HENS ON NEST
by Harry McGee
††††††††† The following is the text of an address given to Glasfax in Aylmer, Ontario, on Sunday, June 8, 2003, and the images shown are those of the glass pieces shown that day. These have been supplemented by other photos of pieces in the collection of the writer.
††††††††† This lecture would not be happening today if it had not been suggested and aided by two people in this learned society. I thank Carl Hearn for suggesting the topic after he saw the collection of hens in our home and I thank Sid Lethbridge, our director, for producing a transcript from the internet of a remarkable opus† by Shirley Smith of Charleston, West Virginia, © 2002 - it was invaluable in identifying the pieces my wife and I had collected over many years.
††††††††† As you know, Joyce led me into collecting glass, simply because I accompanied her to so many antique shows. It was impossible not to be intrigued by things you saw there. You also know that we have only collected things we considered both interesting and pleasing to the senses. I found hens not only interesting but I am even sentimental about them. This dates back some 75 years to when (as a pre-school kid) I had a bantam hen. I had the responsibility to take care of the little Ďbantyí hen that had a large brood of chicks ‒ the tiniest atoms of life to run around lively even though a spear of grass would upset one. Without siblings at that stage or neighbours close by, I spent hours alone learning valuable life lessons from observing the mother hen call her chicks to some bit of food or alerting them to some danger at which they would streak to her and dive for cover. I had to make sure they were into their coop at twilight safe from enemies. And I still feel warm and fuzzy at the memory of how the fuzz-bits disappeared under her wings for the night (tucked up to sleep in a warm feather bed). The idea of sheltering wings is as old as scripture, and the concept speaks a universal language.
††††††††† I was already an expert on hens when I started school and was introduced to the old red readers that every kid in Ontario studied in the thirties. The very first reading lesson in Primer Class was titled The Little Red Hen! It taught kids the notion of helping others when asked and also the work ethic ‒ work or else starve. Like all the items selected for that reader, it was highly moralistic. I consulted those books before this lecture and found other hen stories such as Henny Penny (who thought the sky was falling), Advice (which cured kids who thought they knew everything), and The Queer Little House (English was still English, and the queer little house was a mother hen who moved away by day and the children ran after it happy and gay). I cannot help but believe those old red readers represented a strong stabilizing influence in building youth, and I think this every time I hear yet another incident of youth crime. [Following the meeting, Norm Thompson asked to borrow all my red readers because he too still felt a sentimental pull.]
††††††††† You might even conclude that there was a cult around hens. Hens were represented as being nurturing, maybe a little worrying too. Overall they were considered wise ‒ although not in the same way as owls. †For my generation at least, it explains the attraction between collectors and hens on nest.
††††††††† I must confess that this presentation is not about Canadian glass. No hens on nest were made in Canada. But they were certainly commonplace in Canadian homes, either purchased for their contents such as mustard or soap eggs, or received as premiums in commodities such as soap flakes. They were made in five or six countries as follows:
(1) France. Vallerysthal has been a glass producing centre since1470. It was established in Lorraine in the early 1700s. It combined with Portieux in 1854, but split when Alsace-Lorraine became German in 1870. However they rejoined in 1872 and they produced art glass until 1898. It is believed hens were produced in the 1930s and they were copied widely by Asian imports and by Wright in the USA.
(2) England: Sowerby Glass produced glass since 1807. It was established in Gateshead-on-Tyne. They produced Carnival hens in 1927 until 1937 and again in the 1960s. In 1972 they moved to the south of England under new management, Suntex Safety Glass Institute.
(3) Germany: Hofbauer Glass Company was located in Bavaria, Upper Pfalz. Hens were produced here between 1969 and 1976.
(4) Poland: Not much is known apart from the XXX mark and that it is not the same as Czech Bohemian Glass.
(5) United States: There were many companies located in the Eastern US Ohio River Valley. You are very knowledgeable about all these glass manufacturers that began, failed, merged, revived, transformed, etc. I am only marginally interested in their complicated machinations and destinies.
