L. Straus & Sons – Warren Street Glass Cutting Operation (1888 – May 1889)

We have examined the cut glass operation within Macy’s from its inception until the last known reference found to date. Now let us look at the parallel glass cutting operation within L. Straus & Sons and see why it was necessary for the Straus family to open up a separate operation.

In January of 1888 Isidor and Nathan Straus purchased half of Macy’s. Therefore it was necessary for the Strauses to open up their own glass-cutting establishment within L. Straus & Sons in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

The first reference found for the L. Straus & Sons glass cutting operation was in the May 24, 1888 Crockery and Glass Journal which reported:

Their cut glass exhibit is without doubt one of the finest in the country, and the supply of these goods is so well arranged that they are able to match any of the standard patterns at very short notice. The fact is that they have a corps of expert cutters at work in this city, producing fine goods exclusively for the Messrs. Straus.

The term “exclusively for the Messrs. Straus” indeed is a reference referring to a separate glass cutting operation within L. Straus & Sons. This is confirmed a month later, in the June 21, 1888 issue of the Crockery and Glass Journal that states the following:

This branch of the glass business is now a permanent, leading specialty of the Messrs. Straus, and as they have their own cutting department directly under their personal control and the management of the most skillful cutters that can be secured, it is reasonable to suppose that they can and do offer superior work in this high class at advantageous rates. They have aimed at providing a superior quality of cut glass in uniform color, and having secured this point they are now ready to receive orders for any of the patterns seen in their display and to execute them at short notice.

Straus decides to officially announce their glass-cutting department to the trade in this July 12, 1888 Crockery and Glass Journal ad:

We desire to announce to the trade that we have recently opened our own Glass Cutting establishment and that we have now on exhibition the largest line of Heavy Cut Glassware to be found in this City.

Having made arrangements whereby we are enabled to secure the best crystal made, and as we employ only the most skilled workmen, possessing also an endless number of new and exclusive shapes and designs, we are in a position to offer a line which for variety, brilliancy of glass and exquisite perfection of cutting has never been equaled in this country.

 

Our prices are lower than are asked for goods of far inferior quality and workmanship.”

On November 1, 1888 the Crockery and Glass Journal talks about the successful Straus glass cutting experiment:

Thus far the experiment of cutting their own glass has proved to be one of the most successful of the many branches established by the Messrs. Straus, and their sales of these handsome goods have been most gratifying and are constantly increasing.”

So we can see that the glass cutting experiment within L. Straus & Sons proved successful. Later on during the middle of November, a couple more articles appear in the trade papers. The November 15, 1888 issue of the Crockery and Glass Journal says:

The cut glass department is sure to attract considerable attention from visiting buyers, as the cutters have sent in a number of beautiful new patterns that show marvelously good work. Messrs. L. Straus & Sons are particularly proud of this branch of their business, and they have good reason to be, for it is the most successful of their several enterprises in manufacturing special goods for their own trade.”

Now we see that the glass cutting is one of the most successful of all of the Straus ventures. But we do not know where the glass cutting shop for L. Straus & Sons is located.   We get our first hint in the November 15, 1888 issue of the Pottery and Glass Reporter that says:

The cut glass department continues to attract great attention and presents a most attractive appearance to visitors. The house has achieved an immense success in the line of cut glass. The work is done in their own factory here in New York, the most experienced artisans being employed and no expense spared to produce the highest results.”

We now know that the factory is located in New York, but exactly where this glass-cutting establishment is located is unknown. We find out the answer in the December 6, 1888 issue of the Crockery and Glass Journal that says:

The most successful venture that the Messrs. Straus have attempted on this side of the water has been in the production of fine cut glass. Their cutting shops on Warren Street have been full of the best workmen that they could secure, but even with thirty-odd cutters they have been unable to supply the demand which they have had this season. A few days ago we went in there to see if they had anything new in that special line, and found Mr. Siegel bemoaning the fact that they were robbing his sample lines to make up orders. This looks as if they would have to increase their capacity next year, for turning out the finer goods, and it is more than likely that this is comprehended in their present plan. At any rate, it has been a pronounced success, and the fact that such a large quantity of their productions have found a market is good evidence of their quality and the character of work done on them.”

