SLEIGH  RIDES  OF  YESTERYEAR

 

There was a long standing winter tradition in the South Jersey area in the 18th and early 19th centuries, of going on a nice long sleigh ride on a cold, snowy, Saturday evening. The first stop of the evening was a tavern for some hard cider and a good dinner. The cider was obviously to warm the body, while the meal just tasted good. And then, possibly more cider for warmth, before embarking on the ride to the closest glass factory. Although the weather was cold, this evening was more enjoyable using a sleigh on the snow than a buggy or wagon at other times of year. The 18th century road conditions made for a very uncomfortable ride, with holes, dust, ruts, and mud. The sleigh ride was rather smooth in comparison.

The glass factory was a nice warm destination on a cold night. The glass workers would welcome the sleigh parties on these winter evenings of snow covered roads. They knew to expect the joyous sleigh party, of possibly 4 or 5 sleighs, later in the evening. The glass workers would offer the warmth of the glass factory. They would demonstrate the art of glassblowing, and they would have a nice selection of previously made wares available specifically for the visitors as a way to earn a few extra dollars. The factory may have normally made window glass panes or some type of bottles, but for these nights, the workers would work on their own time on evenings and Saturdays to make items that the sleigh visitors would not be able to resist buying. It was really great to be able to buy a nice souvenir of the evening, such as a glass pitcher, vase or bowl, decorated with the lily pad type decoration or a noise maker. These were items not usually available and included pitchers, bowls, vases, drinking glasses, balls, horns, canes, hats, chains, candlesticks, baskets, and glass animals. The ladies of the party were generally responsible for getting the glass souvenirs home safely.

That the sleigh parties to glass factories were somewhat of a cultural social occasion or an early South Jersey tradition is indicated by notes from Howard Kembleís Glass Notes. On a special night in Clementon, music would be available for the sleigh parties to dance. The music must have been quite invigorating as evidenced by a note in Samuel Mickleís Diary that on January 22, 1812, that "Trial Westcott deceased last night at the dance at Clements Glass Works" in Clementon, NJ.

The winter pastime of sleigh rides included trips from Salem to the glass factories in Glassboro in the early 19th century as attested to by the essays of some school children in Salem. The sleigh rides from Salem are mentioned for 1820 and 1832 in these school essays now in the possession of the Salem County Historical Society. There is also mention of these Salem sleigh parties in the diary of Harriet Van Meter Cone as late as 1835 also found at the Salem County Historical Society. Sleigh parties from other towns went to the glass factory in Clementon as noted by Howard R. Kemble in his glass notes accumulated from newspaper articles. The evening was generally the same, a good meal with some warming cider, and then to the warmth of the glass factory for a good time and a few glass items to take home. There has also been mention of a tavern in Mullica Hill serving a fine meal to the sleigh partiers. The glass factory in Malaga was also frequented by sleigh parties, along with the James Lee Glass Works in Millville, which eventually became the Whitall Tatum & Company. The James Lee factory was visited by sleigh parties from Bridgeton as early as 1806.

With the documentation of the sleigh parties from 1806 to 1835, the thought has to be entertained of just when this winter pastime might have begun. The residents of Salem so enjoyed the winter sleigh rides to the glass factory, that they would travel thirty some miles one way to participate in this winter pastime. It would seem that maybe the Salem residents did not always have to travel such a distance in years past. There has been growing evidence of various non-production items having been made at the Wistarburgh Glass Works, which was less than ten miles from Salem. This would have been a very convenient and comfortable distance for the city bound residents to venture, on what may have been, the original sleigh parties, and there was a tavern in Thompsonís Bridge (Alloway) for a good meal. The residents of the area were familiar with the glass factory, where they would sometimes meet for winter meetings and there is even records of church services being held at the glass works. The glass factory was the largest, most comfortable place for a group to meet in the winter, which was always warm when the furnaces were fired.

There is evidence of horns, whistles, animal bottles, mugs, candle sticks, decorative sugar bowls, sweetmeat baskets, wide mouth bowls, powder horns, etc. as having been made at the Wistarburgh Glass Works. This is substantiated by artifacts found at the glass factory site in archeological digs over the last 6 years that indicate that these non-bottle items were made at the factory. There is a mouthpiece of a horn, ribbon used for filigree decoration, tube from a horn, thumb rests from mugs, etc. There are two main opportunities in history to observe the products offered by the Wistarburgh Glass Works. The "Will" of Casper Wistar lists everything in the inventory of the glass factory in 1752. There is no indication of any of the above mentioned items in this inventory. The products of the glass factory were various bottles and window panes. And then, in 1769, Richard Wistar placed advertisements of the products of the glass factory which mentions various types of bottles and window panes. There is, again, no mention of the whimsical and domestic type items. From this, one must consider that these items may have been made in preparation for the winter pastime of sleigh parties visiting the glass factory. This South Jersey winter tradition may well have started with the Wistarburgh Glass Works in the mid 18th century, where city folks that could afford this glass, could have an enjoyable evening out. Although there is presently no documentation of these sleigh parties visiting the Wistarburgh Glass Works, it would help explain why so many whimsical and domestic items were made at the glass factory, which were not part of the factory production.

