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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Vase or Float Bowl, commonly called the Sweeney Punch bowl, circa 1844-45, 5 feet tall. Photo courtesy of Oglebay Institute
In 1875 Michael Sweeney’s body rested in a grave underneath one of the largest cut-glass punch bowls ever made. For 74-years the grave sat undisturbed in Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling, W.Va.

Why a punch bowl in a cemetery?

It all started in 1835 when Michael Sweeney and his brothers founded a flint glass factory in Wheeling. Prior to the Civil War, their company was one of the most successful glass houses in the area.

Sweeney glass was cut in the English and American styles of the period and distributed nationwide. At the turn-of-the-century 50 percent of all American pressed-glass tableware came from Pittsburgh and Wheeling.

The story goes that Michael and his brother Thomas had been partners when the punch bowl was designed but later parted because Thomas refused Michael a loan. They supposedly never spoke again. When Thomas visited his estranged brother’s grave and saw the bowl, accompanied by an inscription claiming that Michael alone had manufactured it, he was speechless.

The Sweeney bowl’s current home is the Oglebay Institute’s Glass Museum in Wheeling. It was moved back in 1949 when the community feared the bowl might be damaged in the graveyard. The granite monument housing the bowl still stands at Greenwood Cemetery. The punch bowl is 4 feet, 10 inches high, holds 16 gallons of liquid and weighs 225 pounds. It consists of five pieces, each piece hand blown into a wooden mold and then cut.

“The punch bowl is our hallmark piece in the collection,” says Holly McCluskey, curator of glass. “It’s priceless. The quality is exceptional. It’s beautifully fashioned and it’s amazing that the bowl has even survived.”

It seems that during the Victorian era, glass houses commonly crafted fine glassware for display at industrial fairs and expositions around the country. They wanted to show-off the ability of their artisans, prove their technical mastery, win prizes and get free advertising

The Sweeney bowl is an example of one such piece. The Wheeling Glass book published by Antique Publications for the Oglebay Institute says that, “Between 1844 and 1845 the company produced three multiple section covered urn-shaped vases or float bowls of cut glass.”

Back then, Sweeney punch bowls were referred to as float bowls or vases. The pieces were exhibited in New York and Philadelphia where they won medals. In 1851, the Sweeney’s hoped to display one of the bowls at the Crystal Palace exhibition in London. As it was being packed, their factory was destroyed by fire and the project was abandoned. Today the bowl at Oglebay is the only one known to survive.

In 1844, a glass warehouse owned by Sweeney opened at The Point in Downtown Pittsburgh. “Unequaled by anything of similar description ever made in the United States or perhaps the world,” wrote The Pittsburgh Gazette regarding one of the covered cut glass vases displayed at the warehouse.

The Sweeney punch bowl is a relic of glassware history and is well worth seeing. For more information on the museum or the Wheeling Glass book call: 304-242-7242.

Q. Please address the subject of fountain pens? There seems to be so little written on the subject. Bruce McGlothlin, Library, Pa.

A. Two names stand out in pen collecting, Waterman and Parker. In the 1880s, Lewis Edson Waterman developed the first practical fountain pen. As you might imagine, pens carrying his name are valuable. A few years after Waterman, came George S. Parker. In 1894 he patented a pen called the “Lucky Curve.”

Other names to consider are The Conklin Pen Company, W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company, Mont Blanc of Germany, Mable, Todd & Dard of England and The Wahl Company. The Wahl Company got into the business by making pencils.

Condition is everything with pens. If you find yourself with a rare Waterman, it is of little value if the condition is poor. Pens with original their parts, little wear and in undamaged condition command the most money.

This is one area of collecting where owners like to use what they own. People enjoy the feel of these old-style pens, particularly fountain pens.

Here are a few resources for you. Pen Fancier’s Magazine, 1169 Overcash Drive, Dunedin, Fla. 34698. A magazine published bimonthly, Pen Collectors of America, P.O. Box 821449, Houston, Texas 77282-1449. This is an association of fountain pen collectors. They maintain a library of materials for pen collectors and promote collecting as a hobby.

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