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Goofus Glass, Bargain Buy

A highly decorative glass, Goofus Glass is a fun collectible that can be bought at bargain prices right now. These pieces include a Gibson Girl plate, an opalescent bowl, Roses in the Snow plate and vase.

In the world of antiques, Goofus is a name for an ornate form of glass that began as a cheap form of finery. These pressed glass treasures are painted, either on the back or the front of the pressed design. The paint is often in gaudy colors of gold, red and greens, making it perfect for the holidays.

The pressed designs might be fruit, flowers or portraits but they are always showy. Originally given as premiums at carnivals, Goofus Glass was made from about 1890 to 1920 or so.

Because it was cheaply made and cold painted, the paint chips easily. Thus, the popular name of this glass with unavoidable imperfections became Goofus Glass.

Other names that the collectible glass goes by include Bridal Glass, Mexican Ware, Pic Jars, Gypsy Glass, Hooligan Hooleys and Carnival Glass, according to collector and author Carolyn McKinley.

Local manufacturers included Northwood and Imperial. In fact, Harry Northwood is thought to have begun the craze, claim Goofus enthusiasts. Vases, lamps, decanters, salt and peppershakers, plates and bowls are some of the common pieces of Goofus available on the antiques market.

Of course, no Goofus Glass is common. This is one collectible that is proudly odd, eccentric and even ugly. American made and Yankee celebrated, the late Victorian art glass is a perfect example of the exuberance of pressed glass manufacturers in their heyday.

The decoration was applied to colorless and transparent green, blue or amber glass or perhaps opalescent and milk glass pieces. Sometimes the glass surface would be etched with acid, giving a crackled or pressed pattern. Designs were either embossed or blown-out, or they might be intaglio or cut-in.

I like Goofus because it is dramatic looking glass. It must have been exciting to buy a piece of this elaborate art glass in the era before mass production and I bet that the best pieces made a perfect gift.

Another interesting fact about Goofus Glass and old glass in general is that if the paint scales off, which it invariable does on Goofus — the clear glass turns a delicate shade of amethyst when exposed to light.

This is true in glass that contains the chemical manganese, used to make the glass clear. Some collectors have been known to remove imperfect paint on Goofus Glass and enjoy just the design as it turns amethyst, or touch it up with new paint to suit their tastes.

Goofus Glass is just one of the many kinds of collectible Victorian art glass. Unfortunately, right now prices have dropped in the antiques market on this sort of glassware but that can be a good thing if you’re a buyer looking for a bargain.

Northwood pieces are generally marked with a large N with a circle around it and the Glass Museum at Oglebay Park has examples of Northwood Goofus on display, along with thousands of other glass treasures. The firms represented in the local Glass Museum include Ritchie; Sweeney; Hobbs, Brockunier, Central and Northwood.

Since 1937, Oglebay Institute’s Glass Museum has focused on these five major glass factories once located in Wheeling. These firms were among the biggest in the country and employed thousands, shipping their products all over the world.

Goofus Glass is considered a forerunner to Carnival Glass but both types of glass were given as prizes at summer fairs and carnivals.

Perhaps because of the unavoidable scaling off of paint, Goofus Glass did not retain its popularity as well as Carnival Glass and became less valued by some collectors. Others though, fell in love with this glass with gaudy painted designs and an unusual name.

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 the Sunday News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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