The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Straus Cut Glass

 

In July and August of 1893 the Jeweler’s Circular had a series of articles on the Straus glass exhibited at the exposition. So that you can get a flavor of the time period, these articles are being reproduced in their entirety. The illustrations are provided for emphasis.

The July 26, 1893 Jeweler’s Circular article reads as follows:

In addition of superintending the exhibit of the New York and Rudolstadt Pottery Co., L. Straus & Sons have their own exhibit of cut glass in Section H, Block I, of the Manufacturers building. The exhibit is contained in a handsome pavilion, located at the juncture of two aisles, thus admitting of two entrances, as may be seen in the illustration here given. The building, which is about eighteen feet from Columbia Avenue, is oblong and in style is generally Colonial, with Empire and Louis XIV decorations, the dome being Moorish in suggestion. Exteriorly and interiorly the pavilion is white with gold effects, a most charming setting for the brilliant goods displayed. It is conceded to be one of the most beautiful structures in the entire building; but however much one is impressed with the outside view he is literally dazzled with the brilliancy and beauty of the interior upon entering one of the doors. The arrangement of this interior with its remarkable array of artistic cut glass will be thoroughly described in our next issue, space being too limited to admit of doing so in this number.

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Caption: Pavilion containing L. Straus & Sons’ cut glass exhibit

Jeweler’s Circular, July 26, 1893

The August 2, 1893 Jeweler’s Circular issue continued with the following description of the Straus Exhibit:

Having inspected and appreciated the beauties of the exterior of the World’s Fair pavilion of L. Straus & Sons, 42-48 Warren St., New York, in which they make their exhibit of cut glass, the writer and the reader will in imagination enter the booth and pass judgment upon its decorative effects and contents. The interior has the same general color effects as the exterior, namely white and gold, with the exception that the tables are laid and the walls wainscoted with mirrors. The shelves are of plate glass upheld by gilt brackets. From these details it may be inferred, when the nature of the articles displayed is borne in mind, that the ensemble in its brilliancy and beauty reminds one of the jeweled palace of Aladdin.

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Caption: Interior Of the L. Straus & Sons Exhibitat the World’s Fair.
Courtesy of Martin Folb or Corning Museum of Glass

Entering at either door the visitor is entirely surrounded by cut glass. Salient in the center of the pavilion rises from a platform a cut glass electrolabra 12 feet in height. The stand is 2 ½ feet high, and thus this marvelous example of handiwork ascends approximately 15 feet from the floor into the dome above. This piece is the chef d’oeuvre of L. Straus & Sons’ cut glass exhibit, and we venture to say that there is nothing in its line in the great Manufacturers building that excels it from any standpoint. No individual piece in the building attracts more attention from visitors, who marvel at the magnitude of the undertaking in producing a work of such size, elaborateness and artistic beauty.

The reader will appreciate the foregoing assertion when he considers that the electrolabra consists of from 1,300 to 1,400 individual pieces of glass of various shapes and all richly cut and highly polished. The pieces are held together by a thin frame of metal silver coated, so that the entire work appears to be of glass, the surface of the frame coinciding with the color of the glass. The cutting is in Straus’ Americus pattern, a brilliant and tasteful design which admirably lends its beauty to such a work as the electrolabra.

The candelabra portion of the piece consists of thirty arms each holding a sixteen candle power lamp; in addition there are twelve arms for ornamental purposes. These arms are hung with richly cut bells, chains, pendants, rosettes, and other devices or attachments, all of novel shapes and exquisitely executed. The base of the piece is a wonderful piece of work in itself. It is three feet in diameter, the decorative effects in the cutting being deep grooves, thus bringing the details of the various designs in high relief. While the layman may consider that this portion of the piece shows less elaborateness of workmanship than the upper portions, the connoisseur will comprehend the great amount of study and labor expended in its production and pass the highest encomiums, upon it. The candelabra is lighted up.

