Home Arts and Leisure Sandwich Glass Builds a Cape Cod Town

Sandwich Glass Builds a Cape Cod Town

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In 1907, a businessman named Cardenio F. King arrived in the Cape Cod town of Sandwich, Mass., to a hero’s welcome. He hadn’t done anything yet, but he promised he would. King would restore the old Sandwich glass works to its former glory.

The glass works for decades had employed hundreds of workers. For some of them, it wasn’t just a job. The work was an art; the worker an artist. They’d made souvenir cup plates, museum-quality paperweights, presentation bowls, tableware of all kinds. Fabulously colored Sandwich glass had traveled to many corners of the world.

Sandwich Village from across the marsh

For the community, the glassworks brought prosperity and fame. Glass had put roofs over families’ heads, dredged the harbor, built a railroad across the marsh, erected factories, hung the chandeliers in the churches and given a barrel of flour to every widow at Christmas. Two of the town’s Methodist preachers worked in the glass factory. A quarter-century after its founding, the glassworks had made Sandwich the second-richest town on the Cape, behind Barnstable, in taxable real estate.

But after the Civil War, the Sandwich glass factories started to decline. People left the town, and the population fell by more than half.  By 1907, the good times were over for the people of Sandwich.

So no wonder they gave Cardenio F. King a parade when he came to town.to save sandwich glass. Not just that, but a banquet as well. And a reception at Town Hall.

Sandwich Glass, A Gleam in Jarves’ Eye

In the early 19th century, Deming Jarves visited Sandwich to hunt, fish and ride horses. Other well-to-do men of affairs like Frederic Tudor and Daniel Webster came for the same sporting reasons.

Deming Jarves

The Cape around 1820 was a vast backwater, bigger than the state of Rhode Island with a third the population. Cape Cod was also a depressed backwater. One of its main industries, shipping, had suffered terribly after President Thomas Jefferson’s embargo and the War of 1812. Cape Codders still fished and farmed, ran saltworks and grist mills, but the Industrial Revolution had yet to reach them.

When Jarves, the Boston-born son of English parents, visited the remote rural village of Sandwich, he saw something others didn’t. During his visits to Sandwich he noticed the extensive woodlands. Glassmaking required enormous amounts of wood to produce intense heat. The town, convenient to Boston by water, also had a shallow harbor. It even had plenty of salt hay, useful as a packing material. He envisioned a factory that would bring the comfort and luxury of glass to the masses.

Deming Jarves’ vision realized: the Sandwich glass works.

By then, many entrepreneurs had started glassmaking businesses along the Atlantic Seaboard, but most failed. Jarves was one of the few successful glassmakers in the young country. With family help, he and partners had bought a glassworks from a failed company in East Cambridge, Mass., eight years earlier. They called it The New England Glass Co.

Sandwich Glass Begins

In 1823, 33-year-old Deming Jarves inherited $25,000 from his father and decided to start his own glass factory. He wanted to establish his own legacy. What better way than to create something both beautiful and useful?

Jarves even wrote a book that revealed his almost mystical fascination with glass.

Threaded finger bowl, probably Sandwich glass. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Until the 18th century, he wrote, the art of glassmaking “could only minister to the wants or pleasures of the luxurious rich.” Glass was for “the comfort of man, the improvement of science.” Glass, he wrote, “may allow man to read the wonders and the hidden works of the Almighty.”

Jarves bought land for his factory and 1,300 acres of dense pine forests to fuel it. He then moved to Sandwich temporarily and began building his glass factory by a dredged channel off Dock Creek. He started on April 19, 1825. Seventy-six days later, on the Fourth of July, Sandwich glassmakers produced their first blown and molded glass object. They made it from sand from the Town Neck dunes. Said to be cloudy and yellow, it was probably only made as a trial run.

Inside the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co.

Jarves did not come to Sandwich for its plentiful sand, which wasn’t good enough. He got it from the Eel River Valley in Plymouth and near Head-of-the-Bay. Then discovered sand from Morris County, N.J., later from the Berkshires.

The year after Deming Jarves first lit the fires in the Sandwich glass factory, he took on partners and called it the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company. It made pomade and ointment jars for the Philadelphia market, and gold ruby glass for signal lanterns and the railroads.

The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company

The Cape’s farmers and fishermen couldn’t make glass, though. Gentlemen made glass. In France, gentlemen by birth became glass makers. In Venice, the government gave the title “gentlemen” to glass artisans who mastered the craft. Even in democratic America, wrote Jarves, glass workers claimed a distinctive rank that exempted them from the laws of labor and compensation.

