Source Material I: Contemporary Biographical Accounts (1893-1916)

 


The Honesdale Citizen (1893), issue of March 23rd. Under the dateline of 20 Mar 1893:

Connected with the celebrated glassware manufacturing firm of Dorflinger & Sons, at White Mills, for over a quarter of a century was J. S. O’Connor.

The gentleman referred to is now retired from active participation in the business, after a service of forty-five years, but the owner of one of the largest and most complete glass-cutting shops in the world, which is located close to the beautiful falls of the Wallenpaupack at East Hawley.

This establishment is managed by his only son, Arthur E. O’Connor, who is himself one of the few men in the country who is a thorough master of the art of glass-cutting in all its departments. It must be borne in mind that a piece of artistically and highly finished cut glass represents the labor and skill not of one person, but of several who seek or attain perfection in different departments. Thus we have roughers, smoothers, polishers, shade-cutters and light cutters, each of which comes under the general head of “glass-cutter,” but the person who combines in himself all these departments with any degree of perfection is indeed a very rare exception in the glass cutting world.

John S. O’Connor was one of the pioneer glass cutters in New York before the [Civil] war, and is said to be one of the oldest, if not the very oldest glass cutter living today,.

On the outbreak of the rebellion [i.e., the Civil War] he enlisted in the 69th Regiment of New York Volunteers as a private and was mustered out at the close of the war as a sergeant. After the war he opened a cutting shop of his own in New York city, and after operating it for some time he sold out to become superintendent of a cutting shop for E. V. Howitt [i.e., Haughwout] & Co. of the same city.

He served only a short time in that position when he was attracted to Dorflinger & Sons, White Mills, where he started cutting with only one frame, which he operated himself. The industry grew, however, under the supervision of Mr. O’Connor till the glass cutting firm of Dorflinger & Sons became famous throughout the world for the beauty of its workmanship. The cut glass of this firm became known the world over. It was here that the glassware was cut which took the first prize at the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876. Here, too, a set of glass was cut in beautiful designs for the Cuban Palace, and four different sets for the White House during the administrations of four different presidents.

[In 1891] the last of these magnificant sets was furnished the White House when the lamented Mrs. Harrison presided over it. The beauty of the designs and the artistic finish of this set was a theme for society reporters at the Capital for a long time.

As a designer as well as an artistic executor Mr. O’Connor has very few equals in this country. He was one of the first to institute a new departure from the old-fashioned diamonds to curves, and he has invented and patented some of the most popular designs known to the trade. The “Tuxedo”, a new design which he is now using in his Hawley plant deserves special mention for its artistic beauty. [This design, which was patented as no. 21,424 and which was called “Rattan” by Dorothy Daniel, is illustrated,]

In the field of mechnical invention peculiar to his calling Mr. O’Connor has also achieved fame. In August, 1883, he patented a novel and very valuable invention to glass cutters which is called “The automatic feeding-up machine.. This machine is used for feeding the polishers with sand [actually, pumice], thus saving the work of boys who were hired for the purpose. This machine can now be seen in operation in the Hawley shop.

The magnificent three story blue stone building of John S. O’Connor[‘s], in Hawley, is a fine addition to the town. Despite the notice of “Positively No Admittance” printed in bold letters over the entrance, your corrsepondent received a warm reception from Mr. Arthur E. O’Connor, the manager, and Mr. Doyle, the bookkeeper, when he ventured in on Saturday last.

The building, which is 160 feet long by 44 feet wide is at present fitted up with 110 cutting frames and gives employment [to] 116 hands, a few of which are women employed in the washing department. Only two of the three large floors are at present occupied by the cutters, the third being used as a store room. But this floor will be fitted up with frames also in the near future.

The entire building is fitted with all modern conveniences. It has an electric light plant of its own, which lights the building with 216 lamps of 16 candle power each. It has a pump capable of pumping fifty gallons of water per minute and putting each floor under four inches of water in less than thirty-five minutes in case of fire.

A novel peculiarity about the building is that it stands on solid rock and one of the walls of the first floor is a smooth solid rock.

Its position under the falls on the bank of the river, where the water power is splendid, is an exceedingly delightful one. The view from the back window, which is always fine, is at present of picturesque beauty.

