Gillinder & Sons Westward Ho
Alisa Zahller, Associate Curator, Decorative and Fine Arts
During the Centennial year of 1876, Philadelphia hosted the first major United States World’s Fair in celebration of the 100th anniversary of American independence. Among the more than 30,000 displays highlighting the country's successes in science, industry, and cultural exchange was that of the Philadelphia glassware manufacturer Gillinder & Sons. Established in 1861 by William T. Gillinder, the fair was a turning point for the company, which built an exhibition factory on the fairgrounds. While many people thought this a mistake, the glasshouse was immensely popular with visitors and offered tremendous advertising for the company's new pattern lines and processes. Daily, visitors watched demonstrations of glass blowing and pressing, a process by which molten glass is poured into a hand-cut iron mold and then pressed into all of the mold’s crevices by machine. This relatively new glassmaking technique enabled manufacturers such as Gillinder & Sons to produce wares at a lower cost to the consumer, including low-cost souvenirs for sale to visitors of the fair. This endeavor proved not only profitable, but allowed the company to test market various designs, colors and finishes including the “satin” or “frosted” finish seen on the Westward Ho pattern glassware featured here.
Originally called “Pioneer” after the “Pioneer Room” at the Gillinder factory where the frosting was done, the Westward Ho pattern—introduced shortly after the 1876 Centennial—was certainly influenced by what Gillinder & Sons customers purchased at the fair. These sales demonstrated that consumers desired beautiful but affordable glassware. They also revealed that certain themes directly influenced the sale of a product. As a result, the Westward Ho pattern, an elegant blending of clear and the extremely popular “frosted” glass, depicts a pioneer’s log cabin, a bison charging across the plains and a deer fleeting from an unseen hunter. Covered pieces incorporate a knob in the shape of a crouching Indian. Western scenes in Currier & Ives prints published in the mid-1800s influenced these design elements. The images depicted in the pattern served as patriotic reminders of the state of America west of the Mississippi before westward expansion and the building of the transcontinental railroad.
The lessons learned in 1876 have served the company well. Today known as Gillinder Glass, the company factory located in Port Jervis, New York continues to manufacture beautiful glassware including reproductions of original souvenir pieces sold at the Centennial Fair.