So he pirated glassmakers from the New England Glass Company in East Cambridge. He also recruited workers from England and Ireland, then the best in the world. They were to make blown glassware with high lead content, known as flint glass. He brought a glassmaker named Rice Harris to Sandwich to make opal, or milk glass, for the first time in America. Jarves paid him $5,000 plus expenses for six months of work.

Milk glass

Glass Workers

A good worker in glass could make more money than in any other trade, wrote Jarves. Blowers, moldmakers and artists reigned at the top of the labor hierarchy.  For the others, the wages were “scarcely magnificent,” wrote Frederick T. Irwin, who had worked in the factory as had his father. Still, during an economic slump Sandwich glass provided a steady paycheck for gaffers, servitors, footmakers, blacksmiths, wood dryers, laborers and boys.

Teamsters hauled wood to the furnaces, which had to give off a constant heat and couldn’t go out. Teasers tended the fires for 12 hours at a time, doing nothing else.

A pot, which held molten glass

For boys, the glass factory offered opportunity. The company encouraged those who showed promise and an interest in the trade. In their spare time, the boys could work glass;  If a boy turned out a worthy article, the manager would let him keep it.

One job didn’t require much skill, apparently: treading clay. Glass was melted in large clay pots, which had to be perfect. A slight flaw would waste all the contents. The best way to prepare the clay for pots was to place clay and water in a large trough and then have a man tread the substance with his bare feet — for a month. “Nothing has yet been found so satisfactory as the method here shown,” wrote Irwin.

Treading clay

Pressed Glass

In 1827, the factory made its first pressed glass. Molten glass was dropped into a cast iron mold, then forced by a hand-operated press into it.  Jarves claimed he then had to hide from the angry glassblowers.

The glass blowers on discovery that I had succeeded in pressing a piece of glass, were so enraged for fear their business would be ruined by the new discovery, that my life was threatened, and I was compelled to hide from them for six weeks before I dared venture in the street or in the glass house, and for more than six months there was danger of personal violence should I venture in the street after nightfall.

But the pressed glass proved popular and the glassmakers still had to mix and gather the glass. The company made boatloads of it.

Cup plates

The best-known Sandwich pressed glass items were the cup plates, used like coasters instead of saucers. They evolved into popular souvenirs, with subjects like the USS Constitution, Fort Pitt, the American eagles, Henry Clay, George Washington, beehives, flowers and hearts.

Upon the dedication of the Bunker Hill monument, a group of women sold the Bunker HIll cup plate. They sold all 2,500 they had in stock, and put in an order for as many as the company could deliver the next day. The glassmakers worked overnight and sent 1,000 to Boston the next day.

Pressed glass didn’t just allow the factory to produce great quantities of product, it saved the lives of many workers. Before the pressed glass molds, a glassblowers life tended to be short because of the overheated glass houses. From 1834 to 1854, no Boston & Sandwich employee died or got seriously ill.

Varieties of Sandwich Glass

Over six decades, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company would make every kind of glass. Its closely guarded recipe book had the formula for making glass in fabulous colors of canary, alabaster, ruby red, emerald green, opal and agate.

Sandwich glass lamp. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Sandwich glass factory made glass tableware now displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as green glass beer bottles. It made window glass and glass insulators, whale oil lamps, spoon holders, perfume bottles, candlesticks, salt cellars and celery vases. For the West Mustard Company it made Victorian animals, mostly chickens on nests.

The company in its heyday produced 24 tons of glass a week. Regardless of the market, the company made the same amount of glass, and simply stored it until demand picked up. it went to the warehouse and showroom in Boston, and from there traveled by ship and by peddler’s wagon to the U.S. hinterlands.

Dolphin candlesticks. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1850, Jarves presented to Daniel Webster the Union Bowl – the largest ever made by machine, he said. It took two machinists six months to create the mold for it. No one knows what happened to it. The company only made one other, and that, too, got lost.

Later, when competitors figured out how to make pressed glass, the Boston & Sandwich Company made finely blown engraved glassware. The famous French glassmaker Nicholas Lutz created paperweights and threaded glass for a time in the 1870s.

Later, artisans painted decorations onto white glass, called painted glass or gilded glass. Mostly lamps. An artist named Mary Gregory came to work for the company in 1885. She painted profiles of children at play that many glassmakers imitated.

Glass lamp by Mary Gregory

For a detailed account of glassmaking at the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co., click here.

