Glass from the City of Light

Exhibition Dates: September 14th, 2012 - Permanent

New Bedford was known as the “City of Light” for the lamp oil generated by its extensive whaling industry. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, local glass companies added a second claim to the title through their production of beautiful glass lighting, including the renowned Pairpoint “puffy” and reverse-painted table lamps.

Lamps were just one of many products made by the glass factories of New Bedford. The first of these factories, the New Bedford Glass Company, was built in 1866 by renegade glassworkers from the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, located in the town of Sandwich on nearby Cape Cod. Their effort failed almost immediately, and their building was purchased in 1869 by the Mt. Washington Glass Works, a business that had been operating in South Boston since the 1830s. The relocation of the business to New Bedford proved successful. In 1894 the Mt. Washington company was absorbed by the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company, which specialized in the production of silver-plated metalware. In 1900 the combined businesses became the Pairpoint Corporation. Pairpoint operated successfully into the 1930s, and then went through a number of reorganizations before closing in 1957.

During the height of the Victorian era, the Mt. Washington Glass Company was a leading innovator in the field of decorative art glass. Numerous patents were taken out for the production of exotic color treatments and ornate decorative styles. Rich cut glass, elaborate chandeliers and utilitarian ware also were produced. During the 1920s the products of the Pairpoint Corporation were strongly influenced by the growing popularity of the Swedish Modern style. This glass was high in quality and correspondingly expensive. It competed successfully with its most famous rival, Steuben, of Corning, New York.

Although inexpensive European imports following the end of World War II finally put the New Bedford glassmakers out of business, the legacy of New Bedford glass lives on. Today it is celebrated in the display cabinets of museum collections around the world.

Guest curated by Kirk Nelson, Executive Director of the New Bedford Museum of Glass,  and sponsored by the Leonard S. and Hilda Kaplan Charitable Foundation. The exhibition opened in conjunction with the New Bedford Glass Symposium, September 13 - 15, 2012.