Heisey Glass and the "Fairy Wand" of Sara Comer
It is important to state very clearly that the Heisey iridescent items that are known would have been iridised after production (cold). To our knowledge, there is currently no proven Carnival Glass (that is, glass that was iridised during production while hot) made by Heisey.
A. H. Heisey Co. began in Newark, Ohio in 1895 and is renowned for producing high quality tableware. The company’s familiar H-within-a-diamond trademark is impressed on much of their glass. The ad on the left from a 1913 House Beautiful magazine typifies how Heisey presented itself to the buying public - "Every quality that makes table glass so beautiful, so appealing....", "graceful shapes and harmonious designs make it the glassware of true distinction." ... and ... "sold by the best dealers everywhere".
Heisey closed in 1957 and their moulds were bought by Imperial.
The "Fairy Wand"
Browsing through a 1916 edition of New York’s The Evening Post, we came across a fascinating article entitled “Lustre Glass”.
The actual article is reproduced on the right, but the clarity of the old print was poor and so we’ve copied the text below:
"Such subtle effects this lustre glass produces! One envies the Massachusetts woman who does such lovely work. Every kind of table glass is represented, and the colors range from faintest amber to deep rose pink. Take this set of liqueur glasses as a sample. They are very tall and bell-shaped with irregular stems. The color is a clear blue with rainbow iridescence in its depth. A set of six glasses and a liqueur flask costs $20. Six short glasses have deeper bowls and almost no stem at all. They are dainty things in pale rose with flutings in the glass. With a decanter, $12 is the price. The amber lustre is exemplified in wide cocktail glasses. Like the blue glass the amber color shows a myriad iridescent tones as the light falls through it. Charming, too, is a green flower bowl with candlesticks to match. The five pieces form a complete table decoration. The candlesticks cost $3,50 each and the bowl $8.
A pretty gift is a little candy dish of pale amber glass, Shimmering tints quiver in the clear amber-like tints of imprisoned rainbow. A pair of these could be bought for $5. There are single bowls in deep rose color, amethyst or blue which can be used for flowers, fruit or goldfish, and along with the bowls come candlesticks or vases in the same shades.
Gift seekers will be wise to keep in touch with the Massachusetts woman who waves her fairy wand over glass and produces colored dewdrops, tinted seashells."
A rare Heisey Wigwam tumbler
with post-production marigold iridescence. Courtesy Don Kime.
Thanks to Carnival Glass collector, Bob Smith from Boston, we know that the name of the Massachusetts woman with the “fairy wand” was Sara Comer.
Bob’s research centred on his memories of stories he had heard of a lady in Newton (near Boston, MA) who iridised glass. Bob knew that much of the glass she was iridising came from Heisey, as well as Cambridge and possibly other firms too.
Sara Comer purchased non-iridised glass and then applied an iridescent coating to the cold items. Bob Smith explained that the glass was shipped to her in the standard method of the era—barrels—inside which would be small quantities of a variety of different patterns and shapes.
The glass items were then cold-iridised by Sara in her basement and she had a shop in the front of her house. The appearance of the iridescence was usually delicate, as the evocative descriptions in the 1916 newspaper article above indicate. “After-market” iridising, “cold-iridising” or “post-production iridising”—all these terms clearly describe the time-line.
Crucially, remember the date of the newspaper article. 1916! Although it was post-production iridescence, it was a contemporary application made by the “fairy wand” of Sara Comer!
And Bob has some of the actual invoices that Heisey sent to her. We show two of these fascinating documents below, dated 1924 which means she had been cold iridising for around a decade at that point, or maybe longer. Both documents have been enhanced and cleaned by us to make them readable.
Invoice dated October 25, 1924
Written on the invoice shown on the right was a note from Sara Comer informing Heisey that they had sent the wrong goods.
These 14” -1195 Optic bowls were shipped by mistake in plain glass without the optic. Please send me a credit for the difference in price. I would return them but the Express is so high. I will try and use these somehow and send in an order for more other ones soon.
Very truly yours
Sara R. Comer
Heisey invoices are reproduced courtesy of Bob Smith and Frank Maloney.
Invoice dated December 10, 1924