The Acorn

Jarves prospered. He built and built, often using his own money and then selling assets to the glass company. Jarves built tenements for workers, a company store, the half-mile railroad line through the marsh to the outer dock, the roundhouse, storage buildings, a 350-foot dock and harbor landings, stave mills, a foundry and machine shop. He even bought farmland and turned it into Mount Hope Cemetery.

Worker housing in Jarvesville

He opened a new harbor when the old one filled up, by asking the townspeople to donate a day of labor to dig a new passage to the beach. Then he built a lock.

When the Cape Cod Railroad connected to Sandwich in 1848, Jarves thought it charged exorbitant rates to ship glass. He threatened to build his own ship to carry glass to Boston. The railroad agent, Sylvanus Bourne, said, “The acorn has not yet been planted that will grow the timber for that vessel,” according to local legend.

Jarves ordered a steamship built, and the finished vessel arrived in Sandwich in 1853. He named it The Acorn. It took loads of glass twice a week to Boston. Eventually the glass company negotiated a satisfactory deal with the railroad.

The Beginning of the End

Jarves left the company in 1858 over a dispute with the board of directors. He started a rival company, the Cape Cod Glass Works, hoping to leave it to his son John. John ran the plant until his untimely death at the age of 28 in 1863. His father continued to run the business, but only halfheartedly. It never had the success of the Boston and Sandwich company. The shareholders refused to put more money in it and recommended Jarves sell it. He did on April 15, 1869 — and died that same day.

After Jarves’ departure, the Boston & Sandwich Company had a series of committed owners and managers. It reached its peak employment with 500 to 600 men just before the Civil war. The population of Sandwich, not coincidentally, also peaked that year, with 4,479 residents. But then the company faced a series of headwinds.

During the Civil War, about 100 employees joined the Union Army, and glass production fell. In 1872, the great Boston fire destroyed the Boston & Sandwich office, showroom and warehouse. The insurance company failed and the company got little in claims.

Competition from western glassworks further dented the company’s profit, as coal had replaced wood as the fuel of choice. Glassmakers in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia could ship coal more cheaply because it didn’t have as far to go. They edged out the Sandwich pressed glass products, and so the company turned to finely blown, engraved and decorated glassware for a wealthier clientele.

More Trouble

Wave after wave of troubles struck the company. The financial panic of 1873 threw the country into a long depression. Then in 1887, a huge fire burned over 25,000 acres, destroying 600 cords of the company’s wood as well as trees ready for cutting. The glass maker’s union went on strike that same year. In 1888, the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company called it quits, and on Feb. 13, 1888, the fires that had burned for 60 years went out. Families that lived in 33 apartments rent-free were evicted.

“The town could never be the same,” wrote R.A. Lovell, Jr., in Sandwich: A Cape Cod Town.

Toward the end, the Sandwich glass factory made glass insulators

For the next two decades, new owners tried to make a go of glassmaking in the old factory, but they struggled and failed. Former glassworkers formed a glassmaking cooperative on an island in Sandwich, but that, too, failed. Glassmakers left Sandwich for the glass factories in Pittsburgh, and the population fell to about 1500 in 1900, down nearly 3,000 residents since its height.

Cardenio F. King

Sandwich desperately wanted glass to return to its former strength.

So when Cardenio F. King arrived that spring of 1907, the town was ready to believe in him. Too ready.

The latest owner of the glass factory had teetered on bankruptcy until King entered the picture. A North Carolinian, he owned a small company in Boston called the Alton Manufacturing Co. Money seemed no object for Cardenio King. He rescued the Sandwich glass company from bankruptcy with an injection of capital.

Cardenio F. King reopened the old factory and brought in a new steam engine and new pots. He hired a glassblower who’d made Sandwich glass and worked for Tiffany & Co.  Sandwich glass was now an art glass called Trevaise.

Then just a year after the arrival of Cardenio F. King, the factory shut down. It turned out Cardenio F. King was a flim-flam man who’d been selling stocks to a phony Texas company by the barrel in every mill town in New England. He showed up in Boston with a lawyer and turned himself in. After a spectacular trial he was sentenced to 10 to 14 years in prison.

Display at the Sandwich Glass Museum

New Life

What still remained of the old Sandwich glass factories were slowly torn down, and by 1944 a brass plaque was all that was left of the Sandwich glass industry.

But in 1925, the Sandwich Historical Society, capitalizing on the rage for antique collecting, held its first of many exhibits of Sandwich glass. Eventually the historical society would become the Sandwich Glass Museum, which you can visit today.


Images: Glass insulators By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – Glass Insulators, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27595234. Mary Gregory glass By Selvejp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3732438. Milk glass By I, Manfred Heyde, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2326750.

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