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.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blenko Article from Bruce Specht

After reading several comments over the past several months I have decided to put words to paper, or in this case internet, to try to give some of my insights on Blenko and collecting this West Virginia treasure. While there are so many new readers to the blog I thought that maybe they can avoid the various pitfalls I have suffered thru in accumulating what I believe to be a relatively diverse collection currently numbering in the 900’s.  First, the comment that I most often see that appears in many a post is: How do I know it is Blenko? This is the one that I can tell you that the best way to address is through the numerous webpages that cover blenko whether that be this blog where we have the advantage of a wide range of contributors/comments from collectors to even former Blenko designers who will post if they see an error in the answers given and have even been able to give guidance to this collector on several occasions. What I would suggest is that when you have a question(s) about a particular piece that a photo will serve you best if you follow one simple rule. Take the time to purchase a simple sheet of white poster board or use a white sheet for a background for your photo. This helps the readers and those you are hoping to get some assistance from in properly seeing the actual color of the piece. Take several pictures, since most of you are using the digital cameras of today, there is no additional cost to press that shutter several times until you get a good photo for us to see. I have mentioned this before in answering blog questions, but the photos you see that I submit are taken with the most simple of digital cameras and are shot with just a simple background of posterboard. Amazing what a little patience can do in the photo department. 

As for webpages I would recommend the Blenko Archive and the Blenko Four webpages to start your education of Blenko since these are free and the other methods I will mention involve a small amount of investment. Beyond that, it is good to have the Leslie Pina reference books published by Schiffer Publishing. There are five of these reference books that are relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to find. An extra note here is that there are several mistakes in the “Cool Glass’ first edition volume and several pages are not reproduced in the other various volumes but it is nice to have a book in your hand for a quick reference. I actually used to carry all the volumes in a briefcase when we traveled so that I could run back to the vehicle if I was unsure of a piece. The Blenko Archive website gives the most in-depth catalog section for researching. The other reference which is vital if you are interested in collecting older Blenko: namely pre-designer, is the reference book “Blenko Glass 1930-1953” compiled by Eason Eige and Rick Wilson. This book is pricey to purchase and is often hard to find but is invaluable in my library. I actually checked this book out from my local library before I made the decision to purchase one. Sometimes the only way you can confirm an older piece is through the advertising shown in the various plates in this reference.  Spend time just going through these pages and soaking up the feel and shapes of the various designers. My youngest daughter, Kayla, would spend hours just idly going through these books and websites. She is sharp at spotting Blenko now and I would put her up against just about anyone at spotting and identifying a piece. Lots of these are black and white catalog pages which brings us to the bigger challenge: Color

Blenko is all about color so you really need to spend time looking at the various colors whether that be on a webpage or catalog. Just remember that nothing really compares to actually getting your hands on or up close to any Blenko you have access to. I have found that over the years it is always the color that grabs my attention whether it is walking through the most upscale antique store, squeezing my way through the most cluttered mini mall or going through the thousands of ebay listings that are part of my daily routine. Let me make one statement here for any of you new collectors. YOU ARE GOING TO GET BURNED SOMETIME AND SOMEWHERE. All of us have and anyone that tells you otherwise has missed something special somewhere because they didn’t take a little risk. The goal here is to make that a rarity. One of my favorite pieces is one that Debbie picked up and I bought only because I had confidence that the glass was Blenko Chartreuse. Turned out it was a fairly rare Winslow Anderson design. What you need to remember is that most antique dealers are aware that the name Blenko is associated with colorful/ pretty glass that is currently in high demand. I have gone into shops and seen what the dealer knew to be Blenko marked sky high while in the same store pieces that were not common were dirt-cheap. That said there are numerous dealers on ebay that will take advantage of the current market so you will learn quickly which ones to avoid. I have a small list which is comprised of only four sellers that I will not deal with. The other thing you need to remember is most people don’t have a clue as to a piece being Blenko or not. That is why you can go to Blenko on Ebay and see almost half of the listings sometimes not being Blenko at all. Blame it on Blenko not etching their name on their wares or the incredible amount of designs that were produced over the years but this works to our advantage as collectors. When I go into a store when the clerks ask if they can help me I always honestly answer I am just hoping to “find something”. Not until I have gone through the entire store might I mention what I am looking for just to see if they recognize the Blenko name or if I might have overlooked a piece. Even etched, most people overlook the mark so savor that as well when you find a piece. I have had a little extra luck lately having added several etched pieces to the collection that the seller had overlooked. The old saying that “Knowledge is Power” is definitely true in your successfully finding great pieces for your collection while avoiding overpaying or being duped.

Once you have mastered colors and designers you will have the necessary skills to dive into what I enjoy the most, Ebay mis-list hunting. As pointed out earlier most sellers on Ebay don’t have a clue as to the maker of the glass they are listing or as to its’ true value. Why I look for mis-lists is simple.  If I am bidding on a piece properly identified as Blenko I will be bidding against every Blenko collector in the country and depending on their disposable income at the time and their motivation for purchasing a particular piece the final price can be very pricey. To me, that equals paying the top dollar currently for that particular design so it is very easy to get disenchanted by Ebay if you have paid a hefty price for what turns out to be a mediocre or damaged piece. If on the other hand you can find one mis-listed that maybe only one other collector has even picked up on their radar it greatly increases the chance of snagging some great “finds” for your collection. A case in point is a wonderful Blenko #558 Husted designed High Heel bowl in Charcoal/Crystal that was mis-listed and going out at an odd time, around 1:00 A.M. Central. I picked the piece up for $10.00 plus shipping expenses whereas the same piece just completed bidding last week with a final bid of $380.00 plus shipping. When I am searching the various listings on Ebay using my own creative search requests I am sticking to an old saying that is helpful to remember. As Bear Bryant was quoted as saying “Don’t wait for something to happen, make something happen”. When you get off the beaten trail, that is things listed as Blenko, you can make those “finds” happen for you. One other concern that has come up recently is whether to trust the post office with shipping your items. I can say overall I have had pretty good success with the US postal service, UPS, and FedEx. Only five items have arrived broken in over ten years of Ebaying or online shopping. The culprit usually is that the seller is not familiar with properly packing glass for shipping. Adding to this is often the fact that these are “finds” for me and quite frankly did not yield much to the seller. That being the case they still have no real idea of the true value of what they are handling. I have made it a point to send a post-auction note that explains how much I am looking forward to receiving the item and how to properly pack it for shipment so I will receive it in an  unbroken condition. This has worked for me and hopefully you will see an improvement in your breakage rates if you are having issues. The other way I have tried to reduce this from happening is by having a real good relation with my postage/handling personnel. I have shared my collecting with my postman and often take the time to open in his/her presence the latest arrival. They can ooh and ahh with the best of them and it allows me to share my collection with yet more folks. Plus, they come away with a lot more appreciation with what I am doing and it is reflected in how they handle my incoming packages.

A nice Jade Blenko  #565 decanter designed by Wayne Husted. This was found in an antique mall in central Georgia where another common Blenko vase, which was marked with the original “Blenko” foil sticker, was marked $85.00. In the same store this decanter was just mixed into a shelf full of green glassware and I purchased it for only $35.00.

1 comment:

penny said...

I am thinking your negative comments may come for dealers / sellers of Blenko.
Your collection is awesome and you found good quality glass at reasonable prices.
Please don't stop educating us.