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Museum Exhibit Reveals Personal Stories Etched In Glass

The Sandwich Glass Museum is presenting a new exhibit called ‘Remember Me-Stories Engraved in Glass’ - a collection of glass items that the engravers and cutters at the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company made for their friends and family.

“The stories are the artistry of the glass, the givers of the gift and the recipients of the gift,” said Katharine Campbell, the museum’s Executive Director.

Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
Curator of Collections Dorothy Hogan-Scofield (l.), and museum Executive Director Katharine Campbell (r.)

The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company was founded in 1825 by Deming Jarvis, a glass importer/exporter from Boston. He chose Sandwich because of its location – you could easily get from there to Boston by water. It also had marsh grass, which was used for packing to cut down on costs. And at that time, the Cape was very wooded, which offered a built-in fuel source.

During its heyday, the company was one of the world’s largest glass producers - employing over 500 people. The factory originally produced a variety of everyday items. 

“This is back before plastic. So while we have some very beautiful decorative pieces, we also have some very utilitarian pieces as well: door pulls, canes, pens, paper weights, things like that that were made out of other things previously,” said Campbell. “And once glass became as popular as it was, suddenly all of those utilitarian items became made out of a different medium.” 

After the Civil War, the company began pursuing the higher end of the market, producing more decorative items. The company gave their glass blowers and engravers a good deal of latitude to experiment – knowing that one of those experiments could produce a marketable new design.

Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
An engraving lathe with various sizes of copper wheels used to engrave onto glass.

“The engravers were considered almost artists of their time, because what they do is engrave onto a piece of glass using different sizes of copper wheels,” said Dorothy Hogan-Scofield, the museum’s Curator of Collections. “And so they’re almost like drawing onto the surface of the glass with these copper wheels. So I think this was an example of expressing their skill, maybe the appreciation towards the person that they were going to give the item to.”  

The ‘Remember Me' exhibit features birthday and wedding gifts the glassblowers created for family members. Some of the pieces were made for prominent citizens in town. 

“William Boyden comes to mind,” said Hogan-Scofield. “He was one of the wealthiest men in Sandwich. He ran the stage line between Sandwich and Plymouth until the railroad came in in 1848. And we’re very fortunate to have pieces that descended in his family.”

One of the exhibit’s most prized objects is a large lantern with letters engraved on deep red-colored glass. It was made for the 1860 presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln.

Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
This lantern was made for the 1860 presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln, and used during torchlight parades by a group called the 'Sandwich Wide-Awakes.'

“There were groups that were formed by the hundreds called the ‘Wide-Awakes.’ They were supportive of the Republican party, and so they would have these huge torchlight parades at night, and they would carry lanterns. This was carried by a Mr. Pope. And on the opposite side is engraved ‘Sandwich Wide-Awakes,’” said Hogan-Scofield.

It’s one of only a few pieces in the collection marked with the word ‘Sandwich.’ 

“This bowl is another. It was made for James Cox, and it’s engraved ‘Sandwich.’ And then there’s a little tumbler, again engraved ‘Sandwich’ for the 1889 celebration of one of the anniversaries of the founding of the town of Sandwich,” said Hogan-Scofield. 

In a case nearby is a large goblet engraved with the word ‘Gertrude.’

“She was the daughter of the last General Manager of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company,” said Hogan-Scofield. “She went to the factory, and she must have had one of the little penny dolls, which they called ‘Frozen Charlottes,’ and one of the glass workers embedded it into the stem of the goblet, which they had engraved with her name. So it’s just kind of a fun piece.”

Credit Brian Morris/WCAI
The Gertrude Spurr goblet, which has a small 'Frozen Charlotte' doll embedded in its stem.

The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company closed in 1888. But the legacy of the glass blowers and engravers is preserved in the exhibit ‘Remember Me – Stories Engraved on Glass.’