So now we have discovered two glass-cutting shops operated by the Straus family that have never been mentioned in any of the previous cut glass books:

  • A cutting shop at Macy’s.
  • A cutting shop on Warren Street where L. Straus & Sons had their showrooms.

We have also found out that there is such a demand for Straus cut glass that the salesmen are “robbing” the sample lines to make up orders. This can only mean one thing. It is time to expand.

But expansion takes time and the problems get worse. Here is what the Crockery and Glass Journal had to say on February 21, 1889:

Messrs. L. Straus & Sons made such a hit on cut glass last year that the demand exceeded their capacity to supply the goods. It got so toward the end of the season that the house salesmen began stealing pieces from each other’s orders to favor their customers, and their force of cutters found out what it was to keep up with a lot of hungry salesmen. It is not likely that the same thing will occur again this year, for the Messrs. Straus will meet the difficulty before it comes by providing against it. In the meantime they are cutting away on some elegant goods in new patterns and some of the boys in the store are calculating on grabbing the whole lot by proxy for their special customers. This is a cue for those who could not get what they wanted in the Straus cut glass last year, and we need say no more.”

Imagine what a unique position this is for a glass cutting shop. Demand exceeding supply and you have a lot of “hungry” salesmen “stealing” pieces from each other’s orders so that they could favor their own customers. How soon will L. Straus & Sons’ address the potential shortages? A hint is given on March 21, 1889 when the Crockery and Glass Journal says:

They have found that the cutting shop is much too small to turn out the goods they require to fill their orders, and they have now completed arrangements for greatly increasing their capacity. In fact, the new shops will be nearly three times as large as the present quarters, and when they get their frames in position the Messrs. Straus will be able to fill all orders for cut glass as soon as they are received, unless it is for special patterns to be cut to order.”

On April 4, 1889 the Crockery and Glass Journal goes on to say:

The Messrs. Straus are making big preparations for the increase of their glass cutting shops, and when they get into their new quarters they will have one of the largest and best equipped cutting shops in the country. That they are fully warranted in doing this is sufficiently evidenced by the quantity of cut glass they are constantly sending out to the trade. Their list of patterns includes all of the well known standards of cutting, with a number of special designs that are controlled especially by them. It is their intention to make this department of their business the most attractive feature in the house, and even now their cut glass counters are a strong attraction to lovers of fine glassware.”

The target date for the new operation is reported in the April 25, 1889 Crockery and Glass Journal:

May 1 they will get into their new glass cutting establishment and after that date their customers will see a largely increased line of designs and their orders will be filled without delay, as their capacity for production will be largely increased.”

L. Straus & Sons – 14 Jay Street Glass Cutting Operation (May 1889 – May 1894)

Finally on May 9, 1889 the Crockery and Glass Journal announces that:

Messrs. L. Straus & Sons have got their glass cutting machinery all moved over to the new and more commodious works on Jay Street. Their facilities are generally enlarged thereby, and they have now as fine a cutting shop as there is anywhere in this section of the country.”

 

Caption: The cut glass factory of L. Straus & Sons

at 14 Jay Street in New York City

Crockery and Glass Journal of January 12, 1893

 

In all of the existing cut glass books published to date, Jay Street is the only factory that is mentioned.

The May 30, 1889 edition of the Crockery and Glass Journal tells about the Jay Street glass cutting operation:

We spent a pleasant hour with Mr. Siegel, of L. Straus & Sons, at their new glass cutting shops on Jay Street. The cutters’ rooms occupy two floors of a big building leased by the firm and are located on the top floors of the high structure, where the workmen have plenty of light and air with surroundings of the most pleasant character. Power is supplied to the sixty odd frames by an enormous belt connected with the engine of the Daft electric station on Duane Street. A close inspection of the work in hand shows an unusual number of forms and designs that have been prepared exclusively for Messrs. Straus, and the blanks are graded in weight so as to furnish any desired cutting, but the major portion of the work produced is of the heaviest and most brilliant character. With the facilities now at their command their production of the finest qualities is practically unlimited, and their present output approaches a net valuation of $2,000 per week. They have in their employ a number of the most expert workmen now in the United States, and they are provided with the best crystal that can be obtained. The greater portion of the crystal of high grade comes from the celebrated factory of Baccarat, and it is without question the finest produced in Europe. During the summer months they will keep the frames moving constantly to finish up a large stock for the opening of the fall trade. Meanwhile the demand for their cut goods of the better grades is constantly increasing, and their trade in this exceedingly attractive product is certain to become one of the main features of their business.”

