colors were scaled back to seven: amberina, avocado green, bluenique, crystal, honey, persimmon, and ruby.
The Viking Glass company started struggling in 1980 and closed down in 1984. It was purchased by Kenneth B. Dalzell, whose family owned Fostoria Glass Company. He renamed it Dalzell-Viking Glass Company and incorporated many Fostoria glass techniques into the making of Viking Glass from then on. The company struggled, as they were unable to compete with imports and luxury creators, before closing down for good in 1998.
Pieces and Collections
Viking glass is known to be very colorful. That is one of its most distinguishing traits, though there are still a number of pieces that are made of clear glass. The pieces are translucent rather than opaque; the glass is clear but tinted a certain color. Most of the pieces are made up of one color of glass.
Some pieces of Viking glass are utilitarian, while others are non-utilitarian. This means that they have practical uses. Bowls and ashtrays are considered utilitarian because they can be both artistic and useful. Sculptures are non-utilitarian glass pieces. Viking Glass Company made both kinds of glass art.
Some of the cups, bowls, and other utilitarian glassware tended to be shaped in conventional ways with some simple designs on the sides. Other utilitarian pieces were more unusually shaped, such as bowls with wavy rims, often to the point that it would be hard to hold liquid inside. The company created a lot of swung glass vases with long, thin necks and uneven openings at the top, typically with one side much lower than the other.
My personal favorite pieces are the animal and plant sculptures. Each piece is one color. The animal sculptures tend to be tall and thin, supported by and attached to pedestals. There are a lot of sculptures of birds (particularly swans), dogs, cats, horses, etc. The plant sculptures are usually fruits or vegetables, though there are also some mushrooms and acorns.
The creators originally pulled a lot from Modernist styles from Italy and Sweden. Later, they modeled their work after the Scandinavian Modern Style, which is what gave Viking glass its name. Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, produced a significant amount of glass at the time, and Viking Glass Company wanted to emulate the popular styles in their own creations. Some characteristics of these styles that the Viking glass shares are the vibrant color and simple designs.
The most famous collection of Viking glass was the Epic line. There are a wide variety of pieces in this line, including both utilitarian and non-utilitarian pieces. It is based on mid-century modern designs, which included simple and elegant designs. The name does not distinguish a particular pattern, shape, or color of glass, but was used as a brand. If you purchase a piece of Viking glass, it was likely part of the Epic line.
Some other collections are the Flamenco line, the Tundra line, the Scroll line, and the Astra line. The Flamenco line is a European style of the heavy crystal. The majority of the pieces are bowls or vases. The Tundra line is characterized by a hand-blown look, though they were actually pressed glass; this means they were poured under pressure into a mold.
Neither of these collections featured many animal or plant sculptures, nor did the Scroll line, which was not around for very long. The pieces in the Astra line had a lot of blocky shapes and simple patterns. (Source)
The company labeled their pieces using stickers with the manufacturing information rather than inscribing it directly onto the piece as was common. As a result, many of the pieces are hard to identify as the stickers have been lost to time. Shape and color are typically used to distinguish pieces, though it is hard to determine when a piece was made and/or what collection it belonged to. Collectors need to make some guesses and personal preference decisions when deciding how much to pay for a piece.
Depending on the size, color, rarity, and condition of the piece, the cost of Viking glass varies. Smaller pieces can be as little as $10, a more affordable collector’s item. There are rare pieces that are worth $500-$1,000 if you are looking for something particularly fancy. The average price is about $35. Pieces can be bought and sold on many antique websites or in thrift stores and flea markets.