The glassware turned out at this shop is known to the leading dealers from Maine to California, not only for the exceeding beauty of its designs, but for its superior polish and delicate workmanship.

The term of apprenticeship to the glass-cutting trade is from three to four years. The wages of a glass-cutter ranges from $12 to $20 per week, according to proficiency. The excellency of workmanship and the time taken to execute it govern the wages of a cutter. Length of time at the business has nothing to do with it. Every man is paid for what he knows and what he can do. Thus a young man just issuing from his apprenticeship, if he has made good use of his time and has an avocation for the business may command $18 per week, while an old veteran who has worked at it twenty five years, may never be able to command more than $15. “But”, says Mr. O’Connor, “any kind of a man who has served his time at the business will command not less than $12 and I would be glad to hire a half dozen this minute at that price.”

To illustrate the wage question Mr. O’Connor pointed me out a young man to whom he pays $23 per week, having gradually raised him from $16 to that sum.

[The reporter:] “According to this scale of wages and the time served, [is] the trade of a glass-cutter second to none, Mr. O’Connor?”

“My father worked at it for forty-five years”, said Mr. O’Connor, “and he always considered it one of the very best [jobs], provided a person had an avocation for it, and you must have that to succeed in any calling. I have served my time in every department of the trade including two years at engraving, yet [I can] learn every day. We can always learn something.”

[It is assumed that the following paragraphs contain the opinions of the reporter and are not necessarily those of Arthur E. O’Connor:]

Pressed glass bears the same relation to cut glass that prints bear to oil paintings. Prints may be good copies of works of art, but they are only copies. They may possess a certain amount of artistic merit, but they are still prints, lacking the finest lights and shades of the original picture, lacking the handiwork and the genius of the original artist.

The poor miner or farmer who pays 25 cents for a respectable looking piece of glassware would open his eyes if asked to pay $25 for a piece of cut glassware, looking not one whit better to his untrained eye. And who could blame him? The poor have neither the time nor money to be concerned with the beauty of things. Let the rich, who can afford it, dwell on the sublime and beautiful and the poor concern themselves with the utility of things.

The glass cider pitcher, which costs the poor farmer 50 cents, is just as useful to him as a cut glass one for $50, and it is doubtful if he would give one cent boot (sic) on trading for the latter.

Cut glass, like fine paintings, is entirely the property of the rich, and as many with heavy pocketbooks and untrained judgment affect raptures over fine paintings, many too, it seems to me, go into ecstasies over fine cut glaswware, without having anything like a true knowledge of its beauty and its exquisite workmanship.

Across the room from where Mr. O’Connor and I were standing on Saturday stood a large punch bowl, which I was told sold for $100 wholesale, and on a large table upstairs were sets of ware which represented several thousand dollars. Yet many a man would hesitate about lumping the whole for $100.

None but the best flint glass can stand the process of cutting. All with the exception of a very small percentage of the “blanks,” or the plain forms of the pieces of ware to be cut, which are used in the Hawley shop, are made by Dorflinger & Sons.

Take the blank of a punch bowl, that is a bowl made of plain flint glass for instance. To cut designs on this the first thing to be done is to mark out the design with a solution of red lead, turpentine and rosin. Then it is given to the rougher who roughs, or grinds out (There is no such thing as cutting done in the accepted sense of the word.) the design with a soft steel mill on which drips Berkshire sand and water. Next it is smoothed on what is known as a Craig leaf [craigleith] [a sand]stone imported from Scotland. Next it is polished on a soft poplar wood wheel [with] ground pumice, after which it is again polished on a hardwood section wheel. It is then taken to a man at a brush wheel in order to polish the small diamonds that could not be affected by the other wheels. Finally it is polished with putty powder on a soft felt wheel. The quality of this putty powder and the workmanship displayed in this last polish, which adds, or should add, a superior brilliancy to the piece, are important factors in determining its value. The bowl is now washed and placed on the show table, ready for sale or shipment.

Thus it will be seen that the bowl passed through several skillful hands before it became a valuable piece of cut glassware. Each operator to whom it passed had to hold it between his hands while working on it, thus running a risk of breaking it. As a $10 blank in the hands of the worker it had as good a chance of not being broken as it now has with a value of $100 in the hands of the packer.

