Pressware was the main focus of Fostoria Glass until the 1920s when the company added to that focus to include the production of fine quality blown stemware. The founders, many of which worked together at another glass company, previously received land and cash incentives from the town of Fostoria to start their company. Fostoria was chosen after discovering an abundance of natural gas reserves that could fire the kilns. Interestingly, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, every American president ordered glassware from the Fostoria Glass company.
Fostoria Glass was first produced in Fostoria, Ohio, in 1887. After opening, the natural resources, which were thought to be abundant, dried up quickly. Once this happened, the company moved almost four hours southeast to Moundsville, Virginia. By 1950, the Fostoria company was producing over eight million pieces of glassware per year. Fostoria glass produced over 1000 patterns in a fifty-year period, right up until 1970, when foreign glass companies entered the market, making it difficult for them to continue as they once had.
In 1983, the Lancaster Colony purchased Fostoria with plans to continue production in the Moundsville, VA plant. Unfortunately, continued pressure from competition and outdated machines forced the company to close the plant in 1986. Now, a museum in downtown Moundsville is all that is left of the once-thriving Fostoria Glass company. That, and the fantastic products they produced through the years.
The first Fostoria kilns were only capable of firing fourteen pieces at a time. The desire for American glassware exploded, and the company increased kilns every few years to meet the demand. When the Great Depression threatened to decrease sales, the company began producing more colorful pieces. They also expanded from fine stemware to include dinnerware as well. One of their most popular additions, Milk glass, was introduced just before World War II.
With both pressed and blown pieces, the Fostoria company was able to gain popularity among various groups of people. No matter the production type, all pieces were handmade and finished by skilled craftsman who shaped the glassware and then “fire-polished” it in a bath of flames which brought out its “sparkle and luster”.
In order to reach a wider market, the Fostoria company became the first glassware company to reach out to the public directly. The company advertised in magazines and partnered with retail stores to increase its image and accessibility. This was followed, in 1925, by expanding their line to dinnerware, serving pieces, and candlesticks, just to name a few.
The Fostoria Glass Company became the largest glass manufacturer in the country. Continuing to produce both pressed and handblown products was key as their products were seen as an all-day type of glass with pressed used during the daytime and handblown used for more elegant evening events. When Lancaster Colony purchased Fostoria, they discontinued the handblown line, only producing pressed glass until officially closing the plant in 1986.
Some of Fostoria’s glass became known as carnival glass, milk glass, or Depression glass through the years. The company produced more than 1000 patterns created by brilliant designers. One of the most well-known designers was George Sakier. Throughout the 100+ years of production, successful patterns were Chinz, Kashmir, and June. These continue to be some of the most sought-after patterns years after the end of production.
Widely believed to be the most popular, the American pattern was produced for seventy years. For years, this pattern was considered the longest-running and most successful in United States glass-making history. During its last two years of production, the pattern was sold to Indiana Glass Co. and then to Dalzell-Viking Glass Co. The Dalzell-Viking Glass Co. continued to produce pieces through the late 1990s. Due to the sale of the pattern, it is sometimes confusing to know if you’re looking at an American made by Fostoria or another company without further inspection. Adding to that, the American inspired many copies during its 70+ year production.
You may be wondering how to tell if the glass you’re eyeing is original Fostoria or not. There are some telltale signs. First, Fostoria glass is heavier than your average glass. You can find actual measurements in reference books, but it is thought the newer glass is off by at least a ½ inch. If you can, look at the piece under good lighting. Original Fostoria is clear and easy to see through. Newer pieces appear cloudier, duller. The edges of the original Fostoria glass give it away, as they are sharper and not rounded like more modern glass.
Both Jeanette’s Cube, made in the early 1930s, and Whitehall, made under the Indiana Glass and Colony Glass names, have been mistaken for Fostoria’s American. The cube pieces differ in color variations, which is the easiest way to differentiate them from Fostoria. As fewer of these pieces were made, the cube pattern is not as thoroughly documented as the American or Whitehall. There are several ways to discern if you are looking at an American or Whitehall, including what collectors know as the black light test. When shining a black light on Fostoria, it will shed a pale yellow color while other versions will not.
If you are still unsure, you can consult an antique dealer near you or several reference books detailing differences and what to look for. There are also articles and sites online specifically targeted to provide you with tips to ensure you’re purchasing original Fostoria pieces. Thanks to the many copies, it’s difficult to buy pieces online since you cannot examine them first. Pay attention to the shop owner’s return policy if you decide to take a chance. Continue that relationship once you find someone trustworthy and easy to deal with.
For many of us, it’s exciting to own a piece of history, and owning an original Fostoria piece is no different. The company was known for creative and innovative ideas and intricate designs made for all. Their success in early American glassware is well documented, covering almost a century of meticulous handmade products. Consider adding a few Fostoria pieces to your bucket list in your search for glassware. They make an excellent addition to any collection.