Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Maxwell Touch on Glass Paperweights

On June 15, 1882,  the U.S. Patent Office received an application for a patent from William H. Maxwell of Rochester, Pennsylvania, a town not far from Pittsburgh.  Maxwell, submitting the drawlng shown here, said he had invented “a new and useful improvement in the manufacure of Glass Paper-Weights and other Articles of Glass….”  Granted a patent in September, Maxwell over the next six years produced myriad glass weights using his invention.  As one writer has said:  The Maxwell paperweight is a rare and treasured item for any collector to have in his possession.”

Although I do not own a Maxwell weight, they have always fascinated me by their unique qualities of design and the fact that after Maxwell’s firm disappeared in the late 1880s, no other glassmakers subsequently have tried to replicate the effects he was able to achieve with his distinctive concave base and varying motifs captured in solid glass.  Maxwell’s products may be divided into three categories.  One were one-of-a-kind portrait weights with actual photographs of unidentified people encased in them, as the one shown here.  Unfortunately, because they bear no identification of the subject, they are of limited interest.  

The second category were weights that featured a business. These were mass produced — and probably the major profit center for Maxwell — for businesses who provided them to their customers for advertising purposes.  Among the most interesting of those paperweights is one commissioned by the B. W. Wood & Bros. Coal Merchants of New Orleans.  The main feature is a tug boat, apparently one of two owned by the company and named for members of the Wood family.  A New Orleans Times-Democrat article of March 9, 1882, featured the owner describing him thus:  “Wood is the prince of gentlemen and will pass anywhere as pure gold.”

The next weight advertises the S. P. Shotter & Co, a businessman who began his company in Wilmington, North Carolina and later moved it to Savannah, Georgia.   His company, among other things, made “brewer’s pitch” related to the yeast used in brewing.  The major interest on the weight is the image of two small boys, possibly black, sitting on a barrel.  Shotter probably would not pass as “pure gold” like B. W. Wood.  According to news stories in May 1909, as chairman of the board of a company Shotter was sentenced to three months in jail and fined the equivalent today of $125,000 for violating the Sherman anti-trust law.

Residing in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the Metzger & Company roofers were neighbors to Maxwell’s glass blowing operation.   One can imagine the owner visiting the factory to check out and approve the design, particularly the look of the roof feature.  This weight, like others shown here was a large three inches in diameter and one and three quarters inches high.  The pontil marks on these weights was smooth and fire polished, allowing some to bear Maxwell’s signature or a stamped maker’s mark.

A final weight in the advertising category is from the Amazon Fire Insurance Company of Cincinnati.  It shows a man on horseback with a spear lancing a fiercesome creature on the ground, ala depictions of St. George and the dragon. This horseman, however,  seems to be naked from the waist up.  This firm was headed by a president with the unusual name of Gazam Gano and reported $847,000 in assets for 1871.

The last and perhaps most interesting category of Maxwell weights were those one of a kind paperweights ordered by an individual or perhaps a group to be given to a specific person as a memento.  Prominent among them is a item that depicts a railroad train in considerable detail, down to the number 544 on the coal car.  It appears to have been given to John H. Doyle by a Miss Maggie Tattersall.  Why?  Were they sweethearts?  Was this an engagement gift? The speculation can be endless.

A second individualized Maxwell weight appears to have been made for a woman named Irene Zieg who apparently was competent enough in playing the coronet as to be allowed to play solos.  The picture of the instrument seems well rendered and presented in two colors.   It assuredly must have encouraged Irene on those dismal days when she brought her coronet to a party and no one asked her to play.

Another professional based paperweight was provided to R. T. Betzold who presumably was a pharmacist in Baltimore.  My initial efforts to find this Betzold through city directories of the time have been unsuccessful.   The major element here is the mortar and pestle, often a symbol of the druggist trade.  Again we have two colors, with green plants, perhaps themselves symbols of medicinal remedies, flanking the mortar.

The final Maxwell paperweight was a gift to J. W. Hum, likely related to his activities as a Mason.  I was able to trace him to a news item in which he is numbered among the men who founded a new Pittsburgh Masonic chapter, called the St. James Lodge.  Hum subsequently was elected treasurer of the organization.  This weight I consider the apex of Maxwell’s art.  It is multi-colored, involving shades of yellow, brown and green, with a delicately crafted vegetative design.  There are other weights with a similar motif, including one for “T.B. Wells, Chicago” and one with Maxwell’s own name on it and the date 1882 — marking when he first patented his invention.

