Imperial Glass Company Free Hand Vases

Apr 10, 2023 | Museum Monday Treasures

Today’s Museum Monday treasure from the Museum of American Glass in WV is a pair of Imperial Glass Company Free Hand vases. The Free Hand line was Imperial’s bid at entering the high-end Art Glass market, with forms and decorations created entirely by hand by highly talented glass artists especially invited to work at the factory in Bellaire.

The first vase is opal with a marigold or butterscotch mirror finish over wide drag loops or drapes, with an applied cobalt foot. It is 9 ¾” high and has the same shape as form No. 241, but without the handles that appear on that piece.
The second vase is also opal, but with a satin iridized finish and a silver blue Leaf and Vine (or Leaf and Web) décor, with an orange lustre inside the top rim. The top is cut with three pulled down tab handles. It is 7” high. Both vases have polished pontils, with the second one also having a paper label with the Imperial cross mark.

Although an artistic success, Free Hand was too costly to produce and was only made from late 1923 to 1924. It was replaced in January 1925 with Imperial Lead Lustre. Some savings were achieved by blowing a limited number of forms into paste moulds, decorated with lustre finishes, but often including many of the same hand-decorated applications used for Free Hand. Lead Lustre was also discontinued after only about a year of production.

Our two examples of Lead Lustre are the No. 415 vase with décor No. 20 (bright orange lustre – called red by Imperial – both inside at the throat and on the exterior) and the No. 622 vase. The décor for the latter is also probably No. 20, but with the exterior lustre closer to gold than orange. The vases are 10” and 8 ¼” high, respectively.
To learn more about Free Hand and Lead Lustre, see the Art Glass trilogy published by The Glass Flakes Press at https://magwv.org/publications/glass-flakes-press/.

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