This imposing lamp is one of the largest and most elaborate overlay or Bohemian glass lamps produced by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, a leader in the American market for glass of this type. It is one of perhaps fewer than a dozen examples that survived in this monumental size (most lamps ranged from ten to fourteen inches high).
Colored overlay or Bohemian glass production began about 1865 in America, reputedly at Brooklyn Flint Glass Works, New York.1 Originally it was imported in large quantities from numerous factories in Bohemia, today the Czech Republic, so when American firms first produced this type of glass, they retailed those wares as Bohemian glass. Clear glass vessels were plated or cased with a thin layer of colored glass and then cut so that both the vivid shade and the colorless areas were visible. The glassware was plated or cased in a variety of jewel tones and marketed as ruby red, sapphire blue, emerald green, amber, or amethyst, and embellished with ambitious cut and engraved designs, which found a ready market among Americans, who, by the 1840s, valued elaborate and effusive color in many areas of the decorative arts.
After 1859, kerosene oil gradually replaced other combustible fluids as a source for light, rapidly gaining favor in most households because of its lack of odor and cleaner smoke. As kerosene was safe to use in glass, the production of glass lamps increased dramatically. Overlay glass lamps became especially popular, and numerous firms produced them in a broad array of shapes, sizes, and colors, at times adding a third layer of glass. The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company revealed their wide range of production in the plates of their 1875 catalogue.2
This lamp ranks as one of the finest and most elaborate specimens produced by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. Quatrefoils cut into the upper layer of blue glass expose the clear material below, embellishing the lamp’s bowl and shaft. The firm’s catalogue indicates that lamps were not assigned a specific shade, providing the purchaser with a variety of options, such as the period frosted and cut pyriform-shape shade on this lamp. Concerning monumental overlay glass lamps, Ruth Webb Lee wrote, “One cannot appreciate how enormous they really are from the photograph. So far as I know, they are the largest size in this style. It is to be doubted whether the commercial output of these largest-sized lamps was ever very considerable because they were quite expensive for the times.”3 James W. Tottis
Adapted from Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1–2 (2007): 20–21.
1. C. Hoover and J. K. Howat, eds., Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825–1861 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh. cat., 2000), 343.
2. Sandwich Glass Museum archives, Sandwich, Mass.
3. See R. W. Lee, Sandwich Glass: The History of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company (Framingham, Mass., 1939), 432.