Endnotes: A Dorflinger Masterpiece

Editorial Staff Furniture & Decorative Arts

Objects of high quality continue to bring strong prices,” says Jason Woody of Woody Auction, headquartered in Douglass, Kansas, following the firm’s sale late last year of the cut-glass and silver pitcher shown here. Made in the first decade of the twentieth century by the Dorflinger glass company of White Mills, Pennsylvania, the piece is an extremely fine example of what is known as American brilliant period cut glass, which dominated the market for luxury glass for some thirty years, between about 1880 and 1910, according to Jane Shadel Spillman, curator of American glass at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. Add the color, the silver mount made by Tiffany and Company, and the probable original owner, and it is little wonder that when the gavel fell, the pitcher had brought $49,000.

Spillman observes that colored American cut glass is very rare, and Dorflinger was one of the few firms that made it. Occasionally it was made of a single glass layer, but two or even three layers were more impressive-and more expensive, requiring greater skill on the part of both the mixer and the blower to create layers that were of uniform thickness and had no air bubbles in between. The dark red color (often called cranberry) on this piece is cut through to clear, as was most typical.

Engraved on the elaborate silver mount is the monogram “SVS,” believed to be that of Sidney V. Stratton (1845-1921), a Natchez-born New York City architect who is thought to have been the original owner. The cutting is in Dorflinger’s number 99 pattern, but the form is not recorded in the firm’s catalogues, which together with the size and elaboration of the pitcher indicate that it was made to special order. The Tiffany and Company mark on the mount is the one used between 1902 and 1907.

Woody Auction has been conducting sales since 1945, originally farm auctions as a side venture to raising mules, says Jason Woody, the third-generation owner. By the 1960s it held one of the first sales of so-called carnival glass and today specializes in American and European glass of the 1880s to 1920s. The company has been selling American cut glass for more that thirty-five years, from the mid-1970s, when collecting it was reaching its height (The American Cut Glass Association was founded in 1978 and remains an invaluable resource for collectors, with an extremely useful Web site: www.cutglass.org). According to Woody, in the 1980s a “simple” marked cut-glass bowl would have reliably fetched about $100; reflecting the uncertainty of the market, the same bowl today could bring anywhere from $20 to $200. Not surprisingly, showstoppers-or heart-stoppers as he calls them-like the pitcher maintain the most consistently high prices.

This is borne out by a couple of other objects that were included in the same sale-an extraordinary pair of pedestal-based cornucopia vases that brought $20,000 and a fifteen-inch charger in the Panel pattern by T. G. Hawkes of Corning, which sold for $19,000. Together, the four pieces accounted for more than one-third of the total of nearly $225,000 brought by the 475 lots.

Spillman notes that a large Hawkes charger very similar to the one in the sale was acquired a few years ago by the Corning Museum, which had been alerted to it after it had briefly appeared on Ebay (and  was quickly withdrawn when its importance was recognized.) Certainly, though, the discerning collector should keep an eye on that site. Among the hundreds of examples of American cut glass offered, there are some good finds, if not truly exceptional pieces.

Pitcher made by the Dorflinger glass works, White Mills, Pennsylvania, 1900-1910, with silver mount by Tiffany and Company, New York, 1902-1907. Engraved “SVS” in monogram on the side of the mount and marked “tiffany and co/makers/sterling silver/c” on the back of the mount. Ruby-cased (sometimes called cranberry) cut glass and silver; height 14 ½ inches. Photograph by courtesy of Woody Auction, Douglass, Kansas.