De­bunk­ing Blenko

You know the glass, but do you know the full story?

Atomic Ranch - - Contents - By Sarah Jane Stone Pho­tog­ra­phy by Brett Fluharty

Get the skinny on this clas­sic mid­cen­tury col­lectible from a Blenko in­sider.

With their eye-catch­ing colors and unique forms, mid­cen­tury pieces from Blenko Glass Co. are a sta­ple in the home of Mid­cen­tury Mod­ern fans. Dean Six, glass au­thor and Blenko Vice Pres­i­dent of Marketing and Sales, shares about the com­pany’s vi­brant his­tory, the col­lectabil­ity of the iconic glass­ware and the trial of iden­ti­fy­ing pieces that have lost their handy sil­ver sticker.

BLENKO BIO

Blenko Glass Co., a hand­made glass man­u­fac­turer, started in 1893. Seeking to make glass us­ing nat­u­ral gas, John Blenko brought his glass­maker tal­ents from London to Amer­ica and started the com­pany. Ini­tially, John named his com­pany Eureka Art Glass as he had dis­cov­ered a for­mula for a true red glass, but ac­cord­ing to Dean the name changed in the 1920s to re­flect the fam­ily own­er­ship.

De­spite its long his­tory, the Blenko tech­nique has not changed much over the years—although it is any­thing but pre­dictable. “We have long used di­verse tech­niques—mouth blown into wooden and metal molds, cast into a dump mold, and on it goes. Our pro­cesses are not one, but sev­eral,” Dean says.

The re­sult of these vary­ing tech­niques is over 120 years of stun­ning glass­ware cre­ations—each with unique char­ac­ter­is­tics, bold colors and art­ful form. Thanks to the tal­ent be­hind each Blenko cre­ation, these items are far more than just a piece of glass. The mid­cen­tury era pieces still cap­ti­vate col­lec­tors due to their rain­bow of hues, sen­sual sil­hou­ettes and in­spired de­signs.

The mid­cen­tury era pieces still cap­ti­vate col­lec­tors due to their rain­bow of hues, sen­sual sil­hou­ettes and in­spired de­signs.

COL­LEC­TOR CON­FU­SION

De­spite their un­de­ni­able beauty, prop­erly iden­ti­fy­ing a piece of Blenko glass can re­quire some leg­work. Lost stick­ers, mim­icked de­signs and a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what ex­actly the com­pany pro­duced are of­ten the cul­prits that lead well-in­ten­tioned col­lec­tors astray.

Dean notes that be­cause Blenko did not mark its wares for decades and be­cause the brand’s style has been widely im­i­tated, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion can in­deed be dif­fi­cult. Since Blenko did and does not fol­low a spe­cific pat­tern, the general organic form of their glass­ware is at times sim­i­lar to wares of other man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Most—by far the ma­jor­ity [of]—pieces will not have the sticker. It was in­tended as a point of sale iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, not long-term iden­ti­fi­ca­tion,” Dean says. Yet even with­out a sticker, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is any­thing but hope­less. As Dean points out, “There are end­less re­sources.” He sug­gests turn­ing to books, many of which are es­sen­tially re­prints of the an­nual Blenko cat­a­logs, as well as col­lec­tor-run web­sites that show the cat­a­logs. Other than that, he says that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion comes down to study­ing the forms and shapes.

STUN­NING & SOUGHT-AF­TER

While many col­lecta­bles have an av­er­age price range, Dean says that for Blenko, it sim­ply is “not pos­si­ble.” The large va­ri­ety of mid­cen­tury de­signs and their vary­ing in­ter­est to col­lec­tors cause prices to vary widely. “Small but de­sired items—like the 1964 se­ries of vases—sell well but are mod­estly priced. Large piece can be in the neigh­bor­hood of $1,500 to $2,000 on the mar­ket now,” he says.

Color has a mas­sive im­pact on the value of a piece. Ac­cord­ing to Dean, pe­riod colors like smoky grays and vi­brant or­anges are con­sid­ered strong ex­am­ples of mid­cen­tury pro­duc­tion and are there­fore highly sought af­ter. “Pieces in colors that were not in­tro­duced into the of­fi­cial line also have ap­peal. These were sam­ples, ex­per­i­men­tal pieces and oc­ca­sion­ally pieces made for a sin­gle ac­count—such as a large depart­ment store. These may be rec­og­niz­able forms but in colors that are less com­mon,” Dean says.

“Call them floor de­canters, ar­chi­tec­tural pieces or what­ever, but it’s

“The large pieces [have] con­sis­tently held their value best in re­cent years.”

the near or over 30-inch tall pieces that seem most con­stant in de­mand.” When those large-scale pieces have interesting stop­pers or over­all form, their de­mand only in­creases. Dean notes that some col­lec­tors fol­low spe­cific Blenko de­sign­ers, but he de­scribes those trends as “er­ratic fol­low­ings and not stable markets.” Rather, most col­lec­tors fol­low the brand as a whole, seeking out spe­cific colors, a fa­vorite year or a sim­i­lar line of items—such as the floor de­canters.

“Many of the most de­sired pieces to­day are the same ones that were com­mer­cially less suc­cess­ful [in the mid­cen­tury]. Lack of pe­riod sales cre­ates a scarcity to­day,” Dean says. “A case in point is the im­mense num­ber of large—think 10-inches or so—ash trays that were sold by the thou­sands in the 1950s through the 70’s. While there is in­ter­est in them to­day, they are not hot mar­ket items.” Ac­cord­ing to Dean, in the mid­cen­tury smok­ing items ac­counted for up to three pages of con­tent in the an­nual Blenko cat­a­logs.

Still in op­er­a­tion in Mil­ton, West Vir­ginia, Blenko now makes hand blown sheet glass for stained and leaded glass win­dows, cast items for ar­chi­tec­tural uses, spe­cialty items for pri­vate cus­tomers as well as nov­elty items, gift­ware and table­ware.

Pe­riod colors like smoky grays and vi­brant or­anges are con­sid­ered strong ex­am­ples of mid­cen­tury pro­duc­tion and are there­fore highly sought af­ter.

#6218 IN TURQUOISE, TAN­GER­INE, DESERT AND TOPAZ

#151 BUB­BLE IN VARIOUS COLORS

#5929L IN CHAR­COAL AND #587 IN TURQUOISE

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: #5924 JON­QUIL AND TURQUOISE CASED IN CRYS­TAL; #418S, #284 AND #418L IN AMETHYST; #597 IN TAN­GER­INE; #939P IN CHAR­COAL CRACKLE, #967 IN PLUM AND #939P IN CHARTRUESE #5433 IN NILE GREEN CRACKLE FOR MORE, VISIT BLENKO.COM.

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