That this new venture on Jay Street proved so successful and that the Strauses were committed to the production of fine cut glass is demonstrated by this June 27, 1889 Crockery and Glass Journal article:

Messrs. L. Straus & Sons are making their glass-cutting shops on Jay Street one of the biggest and most attractive establishments of the kind in the country, and they intend to be second to none in the range and assortment of their patterns and the quality of the blanks used. An inspection of the display at the Warren Street store will convince anyone who is a judge of art glass that they can turn out some superb work from Jay Street. Go in and look at it, and see if we are not right.”

The Pottery and Glass Reporter writes about the experienced artisans working for L. Straus & Sons in the August 1, 1889 issue:

MESSRS. L. STRAUS & SONS occupy a commanding position in respect to cut glass. They manufacture this beautiful line of goods in their own factory here in New York, employing the most experienced artisans that can be secured and, as a matter of course, turning out in large quantities the most exquisite cut glass articles that can be imagined.”

 

That the reporters for the trade publications appreciated the quality of Straus cut glass can be seen in this article that appeared in the Crockery and Glass Journal of August 8, 1889:

The Messrs. Straus are rapidly getting in the advance guard as great producers of cut glass, and the results of the work turned out of their big shop on Jay Street show that they have had active and original minds at work during the early weeks of summer designing and perfecting new patterns for the fall trade. The leading designs of this class of goods are deeply cut and superbly finished. The refraction of light is as brilliant as the flash of a diamond.”

The “flash of a diamond.” What a wonderful way to describe the cut glass we all love.

The Pottery and Glass Reporter has this to say about the Straus cut glass workers on August 15, 1889:

Especially notable and praiseworthy are the magnificent specimens of cut glass which Messrs. Straus & Sons make at their own factory. These pieces are cut in the most elaborate and artistic manner, exhibiting the most consummate workmanship on the part of the firm’s employees.”

The writer spares no superlatives in this short article: notable, praiseworthy, magnificent, elaborate, artistic, and consummate. Such praise is noteworthy for a company who had entered the glass cutting business only one year before.

1889 ends with the following article in the December 5, 1889 Crockery and Glass Journal:

Cutting glass right here in New York, where they can control every movement, and know to a piece what stock they can furnish, has been a tremendous factor in their great business, and it is no wonder that the cutting shop on Jay Street is kept busy.”

All research to date shows that after 1888 the Straus family continued to run parallel glass cutting shops. Both Macy’s and L. Straus & Sons sold the glass produced as “Straus Cut Glass.” On September 24, 1891, The New York Times said that forty men were employed in the Macy on-premises glass cutting shop.

The parallel operation of L. Straus & Sons at their Jay Street factory was described as follows in this August 25, 1892 Crockery and Glass Journal article:

“This is one of the secrets of the present revival of cut glass, which is now the most popular produce of the glass maker’s art. It is popular for the reason that the cut glass of the current period is superior in every respect to anything that was made years ago, when cut glass was fashionable. Messrs. L. Straus & Sons anticipated this result fours ago when they began to produce cut glass at their Jay Street shops with twenty-four frames. At that time they thought that they had a force of glass cutters remarkably large for a city shop just starting in the business, and the probabilities are that they would have smiled if anyone had predicted the steady operation of one hundred and twenty frames in August, 1892. This rapid increase has been entirely due to the quality of the glass in the blank and the new designs that they have produced both in forms and the cuttings. As a matter of fact, the only standard or stock pattern is the time honored strawberry diamond. All of the long range of cuttings and shapes that now form the magnificent display at their Warren Street stores are entirely original in design, and many of the finer patterns have been patented, and are therefore the exclusive property of the Messrs. Straus, and they are constantly adding to the already long list of new shapes and cuttings, each one of which, as it appears, eclipses its predecessor in brilliancy and beauty.”

As we have seen, the very busy workers at the Jay Street factory were highly praised individuals. They produced an excellent quality of cut glass and in 1893 some of their glass was displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The trade papers contained a number of articles about the Straus cut glass at the World’s Fair.