The electrolabra, it is admitted, is the largest article in cut glass ever produced, and is one of the pieces de resistance of the Manufactures building. Yet the surrounding articles are equal in artistic effect. Especially striking to the mind of the visitor is the great originality both as to shapes and to designs in cutting disclosed by the exhibit. Though cut glass, it may be safely asserted, admits of versatility of idea as to the cuttings, it does not as to the shapes; and we are used to see the same shapes produced by different manufacturers, at least they appear to be the same at the first glance. It is the policy of L. Straus & Sons to conceive entirely new shapes which they protect by design patents.

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Caption: Epergne of cut glass. L. Straus & Sons’ Exhibit
Jeweler’s Circular, August 2, 1893

 

Entering by the door at the left hand side, the visitor obtains a view of the magnificent epergne or centerpiece illustrated herewith. It is 39 inches high and consists of a foot, shaft, four dishes for fruit and one holder for flowers; the lower dish is 20 inches in diameter. This piece is cut in the Isabella pattern, a new pattern, patent applied for, conceived expressly for Exposition purposes, and one unexcelled by any in richness and effectiveness. A novel feature contained in this pattern resides in the treatment of the fan device, which in this case is a combination of diamonds and thin ribs; elaborate yet distinct in its beauty. The Isabella pattern, rich, gorgeous and mathematically correct in the details of its designs, reminds one of a mosaic of glittering diamonds.”

The August 16, 1893 Jeweler’s Circular continues the story:

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Caption: Columbus Egg punch set. L. Straus & Sons’ Exhibit.
Jeweler’s Circular, August 16, 1893

One of the larger pieces shown in the exhibit of cut glass of L. Straus & Sons, 42-48 Warren St., New York, at the World’s Fair is the Columbus Egg punch set, which, though smaller than the wonderful electrolabra and the beautiful epergne described in THE CIRCULAR of Aug. 2, is nevertheless among the most interesting pieces of the display. As the name indicates, the shape of the bowl is that of the fabled egg with which the great discoverer is supposed to have taught the Spanish savants a lesson in sharp practice.

The punch bowl rests on its smaller end on a large platter, 26 inches in diameter, surrounded by two dozen punch cups, similar in shape. The cutting throughout the set is in the new ‘Columbus’ pattern, which consists of a beautiful combination of ovals alternately filled in with stars and double cut hobnails and is very elaborate in detail. The shapes lend themselves effectively in bringing out the richness and brilliancy of this beautiful design.

A careful examination of the workmanship expended on the bowl and platter shows them to be among the remarkable features of the exhibit. One of their chief characteristics is the thickness of the glass which is far greater than is customary in pieces of this kind. So heavy are the pieces that it required four men to hold the platter alone during the process of cutting. With such perfection does the pattern continue from the body of the punch bowl to the cover, that when the cover is on it is almost impossible to perceive the line of separation, the piece having the appearance of a solid egg of cut glass.

Coming to the smaller articles, those of ordinary size, the visitor is confronted with a variety which is veritably confusing. In salad and berry bowls alone he sees one of the greatest assortments ever brought together. Originality in shapes seems to be one of the strong points in the product of this concern; they are not copies even in the slightest particular, but are wholly original and unique.

It is in the smaller pieces that the variety of new rich cuttings, the Granada, Castilian, Santa Maria and La Rabida, are so beautifully shown, particularly in the deeply cut decanters, water bottles, wine pitchers, flower vases, bowls, oil bottles, olive dishes and articles of this kind. [Pattern examples can be found in the 1893 L. Straus & Sons catalog produced by the ACGA.]

Before closing this article, mention should be made of a decanter, the size of which alone makes it an object of exceeding interest. It stands over 40 inches high and is believed to be the largest decanter ever cut. The stopper which is a beautiful example of lapidary cutting, weighs over thirty pounds. Few who see this piece can appreciate the difficulties and expense attending its manufacture, two similar bottles being broken in the cutting before this perfect one was obtained.

To those who have been among the crowds which constantly swarm about the pavilion of L. Straus & Sons, its importance as one of the principal features in the Manufactures building is well known, and they will doubtless agree in saying that in the magnificence of the large pieces, the originality of the shapes and the rare beauty and brilliancy of the designs, this exhibit stands unsurpassed.

