Nestled with plates of my soap are some of our Vaseline Glass items: a creamer and spooner on the left, a Candlewick covered candy dish toward the center, and a small tumbler with an opalescent rim to the right. Over years of antiquing and rummaging we have collected a nice assortment of this gorgeous glassware. Some pieces, particularly toothpick holders, were given to us by my parents.
Beautiful as it is in the natural sunlight, Vaseline Glass takes on a delightful (although eerie) fluorescence under a black light. Below, you will see the transformation. The photo does not do justice to this glassware. When we turn the black light on in a totally dark room, the effect is amazing. All the Vaseline Glass within range of the light glows—not only those dishes beneath the black light, but the pieces on the table and in the cabinet across the room. Everything white in the room lights up, as well.
Joe just installed our black light a few days ago. We had two of them over shelves of Vaseline Glass in our Northern home, one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen. We moved one shelf and light tube down here where it sat in our storage area for over two years. Suddenly I got a “bee in my bonnet”: the black light had to go up once more, so we could enjoy it. Although we are not into Halloween at our home, the glowing glassware does make kind of a year-round spooky show!
Although this yellow-green glass has been produced since the mid 1800s, the name “Vaseline” was attached to it after 1950. The origin of the name is obvious. Sometimes called “Canary Glass”, it was tremendously popular between 1890 and 1940—with designs spanning Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco eras. At one time entire sets of dishes, serving pieces, oil lamps, and many extras were manufactured by America’s great glass foundries.
The fluorescent, yellowish glow is achieved by adding a small amount of uranium oxide to the basic ingredients of glass: silica, soda, potash, and lime. Most yellow glassware, such as the lemon yellow Depression Glass, does not contain uranium—and will not fluoresce under a black light. Some of the green Depression Glass will glow, as will Custard Glass (an opaque glass that looks like lemon curd) but these do not contain uranium and (although very pretty) they are not Vaseline Glass.
Nearly all the well-known leaders in America’s glory years of art glass made Vaseline Glass—including Imperial, Northwood, George Duncan & Sons, Heisey, Fenton, and Westmoreland. As most of these companies declined when the demand for art glass diminished, new companies procured some of the old molds. A few (mainly decorative) pieces are still being made.*
Our great-grandchildren have not been to our home since last Sunday when Joe installed the black light. I hope they’ll soon visit after dark, so we can display “Grandma’s Spooky Show” in its “best light”!
Margaret L. Been, ©2012
*Only one of the former great glass producers is still manufacturing today. Fenton has been a family operated company since its inception, and continues the tradition of fine art glass. Below, you will find a clip from the Fenton website.
About Fenton Art Glass
“Founded in 1905 by brothers Frank L. and John W. Fenton, the Fenton Art Glass Company ranks among the world’s foremost producers of handmade art glass. Fenton is the largest manufacturer of handmade colored glass in the United States, and the company is renowned for innovative glass colors as well as handpainted decorations on pressed and blown glassware. For more than a century, Fenton has developed new colors and patterns, including items enhanced with hand-painted floral decorations and 22k gold accents. Fenton glass appeals to all types of customers, and, over the years, this appeal has led to the company’s success.
In 2005, the Fenton Art Glass Company celebrated its 100th anniversary. The firm is now led by third and fourth generation Fenton family members, who work side by side with over 100 employees, including skilled glassworkers and decorators, to create beautiful, handmade art glass in Williamstown, West Virginia.”