What I find surprising is what some mould makers thought a hen looked like. I realize they had to make some concessions to the limits of their technology, but some of their trade-offs were funny or even weird. In some cases, they replaced the henís tail with a flat paddle. Some paddles had three feathers and others had five feathers. Occasionally you will see the henís wattles on the underside of the beak. What I find no excuse for is the representation of a hen with a comb and wattles so large that any farm boy knows it is a rooster. And since when have roosters taken to setting on nests? That is really absurd. Equally absurd is a hen with a wig. Yet you will find these goofs in the average collection. I am not thinking of the cases where the object is not a hen at all but rather a bird or turkey or animal. They do not belong in a collection of hens on nest.
Here is an array of trŤs petite hens on nest as well as four petite ones.† All of them have paddle tails. The great variety of colours makes collecting enjoyable. The wee blue one was a wedding anniversary gift from our younger son and presented in the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg. The clear frosted petite hen has gone to sleep and may be seen nodding ‒ head straight ahead. Her paddle tail has four feathers and she has striated neck feathers. Her nest has a smooth rim and the pattern is diamond basket weave. She was made by L.E. Smith Glass Co. of Mount Pleasant, PA. Mr. Smith founded the company in 1907 and he needed her as a container for the mustard he sold.
This grouping of mid-sized hens has some interesting characters in it. The biggest piece at the back is unusual for having the hen and its base integral ‒ one piece. Presumably its contents were retained by a cardboard cover glued to the bottom. Its tail is a thick paddle and it was made by J.H. Millstein of Jeannette, PA. The amber hen has the same appearance as the white one near it but the amber seems better defined in every aspect. It was made in Poland. Its head is turned to the right and its tail is V-shaped. The nest has a scalloped rim and has a triple X pattern on the bottom. The white milk glass hen on the right of the Polish hen has a red painted comb, eye and wattle (misplaced under its beak). It has a thin five-feather paddle tail, neck scored, and a long pointed beak. The nest has a cross-hatched diamond design with a smooth rim. There is evidence of a circle impressed on its back. It is attributed to Hazel-Atlas. The hen on the right is also attributed to Hazel-Atlas about 1930. But it has a completely different shape: a cloak of neck feathers, stubby tail, back feathers flow with evidence of an impressed circle. However the nest is the same as the one nearest.
The next group comprises large pieces. I consider them jokers. Look at the one on the left. Notice the length of the wattles and the size of the comb. The mould maker was looking at a rooster when he fashioned that one. And he had never ever visited a farm. Thatís Rory, not Betty. Right down to the flowing tail. With head straight forward, it is made of milk glass with blue milk glass head. Creator: Westmoreland, Rosso. The nest was trimmed with gold. The other three all have wigs. Iíve never seen hens like that. They all have heads turned to the left and V-shaped tails composed of five to seven feathers.† The all-white one sets on a basket weave† nest and is attributed to Vallerysthal, France, or possibly Fenton. The blue glass has a diamond band around the nest and a wide cross stretched across the bottom. It was made by Westmoreland in 1925. The pink one has a woven basket nest with a wide stand-up scallop edge on its nest.
The last group assembles very big pieces. The clear teal glass piece at the rear is a cookie jar. The jar is made of basket weave with rope around top and bottom. The hen has four lobes in the comb, big head turned to left, squint eyes, short back and V-shaped tail completely filled. The centre front clear piece may be Indiana. It has streaked frosting on its nest with a plain rim. The hen has a five feather paddle tail. The head is straight ahead and the wings are well marked. There is an impressed circle on its back. The amber piece on the left is much the same except it has an elaborate nest, with a beautifully beaded rim. The blue milk glass piece on the right has been carelessly moulded leaving the mould marks clearly evident.
At one time as the collection was growing, it was located on top of our kitchen refrigerator. My younger brother came to visit with his wife and he spotted the hens. He went over to the fridge and stood there really close for a good five minutes ‒ eye level with them ‒ and his smile grew and grew. Didnít say anything. Didnít have to.† It is engraved on my memory.