|"A CASUAL "ANTIQUER" seeing bull's-eye window panes,
with their center swirl of dense green glass, can't be blamed for
assuming that these decorative bits were intentionally made that
way. Actually, bull's eye panes are castoffs put to good use by
thrifty pioneer settlers.
"The first American window glass, a great advance over hides or
sheets of mica at the windows, was nevertheless most primitively
made, by the crown method. The blower would form a pear-shaped
globule of glass which he then moved down to the "bottoming"
hole, in front of which was a low wall to protect the man against
the heat, where he twirled the parison which caused it to spread
out. A helper then stepped up with a small gather of glass on a
punty rod that he attached to the opposite side of the "blow."
`Then another workman touched a cold iron dipped in water to the
blowpipe side, causing the pipe to separate. With one end of the
parison now open, more twirling before the fire made the object
"Suddenly the blower would twirl the punty rod so fast that the
basket, with a loud ruffling noise like the snap of a flag in the
breeze, would flatten into a smooth round plate. This process,
described in an 1837 pamphlet, "Conversations on the Art of
Glass-Blowing," printed by Mahlon Day at 374 Pearl Street,
Manhattan, was called flashing. The disk, about 36 inches in
diameter, was moved to a flat surface, separated from the rod and
placed in annealing ovens, warmed only to red heat. Sometimes the
cooling process took two to three weeks.
"Small square or diamond panes were cut from the circle of glass,
to be fitted into mullioned frames. The thick knot where the rod
had been detached was excellent for panes around doors as the
glass was translucent but not transparent. The legend that the
bull's-eye panes were installed in order to deflect Indian arrows
is-well, just legend.
"There is substance for believing, though, that bull's-eyes in
Jersey and Delaware houses built from 1740 to 1780 were made at
Wistarberg, for there was no other window-light place operating
then in those rather isolated colonies and Wistarberg certainly
was using the crown method, as the cylinder process was a 19th
"The Hon. John T. Bodine who supplied most of the data on Jersey
for Weeks' 1884 U.S. census Report on the Manufacture of Glass
stated he believed that Columbia on the Delaware which operated
from 1812 to about 1838 was a crown glass works. This seems
unlikely as the glasshouse depicted in the Thomas Birch painting
is two stories high, needed for cylinder glassmaking but
unnecessary for the early bottle works or crown glass blowing.
Some sizes of glass advertised for Columbia, moreover, were much
larger than could usually be cut from a disk of crown glass."
Fig. 45 WINDOWLIGHT GNOMES in fiery Pittsburgh scene of 1876.
Note cowl hoards used by five workmen; trimmed cylinders on
cradle in foreground. From Every Saturday, March, 1967. Courtesy
of Corning Museum of Glass.
THE CYLINDER METHOD
* Conversations on the Art of Glassblowing, printed in 1837 in
New York City, is written for the laity, so the cylinder method
described must have been well established by then. p.62 The Glass
Gaffers of New Jersey
"Window-glass made from handblown cylinders or rollers was a
transformation of the early 19th century, one that opened the way
for large panes and clearer, eventually nearly flawless, glass.
Cylinder glass was as revolutionary for its time as the
continuous-tank method and machine-made window-glass which were
in the agonies of creation at the close of the 19th century.
"Some of the greatest showmen and unsung heroes of the glass
industry were the men who blew, entirely without machines, window
panes by the cylinder method prevalent from the 1830s to the
"Their story, rarely told, comes alive in the words of Charles
Westcott, Jerseyan and 76-year-old blower of precision laboratory
glass, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were
window-light blowers. (Old-timers never speak of windowpane
blowers.) The sojourns of these four generations show, like the
travels of Samuel Huffsey, how far afield Jersey glassblowers
ranged, and accordingly how difficult it is to affix the
provenance of many collectors' wares made in the Jersey tradition.
