Visit and Enjoy Iconic Glass Treasure

This lovely replica of the iconic Sweeney Punch Bowl was made by Imperial Glass of Bellaire. (Photo Provided)

This weekend as Oglebay Park celebrates its 90th anniversary., we pause to remember that to anyone who enjoys antiques, the park is important, not just for its history, but also for the fine collection of local glass and wonderful antiques housed in the Museums of Oglebay Insitute.

In 1900, Cleveland industrialist Earl Oglebay purchased the elegant mansion and the surrounding 750 acres to serve as his summer home. When he died in 1926, he graciously willed his estate, known as Waddington Farm, to the city of Wheeling. On July 28, 1928, the city accepted the gift and turned its operation over to the Wheeling Park Commission.

One of the stars of Oglebay Park is the famous Sweeney Punch Bowl. It is now housed in the Oglebay Glass Museum, located in the same building as Carriage House Glass.

No piece of Victorian art glass is more well known than this 5-foot-tall, 225-pound, lidded glass bowl that was blown and cut from lead glass.

This glass story began when four Sweeney brothers formed the North Wheeling Glass Co. in 1835. Two brothers, Robert and Campbell, died before Thomas Sweeney designed his huge masterpiece in 1844.

Holding 16 gallons of punch, it was made with the use of five separate moulds. Each section of the large bowl was blown into one of these wooden moulds, then cut. Afterwards the unique moulds were destroyed.

A second large punch bowl also was made. According to Oglebay Insitute Glass Curator Holly McCluskey, the Sweeneys produced extraordinary large-scale objects of cut glass designed to flaunt the firm’s technical virtuosity and win prizes at industrial fairs.

The smallest bowl made by the Sweeneys stood 3 1/2 feet and weighed 92 pounds. It was made for Kentucky statesman Henry Clay. The Sweeneys presented their vase to Clay, who had just lost the presidential election of 1844, “as a token of their respect, and admiration of his brilliant services in the cause of protection.”

Clay prized the vase, which served as a font for baptism in the parlor of his home several years later. The vase survived until 1930, when it was destroyed by fire.

The Sweeney Punch Bowls were exhibited in New York and Philadelphia and won awards and prizes. These Sweeney vessels were awarded gold medals by both the American Institute of New York and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where judges at the Franklin Institute called the vase “a triumph of American art … the best flint glass ever made in this country.”

One of the larger bowls was on display in New York City until 1853, when it was packed and placed on a steamboat to return to Wheeling. It did not survive the journey.

The bowl on display at the Oglebay Institute Glass Museum is the second of the larger bowls. It was placed on Michael Sweeney’s grave in Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling from the time of his death in 1875 until 1949, when family members who were concerned about its preservation donated it to Oglebay Insitute.

Today, you can find vintage copies of the beautiful punch bowl that are lovely to display on a mantel or shelf.

The one shown in my column was purchased recently at Sibs (where I noticed several when I was last there!) and was made by Imperial Glass of Bellaire, which closed for business in 1984.

New replicas that are in current production also are available at Carriage House Glass, which has two versions of the clear crystal punch bowl available in a 6-inch replica or a 12-inch model, both made by Mosser Glass of Cambridge, Ohio.

Stop and see the original punch bowl soon while visiting Oglebay Park!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of this newspaper.

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