In 1980 William H. Blenko, a marketing genius, entered into an agreement with the Diamond Department Store to produce a signed and numbered vase for June's celebration of statehood. The number raises each year to equal the age of the state. In 1980 only 117 pieces were produced. All pieces are signed and numbered.
Each year the Birthday vases are sold out within 3 hours of the store opening. The Birthday Vases are highly sought after. My Blenko Project advisers say this will become the most highly collectible Blenko Series as it is produced yearly, by different designers, and in very limited numbers. It is the longest running annual signed/numbered item that Blenko produces.
The Series had a very humble beginning - While sharing a NY Taxi a Diamond executive asked Mr. Blenko about the possibility of producing a 'special' bowl that could be used on the table, for fruit or flowers, and that was very versatile for the homemaker. The bowl would be signed and a limited number. Mr. Blenko knew the cost of making a design and mold for such a limited series would be expensive and thus not profitable for Blenko, he entered into the contract and asked Don Shepherd, Blenko Designer, to design the piece.
Mr. William Blenko or Mr. Richard Blenko yearly came to the Diamond, and later Stone and Thomas, Department Stores to sign each piece of glass and meet and greet the ladies who bought his Birthday Vases and many other Blenko pieces for their homes.
The Birthday Vase grew in popularity and by 1987 the lines to purchase them were outside the Diamond Department Store doors before 7am. This tradition continued. In 2005 the Birthday Vase was sold at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston, WV. The Birthday collectors began to arrive shortly after midnight the night before, and by 11am (an hour after the store opened) the Birthday vases were sold out. Later the sale would be moved to the Milton WVa. Blenko Visitors Center / Gift Shop .
It is the perfect union - West Virginia's Birthday Celebration, a West Virginia Business, and West Virginia Hand Crafted Glass. Bill Blenko, while always trying to be supportive of his home state, started a very successful yearly tradition for many families. He succeeded in his goal of producing an annual piece to celebrate the Birthday of our state. My own family has collected this particular piece for over 20 years, each year they see friends they know only from Blenko Vase collecting.
The Blenko Project has knowledge of six complete sets of birthday pieces. WVU Foundation, Mrs. John (Eppie) Boles of South Charleston, Mrs. Ken Ellis of Campbells Creek and her daughter Renita Williams have complete West Virginia birthday sets. John Homburg was the only member of the Blenko Collectors Society to have the entire collection. West Virginia birthday collectors are an eclectic group. Many are obsessed with only birthday pieces, while others collect all things Blenko. They are also savvy collectors who realize that this collection is one of the most unique in the country. Perhaps, they like the art advisers to the Blenko Project realize the WV birthday series becomes more valuable with longevity.
The future of the WV Birthday vases, like that of the Blenko Glass Co, is bright and increasing in value as the country once again embraces the idea of purchasing the finest handcrafted glass products. West Virginia handcrafted glass is superior in design and color. This quality is one of the many reason Blenko Glass Co remains a viable business and a state treasure. The 2012 Birthday vase will be available for purchase in June 2012 ( check this blog and the Blenko Glass website or exact date).
A very conservative estimate of value for the entire collection of is between $19,000 - $26,000. Reported prices per piece vary from $2,000 to $375 depending upon age and condition. The first ten pieces are the most sought after. The 1980 - 1981 pieces cost between $900 and $2,000. These pieces are very limited. In 1980 only 117 were produced.