"Jesse Wescoat, Sr., grandfather of Charles Westcott who changed
the spelling of the family name, began blowing cylinders of glass
at the Batsto Works established in September 1846 by the
Richards family when they saw the fortunes of their iron empire
"An iron blowpipe and two iron blocks or molds for shaping window-glass
parisons, now owned by Charles Westcott and on exhibit in the
Batsto Museum, were the tools of Jesse Wescoat, Sr., and his
descendants. When the glass project ended in 1867 and Batsto
became a ghost town, the senior Wescoat packed up his tools and
went to blow at nearby Waterford, noted for good workmanship,
then later at Winslow, also of high repute, on the same stage
"These tools descended to Jesse Wescoat, Jr., who as a window-glass
blower used them at Glassboro while working there. Daniel
Wescoat, born at Waterford in 1859 in a white house still
standing on the main road, and father of Charles, also used the
tools at Glassboro. Charlie recalls as the happiest days of his
life his early childhood in Magnolia where his father in 1901 was
a windowpane blower for the Magnolia Glass Company, an outfit
unrecorded in any standard works on glass.
"From Magnolia, Daniel moved to Shingle House in northwest
Pennsylvania to blow for the window-light furnace in this little
town. Finding blowing too strenuous he became a flattener. When a
union dispute about 1907 caused a work stoppage, Daniel left his
tools on the premises in expectation of being called back shortly.
Blowing did not resume and Daniel moved his family back to
Vineland. Years later Charles retrieved the blocks and pipes from
a blower at Shingle House."
"'When I went to look for the tools no one even knew where
the window-light factory had been but I recognized it right away.
They're usually 2 -story frame buildings,' Westcott said.
The Mahlon Day pamphlet describes the furnaces of crown works as
conical. Those of cylinder works were generally bottle-shaped,
with a powerful draft. Even a bottle-glass furnace needed a
fearful draft. Ernest C. Stanmire, Jersey glassworker and
antiques dealer, recalls seeing a man at Moore Brothers in
Clayton sit down to eat a sandwich, only to have it whisked
irretrievably up the chimney.
"It took a certain constitution and co-ordination to be a
proficient window-light blower, and not many men could qualify.
'Those old window-light blowers were the proudest people in
the world,' Charles Westcott recalls. 'Everybody realized how highly skilled
they were, and the blowers took exceptional pride in their talent. They had to
be real men. They combined fast thinking with brawn.'
"Brawn the trade certainly demanded. For the iron blowpipe hefts
about 30 pounds, and the glass gather added about another 50 or
70 pounds. All told, the blower not only had to lift at least 80
pounds of pipe and lethally hot molten glass but also had to
manipulate all swiftly, adroitly, so as to avoid breaking the
glass and burning himself and his fellow workers. A split-second
lag in reaction could mean disaster for the whole shop.
"Window-glass blowers usually worked at a 4-pot furnace, two men
to a pot. At peak operation, white-hot fires blazing and a dozen
men and small boys rushing about in dangerous proximity, the
scene was a confused inferno.
"The blower, wearing boots and stripped to the waist, ascended a
ramp or steps to a platform where he could work on a level with
furnace doors. Below him was a pit. On a string around his neck,
the blower usually wore a cowl board, a face-shaped wooden mask,
eye-slits fitted with amber or blue glass. Ready to approach the
searing flames, the blower clamped the mouthpiece of the cowl
board between his teeth, his sole protection against the
"His smaller or dipper-shaped iron block, though used first, was
called the 'second glass block.' The gatherer, not the
blower, picked up a blob of liquid glass on the end of the pipe,
turned it in the smaller block to give some slight form, then
kept adding more metal in about three or four trips to the
furnace until he had about 60 pounds of white-hot glass which he
had in the meantime expanded to rude shape.
"The blower now began blowing this parison into an iron block of
about 18 inches diameter, until the parison seemed to shape to a
similar diameter. The "blow block" had meantime been
placed a-tilt in a wooden tub or barrel cut down to a height
comfortable for the blower. Sawdust was usually sprinkled in the
block to keep the glass from adhering to the iron, and the block
was set in water as a coolant. By the end of this process the
water was usually boiling.