Taking all things into consideration, cut glass must always remain at a pretty high figure, regardless of inventions, and to those of refined tastes will always be precious.

Pressed glassware, though attaining a high degree of excellency, can never be compared with it.

[Two paragraphs of “potted” glass history follow as filler, then the article concludes as follows:]

At Honesdale, T. B. Clark & Co. operate a similar establishment, making three large establishments of this kind within a radius of a few miles.

[signed] Philander.

The Jewelers’ Circular (1895). “The Cut Glass Establishment of J. S. O’Connor” (unsigned article), 6 Feb 1895, pp. 59-60:

One of the most extensive glass cutting factories in America is that of J. S. O’Connor, at Hawley, Pa. The factory was founded in 1890 by this gentleman, who has devoted the past 45 years to the avocation of glass cutting, and who is to-day recognized to be the peer of any man in the industry in this country.

The establishment itself is located in a three story stone building, 160 feet long by 44 feet wide, with an addition 40 feet long by 75 feet wide, built on the solid rock and all having a capacity of 250 cutting frames, The entire building is fitted up with all the modern conveniences, getting its power from water and its light from electricity. This perfect glass cutting factory is the achievement of J. S. O’Connor who is the oldest glass cutter living to-day. He was engaged in this pursuit before the Rebellion [i.e., Civil War] but at the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the 69th Reg’t of New York Volunteers as a private, and was mustered out as a sergeant. After the war he opened a shop of his own in New York City, and from this beginning his success has been remarkable.

Besides being an expert mechanic in glass cutting he is also a designer of national repute. Some of his designs have marked a new era and given to glass cutting [an] impetus that has placed it among the highest of art industries of to-day. Prominent among his designs is the “Parisian”, being a beautiful combination of curves blending with each other, causing the eye to be fairly dazzled by the brilliancy of the prismatic rays. Mr. O’Connor is also the originator of the “Tuxedo” and many others of great beauty. Some of this individual work took first prize at the Centennial Exposition; other of his work graces the table of the Cuban Palace, while four presidents of the United States ordered their glassware sets from him. President Cleveland recently ordered a matched set for the White House.

A notable specimen of glass cutting is the O’Connor punch bowl given as a first prize at the events of the regatta on Lake Ariel, Aug. 14 last. The design is known as the “Princeton,” and consists of several rosettes with rays of light reflected from numerous refrangible points.

Besides being an artist in his line Mr. O’Connor is also a mechnic of marked inventive genius, as is demonstrated by his invesnting the automatic feeding-up machine which is used for feeding the polishers [i.e., polishing wheels] with putty powder, thus dispensing with the services of boys. He is a man of practical democratic principles, and is always among his workmen, superintending and suggesting. The view of the gentleman as seen in relief in the engraving [– which accompanies the original article and is reproduced in Barbe and Reed 2003, p. 191 –] is characteristic. To his son, Arthur E. O’Connor, who is thoroughly versed in the intricacies of glass cutting in all its phases, departments and branches, much of the prosperity of the establishment is due.

The output of the factory which is controlled by Geo. Borgfeldt & Co., 18-20-22 Washington Place, cor. Greene St., New York, wherever brought into competition and comparison with that of other factories bears the closest scrutiny and receives high encomiums.

Illustrated Wayne County [1900], pp. 25-6 from a book with this title. No publisher, date indicated. Contains three photographs: bust of John S. O’Connor, a large late nineteenth century
residence (possibly the O’Connor home in Hawley, PA), and a view of the O’Connor factory and near-by knitting mill. This photo is reproduced in a second publication: on a cover sheet that
contains the titles: “Hawley 1900” and “J. S. O’Connor – Rich Cut Glass.” This sheet precedes a single, unpaginated sheet that has the title “J. S. O’Connor” and the note: “These notes were
taken from Illustrated Wayne Co., 1900″. This version of the original article contains two photographs: the bust of J. S. O’Connor, as above, and a river view of a village (probably Hawley).
Again, no publisher or date is given, except as found on the cover sheet which may or may not have been part of this second publication. The entire text found in these two publications is as
follows:

J. S. O’Connor erected the handsome and substantial glass cutting factory at the foot of the Wallenpaupack falls, Hawley, in 1890, and since that time has established an extensive business in manufacturing American rich cut glass. The building is 60 x 200 feet, three stories and basement, constructed of native stone, heated by steam and lighted by electricity. In the basement is the heater and also the dynamo which is 300 candle power. The roughing and stock rooms and office are on the first floor; the designing, smoothing and polishing departments are all on the second and third floors. About 200 frames are used. It is a magnificent sight to stand at the end of one of these long floors and witness the process by which a plain piece of glass is converted into an artistic and handsome article of cutware, full of lustre and glistening with rich prismatic colors. Arthur E. O’Connor has general supervision of the entire business. They have an office in N. Y. City and representatives in all of the leading cities in the U. S.

John S. O’Connor was born in the city of Londonderry, Ireland, on June 6, 1831. He removed with his parents to Greenock, Scotland, when one year old. Soon afterward his father removed to Canada and from thence to New Orleans where he established a jewellers business. When the war with Mexico was declared, he raised a company of New Orleans Rangers which he commanded under General Scott until the capture of the city of Mexico. After the war, having secured a competence, he located in N. Y. C. and brought his family there from Greenock. Young John S. entered the work of glass cutting as an apprentice with Turner and Lane in N. Y. C. and finished his trade with E. V. Houghwought and Co. When the Civil War broke out the old military spirit of the family asserted itself and J. S. and two of his brothers enlisted in the Union Army. J. S. O’Connor was 1st Sgt. of Co. F, 69 Reg., N. Y. Vols.

After the war he returned to work for his old employers and was made superintendent of their glass cutting works. From here he entered the employ of C. Dorflinger & Son (sic), starting glass cutting at White Mills with one frame. Glass cut by him took the first prize at the Paris Exposition. Through his genius and untiring energy glass cutting reached the high art of the present day. He invented the feeding-up machine, the hardwood polisher and various other appliances and devices now considered indispensible in the making of cut glass. He revolutionized glass cutting when he brought out his patent[ed] Parisian design. After a quarter of a century spent in the Dorflinger works Mr. O’Connor built his factory at Hawley.

While Mr. O’Connor has given but little attention to politics, he was honored by being made postmaster at White Mills in President Cleveland’s second administration [1893-7] and was a member of the school board at that place for a number of years. His enterprise at Hawley is one of the latest and most extensive glass cutting establishments in the country.

William Dorflinger (1902). From “The Development of the Cut Glass Business in the United States,” a paper read before the American Association of Flint and Lime Glass Manufacturers at
their annual meeting held in Atlantic City, NJ, 25 Jul 1902. According to The Jeweler’s Circular of 8 Oct 1902 Dorflinger’s address was “published in an artistic book” to mark the 50th
anniversay of the C. Dorflinger & Sons company. This book has not been seen by the writer. The following excerpt — the only mention of John S. O’Connor in William Dorflinger’s paper — is
taken from a typescript of the complete address that is on file at the Rakow Research Library:

In 1880, J. S. O’Connor, superintendent of C. Dorflinger’s cutting department for twenty-five years, designed the Parisian pattern, the first one showing curved instead of straight lines, and this furnished the basis for innumerable new designs on that principle. [The date 1880 is, with little doubt, a misprint. It should be 1886, the year the Parisisan pattern was patented. This error also appears in a printed version of William Dorflinger’s talk that is found in the October 1902 issue of The Keystone, pp. 1368-9.]