Who originally purchased the Straus World’s Fair cut glass?

Four years after the World’s Fair the following article appeared in the April 8, 1897 Crockery and Glass Journal:

Some novelties of rare beauty and artistic merit are shown in the leading cut glass establishments. There may still be seen the $5,000 electrolabrum which was exhibited at the World’s Fair four years ago, and is the largest article of deep cut glass ever produced anywhere in the world. The ‘Egg of Columbus’ punch bowl, platter and twenty-four glasses, also shown at the World’s Fair, has just been sold to a Philadelphian for $750. An epergne, with four bowls and a top vase, is held at $750.”

The sale of the electrolabrum was reported in the March 28, 1901 Crockery and Glass Journal as follows:

A $5,000 CUT GLASS ARTICLE

“L. Straus & Sons sold this week the largest article of cut glass ever produced. It is an electrolabrum, standing eleven feet eight inches in height, with a diameter at the base of two feet nine inches. It has thirty arms for electric lights, and twelve arms for ornament. The base and trunk consists of thirty-nine large pieces of cut glass, held together by metal work, which, however is not visible. The ornamental parts, such as chains, pendants, rosettes, etc., consists of 1,329 separate pieces of cut glass of many sizes and shapes. It took twelve men forty-five days to make it, equivalent to one artisan working 540 days.

 

It was made for the Chicago World’s Fair, and at the close of the exhibition was set up in the window of their store on Warren Street, where it was lighted every night and attracted much attention from passers by. This week a gentleman from out of the city saw it and was so impressed that he entered the store and after a few inquiries decided to buy it. The price was $5,000.”

Where is the Straus World’s Fair cut glass now?

Milton Hershey, known for his chocolate products, was the “gentleman” who bought the lamp. He used it in his home in Hershey, PA, where a circular aperture in the ceiling of his entry hall suggested the lamp’s setting at the Exposition. Mr. Hershey bequeathed the lamp, along with most of his estate, to the Milton Hershey School. It is now on permanent loan to the Hershey Museum.

A report providing the selling date and identifying the original buyer for the epergne has not been found. However, the epergne was sold by Christies’ London Auction house in 1990. It is now located in Japan.

The whereabouts of the Egg of Columbus punch bowl purchased by a “Philadelphian” and the other pieces of Straus World’s Fair cut glass remains a mystery to this day.

Awards for the Straus Cut Glass

The World’s Columbian Exposition awards were received by L. Straus & Sons three years after the fair. The awards are described in the following June 10, 1896 article in the Jeweler’s Circular:

After waiting nearly three years, L. Straus & Sons have at length received the diploma and medal awarded them for their beautiful exhibit of cut glass at the World’s Columbian Exposition. The diploma which speaks in high terms of L. Straus & Sons’ exhibit is now to be seen at the firm’s art glass warerooms, 42-48 Warren St., New York. The wording of the award which is signed by C. Colne, individual judge, is as follows: ‘The designs are original, very handsome and most skillfully executed. The cutting is bold, the sharp angles are well kept, the workmanship is perfect and the polish excellent. There are a number of very large pieces which are finely cut, in itself an evidence of skillful workmanship as pieces of such sizes are very difficult to handle. Among others may be mentioned a 12 ft. candelabrum with 42 arms; a large druggist’s bottle diamond cut; a punch set, with an egg shaped bowl; an epergne having four horizontal dishes and a top vase, and two large heavy punch bowls. All this work calls forth the highest tributes to American skill and originality in conception. For original, artistic and tasteful designs, fine and regular workmanship in cutting, excellent polish and general perfection.”

Straus was proud of winning six awards for their cut glass. Many Straus ads, such as the one the one shown below, mentioned the World’s Fair awards.

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Caption: L. Straus & Sons advertisement illustrating “Columbus” rose bowl that
appeared in the September 1894 Harper’s Magazine Advertiser.
Courtesy of the Author.

All of the glass for the World’s Fair was cut at the Straus Jay Street factory.