"Now with the block as a guide the blower blew the glass balloon
until it was several feet long. Then he took this fragile roller
to the swing-hole, a drop-off of at least 9 feet below the
platform or foot-bench where the worker stood. While swinging the
blowpipe like a pendulum, the crouched blower stretched the glass
cocoon to the wanted length, about six feet, sometimes more.
"Pull of the iron and weight of the glass were so great that many
of the men wore a chain, one end attached to their belts, the
other to a post, so that they would not be dragged head first
into the swing-hole filled with the broken glass of rejects.
Blowers who scorned to wear a chain were often pulled forward and
crashed into the hot metal and broken glass in the pit below.
Some never came out alive.
"Window-light blowers wore heavy stripping around their wrists to
give them steel-like control of the great weight. The longer they
manipulated the parison "the heavier it got." The
blower could not relax for an instant before the roller was
deposited in a wooden cradle on a sawhorse to cool.
"The critical point, however, came before that stage. It was the
opening of the far end of the roller, in this ingenious manner.
When the roller was the proper shape and length,
The Glass Gaffers of New Jersey p.64
the blower gave it a mighty heave up to an iron crane in front
of the furnace so as to reheat the cylinder. With both his thumb
and the blowpipe in his mouth, the worker blew an extra puff that
trapped air inside, as he immediately capped the pipe with his
thumb. The expanding hot air forced open the far end of the
roller. It was now ready to transport to the cradle. Some of the
showmen-and there was often a cluster of visitors-would swing the
roller and blowpipe over their heads in a great virtuoso display
of strength and skill. But sometimes things went awry and the hot
glass broke into myriads of fragments that showered down on the
"When a roller had been carefully deposited on the cradle a helper
touched the glass near the blowpipe-end with a wet iron and this
magically released the cylinder from the pipe. The roller was now
a long pale aquamarine pod with rounded ends. After the glass
cooled a bit these ends were cracked off. To do this a thin strip
of molten glass was laid on so as to encircle the cylinder where
separation was wanted. Again the ends were touched with wet metal
and the tops fell off, leaving an open-end glass cylinder.
Usually retrieved, the caps were prized as bells under which to
display wax fruit.
"Next, a workman threw a handful of sawdust the length of the
cylinder, the curved surface of which caused the sawdust to fall
to the bottom. Then a hot iron rod was run back and forth along
the bottom of the roller until it was grooved. Once more, the
glass was touched with a wet iron for an instant and, lo, the
cylinder split neatly down its entire length. Now a curved sheet,
it was carried to the flattening ovens where renewed heat made it
flexible, so that it could be leveled to a plane surface. In the
final step before cutting into panes, the large sheets were
placed in a "dip," a barrel-like container full of
boiling water, to be tempered for a half hour or so.
"Window-light blowing was so well paid in relation to other
glassblowing that a man couldn't get into the trade unless he was
the son or the brother of one of these vastly proficient
craftsmen who, the theory was, would teach his relatives the
secrets. No doubt about it, window-light blowers had status.
"Yet it was the cutters who were the only glassmen who came to
work wearing a collar and tie. Their skill was so essential to
high production that they were paid even better than the blowers.
"The cutter, with both arms outspread to hold the large oblong of
glass, would stand the pane upright on the cutting table. Then,
to the consternation of small boys and other uninitiated souls,
the cutter would let the sheet of glass fall to the table, which
it did without breaking. An air cushion protected it-usually.
Cutting into small panes was done in the 1850s or so with a
pencil-shaped tool that was diamond-tipped. Harder than glass,
the diamond was simply drawn alongside a ruler and neatly cut out
panes, provided the sheet did not have too many "stones"
and air bubbles. 'The job looked as easy as separating a
soda cracker from its mate,' said Westcott.
"Because window-light work was so strenuous, union rules in the
early 1900s provided that blowers were not allowed to make over
eight cylinders an hour. A day's work was 64 cylinders, but many
men could not turn out that number. About 1902 a window-light
blower could earn $90 a week, but the average was more like $60,
still high for the times when unskilled labor was paid about a
dollar a day."