Maxwell’s professional career was filled with mishaps.  In 1879 a fire at his glassworks destroyed the entire factory.  His second effort was thwarted in 1883 when a problem with a furnace shut down the plant and caused him to put it up for sale.  Even though he patented a second invention for improving printing on glass, mention of his firm ceases in the late 1800s.  Maxwell's later years are unknown.  For less than a decade, however, this inventive glassmaker provided hundreds of weights, now eagerly sought by collectors.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Forgotten Artistry of John H. Bufford

The subtle humor of a trade card entitled God Bless Our Union” first led me to the artist whose name appears below the image of a mismatched couple. A very large woman is looking possessively at smaller stick of a man who seems much less assured of that the pairing is beneficial.  The illustrator was John Henry Bufford, the first employer and art teacher of Winslow Homer and in his time a successful competitor of Currier & Ives.  Subsequently overshadowed by both, Bufford’s success as a prolific American lithographer and illustrator unfortunately largely has been forgotten. 

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bufford apprenticed in Boston and, by 1835, briefly moved to New York, where he opened a lithography business. Five years later he returned to Boston and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law in a new lithographic printing firm, for which he did most of the drawing. The business, with and without his brother-in-law as partner, thrived for the next forty years.

Shown here is a billhead from 1859 in which Bufford describes himself as a “practical lithographer,” meaning that he was turning out not just attractive pictures but practical items such as maps, covers for sheet music, and “show cards,” usually referred to today as trade cards.  Many of those images would fill the upper two-thirds of a cardboard leaving space on the bottom for a message by a tradesman like William Kaess, a Poughkeepsie agent for a beer company who supplied hotels, restaurants and even families with Boehmisch Lager Beer.

Kaess issued a second slyly humorous Bufford card entitled“Warbling at Eve.”  In this one the male partner seems to have the upper-hand as his lady clings close to him.  The look in his eye and her submissiveness indicates that the warbling may soon occur between the sheets.  Observers have pointed out that as he matured Bufford’s drawings became less realistic in favor of a “sketchier” look that for me enhances their appeal. 

An example is a Bufford trade card that shows an exasperated father attempting to lull his crying baby to sleep while the clock registers 1:15 AM.  Entitled “Oh, Rest Thee My Babe,” only the father’s frustrated head and face are fully realized in the drawing.  The baby and the background are only lightly sketched; the contrast contributes to the humor.

Similarly, the next illustration, “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep,” only the figure of the man is fleshed out.  He is well dressed, with a cravat and a coat.  The wrinkles in his trouser legs are evident as he appears ready to be pitched out of whatever he is sleeping in.  Is it a row boat?  A bureau drawer?  Or perhaps, as advertised, a cradle?  In any case he seems to be sleeping off a bout with the bottle.

As the company matured and lithographic techniques improved, Bufford remained among the leaders.  A 1872 house trade card for his “lithographic establishment” showed a well executed railroad engine to emphasize the speed with which the company executed lithography.  Bufford employed what he called “the best talent in the world” as his artists.  Among those were Winslow Homer put to work in his studio at age 19 drawing covers for sheet music.

Increasingly the Boston lithographer was employing color in his trade cards.  Among them was a chaotic scene in which a thief attempting to abduct piglet is being challenged by the adult hogs in the pen.  The thief is said to be in a “Pig-A-Rious Position.”  My efforts to find something about the advertiser, Henry Max, and his saloon have gone unrewarded. 

A late series of trade cards from Bufford, issued about 1887, involved anthropomorphic renderings of fruits and vegetables.  “An Orange Man” shows a dude with a citrus head and orange trousers posing in front of an orchard.  It was issued by Mabley & Company, a department store located in Detroit, Michigan, that featured 62 departments selling a wide range of goods including clothing and shoes.

Bufford also gave the world a look at what a true cabbage head might look like, dressed with a top hat, three-button coat and beltless britches.  Fittingly the figure is shown standing in front of a cabbage patch.  On another card the head is of a man but his body is largely a potato shown bulging out of the checked pants the ma is wearing.  Labeled “Potato Bug,” the illustration also shows a black man working in the potato fields behind the figure and looking on in astonishment.

The final trade card shown here continues the idea of a vegetable composing part of a human body — in this case, corn.  The high-stepping gentleman playing the horn wears a skirt of corn silk and a leaf as a shawl.   The caption is a bad pun, Corn-et Dance,”  a far cry from the subtle humor of Bufford’s earlier products.  The master had died in 1870 and my assumption is that other, less subtle, artists were carrying on the work.