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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Opalescent Foval compote, Delft blue stem & rim. Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Western Pa.
Henry Ford picked the H.C. Fry Glass Company of Rochester, Pa., as the most modern and up-to-date glass factory in the country, according to American Flint magazine in 1917.

Moving pictures of the plant and workmen were taken and shown in theaters all over the country. In its heyday, the company employed nearly 1000 people.

Long before steel and glass reigned as a major industry in early Pittsburgh, Fry Glass was on the cutting edge. The company was known for producing top quality cut glass.

Its punch bowls, vases, butter plates and celery dishes decorated posh dinner tables worldwide.

"The tall stacks of the chimneys towered over the countryside and the fires drew with a furious draft. It was this combination of pure ingredients and greatly accelerated fusion which are thought to have produced the remarkable crystal-clear Fry glass," says The Collector's Encyclopedia of Fry Glassware.

"There is a glass industry heritage among families in Beaver County that is often overlooked," says Fry collector and Beaver County dentist Cliff Dietz. "Many of my patients had relatives who worked in the local glass industry."

Dietz's office serves as display space for his extensive collection of Fry cut and art glass.

At the turn-of-the-century, a showy piece of cut glass was a plush wedding or anniversary gift. The glass sparkled like diamonds giving rise to the expression "brilliant" period.

Cut glass was only one line produced by Fry. As the popularity of cut glass declined in the early-1900s, the company started making oven glass and kitchenware. Food could now go directly from the stove to the kitchen table. The pie plates, casseroles, baby bottles, loaf pans, and measuring cups made in Rochester helped modernize food preparation in the early-20th Century.

Beauty and fragility are terms common to art glass. Yet Fry Glass developed a line of opalescent art glass for home use that was both durable and exquisite. The Foval line came in everything from English style teapots and perfume bottles to Delft threaded candlesticks and dessert bowls.

When KDKA radio first went on the air in 1920 broadcasting the Harding-Cox election results, Fry Glass responded. People say the historic event inspired their "Radioware" line of glass. The delicate draped loops of colored glass appearing on these Fry pieces resembled the radio waves from the broadcast. Today collectors call the glassware artwork.

Fry Glass also took part in industrial production. They had an entire furnace in the plant just for automobile glass.

Optical glass was another innovation. Fry became one of the first firms to perfect bifocal lenses for eyeglasses. Motion picture lenses were also listed among their optical products.

With the onset of the Depression, production dropped and materials were hard to come by. The plant closed its doors for good in 1933. What is left is a legacy of glassware filling local collections, waiting to be found in yard sales, and hidden away in attics throughout Pittsburgh.

Q. Enclosed is a photo of an oak roll-top desk which came from an old railroad office. Please tell me the age and value? M. N., Pittsburgh.

A. Victorian furniture was ignored for many years by serious collectors. Manufactured from 1840-1900, it was considered too recent, too massive and too ornate for 20th century homes.

Even so, there is a charm and sturdiness about Victorian pieces that some people find irresistible. Though early Victorian furniture was handmade, by the 1870s factories took over production.

The machinery made cutting more accurate and the joints stronger, resulting in sturdy furniture. With the use of machinery more pieces could be made for the expanding middle class to buy. Today some 90-years later, there is more of it around to buy.

Marble tops add to the value as well as inlay. The most valuable pieces, and also harder to find are the early handmade ones.

Your piece dates from about 1890-1900, and is the type of vintage desk many people relish. It is worth $1,200-$1,500 based on condition.

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