Obituary (1916). This obituary first appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal, issue of 19 Oct 1916. The following representation of it is taken from “Stories about the Dorflinger glass,”
an unpublished report by the Dorflinger Exhibit Committee that was made for the 1999 ACGA Philadelphia Convention, p. 3. Because the Committee accepted the obituary without comment,
the writer has highlighted (in bold) “facts” that run counter to information contained elsewhere in this file and in the O’Connor 2 and O’Connor 3 files. These highlighted points are discussed
under Comments, below:

At his home in Hawley, Pa., John S. O’Connor, who invented the “Parisian” pattern, which contained the first curve cutting done on glass, died last Monday, in his eighty-sixth year, following a short illness resulting from a fall. He was born in Londonderry, Ireland, June 6, 1831, and in 1836 was brought by his parents to America, the family settling in St. John’s Canada, later coming to New York City. While here Mr. O’Connor learned his trade, that of glass cutting, with the firm of E. V. Houghwrought [Haughwout] & Co., remaining nine years with that concern. He was also in the employ of Turner & Lane for a short time. When the Civil War broke out John and two brothers enlisted and went out with the Sixty-ninth Regiment. After the war he went to work with his old employers and was made superintendent of their glass cutting works. He later entered the employ of C. Dorflinger & Sons, starting glass-cutting at White Mills with one frame. Glass cut by Mr. O’Connor took the prize at the Paris Exposition. To his genius and untiring energy the high art reached in present day glass cutting is largely due. Prior to his origination of the circular cutting, mitre designs were the only ones employed. He invented the feeding-up machine, the hardwood polisher, and devices now considered indispensable in the making of cut glass. After a quarter of a century spent with the Dorflinger works Mr. O’Connor in 1890 erected a factory at Hawley in which three hundred men were given employment. Since the sale of his business to T. B. Clark Co., a few years ago [i.e., 1902], Mr. O’Connor had lived a retired life, but always kept in touch with what was going on in the cut glass industry.

COMMENTS:

Curved miter cutting had been done for decades prior to the O’Connor’s Parisian pattern of 1886.

 

John S. was an immigrant in 1848 (census data) when his father, Neil, brought the family to NYC from Scotland (Illustrated Wayne County [1900], above).

 

Only one prize for glass was awarded to an American company in Paris and that company was T. G. Hawkes (Spillman 1996, p. 236). There is no record that O’Connor cut any of the glass that was exhibited in Paris by Hawkes or by any other exhibitor. The company he worked for, C. Dorflinger & Sons, did, however, provide large two-part punch-bowl blanks that were cut and displayed by Hawkes. Possibly this is the source for this error in the obituary.

 

There is no indication in Spillman’s detailed account of the Paris Exposition that anyone at C. Dorflinger & Sons, including O’Connor, cut any of the glass exhibited by Hawkes. However, note that a pattern called Japanese was included in the Paris exhibition. While Hawkes was selling this pattern “by 1888” (Spillman 1996, pp. 184-5), a pattern with this name also appears in the first section of the composite Dorflinger catalog (ACGA 1997, p. 64). However, the example shown there has fan scallops cut in Dorflinger’s, not Hawkes’s, style. It is not clear whether the Japanese pattern that was exhibited in Paris was cut by Hawkes, or was cut by Dorflinger and used by Hawkes to exhance his exhibit. If the latter possibility were true then it is possible that at least this one item was cut by O’Connor. We need to know more about Hawkes’ Japanese pattern, however, before seriously entertaining such speculation.

 

A utility patent for a “feeding up machine” was granted to O’Connor by the Patent Office in 1883 (patent no. 283,273). This was succeeded by an improved version by Richard Thirsk in 1888 (patent no. 386,417). O’Connor assigned one-half of his patent to Louis J. Dorflinger while Thirsk assigned his entire patent to Dorflinger. No patent for a hardwood polisher has been located. The term implies a more elaborate set-up than merely a hardwood wheel which, in any case, was not patented by O’Connor, but by Wyman Kimble in 1889, followed by an improved wheel the following year, according to Barbe and Reed (2003, pp. 310-2), who provide no patent numbers. Kimble’s invention “received universal acclaim and acceptance almost immediately” (p. 311). Barbe and Reed do not mention O’Connor’s hardwood polisher — mentioned by Suydan, Connelly, and others — in their in-depth report on the problems encountered in producing satisfactory hardwood wheels for the polishing of cut glass. Similarly, no patents have been found for any other O’Connor-made “appliances and devices” (Suydam), or for any of the devices (unspecified) “now considered indespensable in the making of cut glass” (1916 obituary, above). Included among them could have been the “vacuum device” mentioned in Revi’s book, but no patent has been found, nor has any detailed description of such a device come to light.