Do You Own a Piece of Maine’s Glass-Producing History?

Long before today’s glass repair chain, a different Portland Glass Company was churning out elegant, affordable vessels that will elevate modern tables, appraiser John Bottero says.

pear punch bowl, tall vase, blue dishes, and gold goblet in Portland Glass Company’s Tree of Life pattern.

The pear punch bowl, tall vase, blue dishes, and gold goblet shown here exhibit the Portland Glass Company’s most popular Tree of Life pattern. The firm primarily produced clear pieces; colored ones are relatively rare. Photo by Irvin Serrano

By John Bottero
From the May/June 2019 issue of Maine Homes by Down East

For more than 1,800 years, glass was hand-blown into molds or shaped freeform, a labor-intensive process. It wasn’t until the 19th century that glassmakers developed a technique for machine-pressing molten glass into molds, enabling them to create elaborate designs quickly. Production of such pressed or pattern glass skyrocketed, prices fell, and, suddenly, customers of all income levels could assemble matching glassware sets to pair with their china services.

Pressed glass manufacturers popped up in nearly every region of the United States. Here in Maine, we had the Portland Glass Company, established in 1863 in a four-story brick building on Commercial Street. Within two months of opening, the firm was manufacturing 5,000 pieces of glassware a day, and by 1865 it employed 100 workers. When it closed in 1873 — a victim of high materials costs and a national economic downturn — it had produced more than 60 glass patterns. 

Some pieces resemble traditional hand-cut vessels; others took on shapes and patterns, such as dots, rosettes, garlands, and leaves, that could only be created with the new technology. Rare colored and limited-production examples, like the pear punch bowl pictured below, may fetch well over $1,000. But common clear items can be found for $10 to $100, making it possible for just about anyone to own a piece of Portland’s glass-producing history.

Special thanks to the Cumberland Club in Portland for loaning pieces from their Portland Glass collection, donated by former member/appraiser Bruce A. Buxton.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

Get all of our latest stories delivered straight to your mailbox every month. Subscribe to Down East magazine.