As the days get longer and turn warmer, it is such a joy to see the multiple colors of the different flower bulbs popping up through the ground. The rays of the sun radiate to the earth encouraging all plant life to spring to life once again. The special holiday of Easter, symbolizing a specific rebirth for the Christian world, brings forth much to celebrate.
For a long time Easter was celebrated at different times since the exact date was not known. After many disputes about which date to use, it was finally decided to use the Spring Equinox as the base point. After this date, the first Sunday after a full moon was dedicated to be the official date of Easter. This is why the date of Easter will vary each year.
One of the main symbols of new life was the egg. It became an early custom to color and then exchange the eggs. The reason for coloring the eggs was to symbolize a brighter season after a long dreary winter. Unlike commercial dyes today, the early dyes were made at home from vegetables, fruits and grasses. Many different colors could be obtained. The children enjoyed the thrill of making special colors for the eggs.
Another symbol of Easter was the rabbit that was considered to be a symbol for fertility. Many of the early Easter items were made in Germany and the rabbit was included in many of these decorations.
Gillinder and Sons was one of the first glass companies to make glass eggs. The company originally called Franklin Flint Works was founded in 1861 by William Gillinder. When sons, James and Frederick, joined the company in 1867, the name was changed to Gillinder and Sons. It was one of the largest glass companies in 1876. It was during the Centennial Exposition of 1876, which brought the company to full exposure to the public. At this Exposition, the Gillinders set up a mini glass factory to demonstrate their ability to make different types of glass. With this exhibit, Gillinder gained a lot of prestige and the public wanted to buy more of the glass they made.
Milk Glass was the glass of the day, whether it was plain or decorated. Each spring, Gillinder turned its attention to the season of Easter. Blown milk glass eggs of all sizes were made and then decorated with flowers, chicks, rabbits and sayings. The eggs could also be embossed with an animal, cross, horseshoe and sayings. Some of the eggs also have a flat bottom to keep it from rolling. It was a very popular custom to give a special egg to the woman in your life whether it was your mother, sister, wife or grandmother.
Egg sizes range from 1 1/2” to about 7 1/2” long. They were listed as hen, goose or ostrich egg size. To retain its top value, the eggs must have their original paint in good shape. The eggs were all cold painted (not fired), and it does get extremely hard to find them with original paint. The painting on each egg was usually really detailed.
A very popular decoration of the day was violets painted around an embossed cross since there seems to be a lot of eggs with this design. Another design was flowers around a horse shoe. Detailed paintings on the eggs include chicks hatching from eggs or a rabbit in the grass.
The embossed eggs are the most desired with their detailed painting. The top of an egg can have a chick or rabbit emerging out of it like it is hatching. Another egg could have a basket of eggs, a chick in the grass, Easter greetings or the rarest having an angel or cherub. For some reason, most all of the embossed eggs are the ones with the flat bottoms so they don’t roll when displayed. Consider yourself extremely lucky if you manage to find an egg with an original Gillinder and Sons paper label. They also produced a variety of Easter plates and egg cups
Another company to produce milk glass Easter items was Dithridge & Company. They were located in Pittsburgh and operated from 1873 to 1902. While they were mainly known for novelty and dresser items, they did make some Easter pieces, possibly to capture part of the market that Gillinder held. One of the cutest items was a full figure covered rabbit advertised as part of an assortment in 1900. A full page devoted to Easter was in the 1901 Crockery and Glass Journal. Three 6” embossed plates were offered. The interesting note of the advertisement stated, “We pack a special trial barrel of 18 dozen plates containing assorted decorations. Why not try one?” Obviously, it was thought these plates would sell quickly. Another item on this page was a covered sleigh with the lid being a chick hatching from an egg. That item is truly odd.
The Eagle Glass & Mfg. Co. of Wellsburg, West Virginia also made some Easter items. Their opal glass was advertised as being the finest made. One of their special Easter items was a hanging basket, with a brightly colored beaded cord as a handle. On each side of the basket was an embossed chick or rabbit. These baskets along with decorated Easter eggs were pictured in an 1897 ad in the China, Glass and Lamps magazine. Their eggs also had embossed Easter decorations on them. Eagle was listed as the largest egg producer even though they had no hens. One of the top selling items for them was their nest eggs. The idea was to put one of these glass eggs in the hen’s nest to keep her laying eggs while her fresh ones were pulled out each day for use. Eagle developed a new way of packing these eggs in a wood box with compartments that encouraged more sales.
With the new season of Spring here, many of you will be out and about searching antique shops and shows for a new treasure to add to your special collection. All of these Easter items would be a great addition to any display. Most items are still reasonable and considering they are 100 years old, they are just lucky to have survived for our viewing.
*** This article along with pictures can be found in the Spring 2006 edition of the All About Glass Magazine ***