The colors of these items mentioned above can range from a light olive green to a soft emerald aqua to the normal green aqua to a yellow aqua to a light blue and finally to a colorless glass. It is quite a range of colors that have been found at the glass factory site and the range of colors that would normally be considered aqua is large due to the slight hues of yellows and greens. There can also be items in amber and a darker olive green. Such a range of colors may have been intentional for these non-production items, making them more attractive than the standard window pane or bottle colors. What better way to entice the sleigh party participants to make a purchase than to offer these unusual items in various pleasing colors.

It is a fact that the Wistarburgh Glass Factory made various types of tableware and whimsical items not ever advertised as wares for sale. Whether they felt there was not a sufficient market, or whether they were concerned that the watchful eyes of England were upon them, they didnít have official sales. At the time it was unlawful to manufacture items in competition with England. The window panes and bottles were easier to disguise as being imports.

You may agree or disagree with my thoughts presented here.  Please email me if you wish at mountainmonster@mountain.net

 

( NOTES )

 

Some of the whimsical and domestic type items mentioned from Wistarburgh have family attributions, while some have original notes attached. Others can be attributed by comparison of artifacts found at the site. Some items are felt to be authentic by chemical analyses. The decoration that probably is not from Wistarburgh origin, is referred to as white Nailsea looping. To date, no opaque white melt glass artifacts have been found at the Wistar site. This type of decoration is now referred to as an early South Jersey style, which probably started in the early 19th century or possibly it could have started at the glass factory in Glassboro in the 1780ís. Wistarburgh operated from 1739 to 1781 and doesnít seem to have made white opaque (milk glass) type glass.

THE FOLLOWING EXAMPLES CAN BE FOUND AT ONE OF SEVERAL MUSEUMS OR IN PRIVATE COLLECTIONS.   MUSEUMS OWNING WISTARBURGH EXAMPLES INCLUDE CORNING MUSEUM, WINTERTHUR MUSEUM, PHILA. MUSEUM OF ART, NJ STATE MUSEUM IN TRENTON, WHEATON VILLAGE, and THE NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART.

MUGS

The mugs are very distinctive having a straight side, and usually having thin threading around the outside. Some have a ribbed handle with a thumb rest. These handles usually had 3 or 4 ribs the entire length. Another style has the body threading and a hollow handle.

 

 

SUGAR BOWLS

The sugar bowls usually have handles made of a glass rod and turned up where attached at the bottom. These were first attached at the top when made. There were sometimes pinched extensions added for decoration. The sugar bowls always had a cover which was adorned with some type of finial. It may have been two disks with a ball on top (each disk or ball of smaller diameter as it went up) or this same type of finial may have had round pinched extensions added to make it easier to lift the lid. Some cover finials may have looked like birds, roosters or swans. The lid was generally made to fit inside of the bowl lip. The bowl seems to always have an applied foot.

 

 

PITCHERS AND CREAMERS

The pitchers were wide bodied, sometimes tapered, with a narrowing neck and a flared lip. There was thin threading around the neck of some examples. Some had an ear shaped handle attached at the top first while others had the mug style thumb rest handle. The lip had a spout opposite the handle. The creamers had a thinner profile and were smaller than the pitchers.

 

 

CANDLESTICKS AND TAPERSTICKS

The bodies of these sticks were hollow with a nice bold baluster form. They may have a handle and a drip pan. Some have pincered rigaree around the body. Others are quite plain. They had a broad flat cone type base.

 

 

HORNS

The horns may have been looped with a 4 or 5 inch flared opening. They were wrapped with a thin threading for decoration. They also could be the long style of a bugle.

 

 

POCKET BOTTLES

These are rather flat bottles to be carried in the pocket. They may have pincered rigaree down the ends for decoration.   These bottles are less than 1.5 inches thick.

 

 

POWDER HORNS

The powder horns had a flat profile to fit into a pocket. They were sealed at the large end. They were curved and tapered to a cork size opening. Some had thin threading around the neck, and pincered rigaree down the sides.

 

 

ANIMALS

The dog shaped vessels or bottles had an opening at the end of the tail, which is turned upwards. Sometimes there is an opening at the head end also. These animals were hollow, and are referred to as vessels or bottles. Some have been called cows. Some legs are hollow while others are solid glass. There is also a bird form animal.

 

 

SWEETMEAT BASKETS

This handled basket had a rod handle adorned with a bird finial on top. It is less than 6 inches tall. It has a crimped rim and an applied foot.     Other examples don't have the bird finial, but the usually have some type of handle.

 

 

BOWLS

There are several types of bowls, a wide mouth and a flared mouth. The flared mouth type are somewhat shallow and have a folded rim or lip and are sometimes called milk bowls. The wide mouth bowl also has a folded rim and is sometimes called a storage jar.   It is thought that a glass ball was sometimes used to cover bowls or pitchers to keep flies and bugs out.

 

 

ARTIFACTS FOUND

These artifacts were found at the site of the Wistarburgh Glass Works including at several archeological digs between 1998 and 2002.

>Sugar bowl handle rods

>Folded bowl lips & Horn tubing

>Sugar bowl cover finials

>Sugar bowl base or foot

>Pincered tabs & Twisted cane ends & Ribbed mug handles

>Threaded mug walls

>Ribbed sugar bowl or pocket flask walls

>Quilled ribbons & Horn mouthpiece

 

>Hollow mug handles



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