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Heart of Glass - Blenko Glass

Blenko Glass is a West Virginia treasure that spans generations. Nothing symbolizes the state of West Virginia better or more beautifully than Blenko Glass. We will discuss current and former craftsmen and designers and how important it is that Blenko and West Virginia glass be appreciated and valued by the younger generation.

Monday, March 19, 2012

History of the Blenko WV Birthday Vases

West Virginia was the 35th State in the Union and was established June 20, 1863. In West Virginia this date (June 20) is a state holiday.
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.
My suggestion to 'new collectors' is to start with the Bayliss Team designs. Arlon Bayliss is the current part time Blenko Glass designer. Search EBay, and your local antique malls for Blenko Birthday Vases. (www.blenkoproject.org for photos)

Note: This is accurate to the best of my knowledge if you have information to add or corrections please be so kind as to mail
theblenkoproject@aol.com we want to provide accurate information to collectors of Blenko and WV Glass.
*** Tomorrow we will start publishing photos of the entire Blenko WV Birthday Vase Collection from 1980 - 2011.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

news from warehouse sale?
Lots of people?
Did the two special limited items sell out?
News from this weekend event?

Anonymous said...

Interesting story Glassdoc.

bridgett said...

1980 to 2012 is a 32 year tradition.
Cheers to WH Blenko for the idea, and to Walter Blenko for allowing this series to continue.
Three cheers to Arlon Bayliss for bring new life to the series.

Excellent post Hillary.

Is it my imagination or are prices for vintage Blenko very good right now?
I'm loving these prices.

alex said...

Anyone of these five people want to sell your collection? I have been six years finding seventeen.
Please give Hilary your address, phone number and the amount you are asking.
Hilary I am sending you an email with my contact info this day.

Anonymous said...

HILARY
I MET SEVEN OR EIGHT PEOPLE LAST JUNE STANDING IN LINE WHO HAD THE ENTIRE COLLECTION.
ANYONE WITH THE ENTIRE WV BLENKO BIRTHDAY VASE SEND GLASSLADY AN EMAIL AND GET YOURSELF ADDED TO THIS COUNT.
MOUNTAIN RITA
PS I DID THE WAREHOUSE NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN LAST YEARS SALE OF 2nd 3rd and ODDS N ENDS.
PRICES ARE VERY LOW.

Hillary J Homburg said...

Please if yo own the entire collection send an email to
theblenkoproject@aol.com