This document may be considered the formal announcement of the establishment of a new organization, the JB Higbee International Glass Collectors Association, also known as JBHIGCA. Its mission is to preserve the history and heritage of the JB Higbee Glass Company, a firm that operated in Bridgeville from 1907 to 1918 and produced thousands of pieces of glass tableware that are currently valued as collectibles.
It is the intention of the founders that the Association eventually petition the Bridgeville Area Historical Society (BAHS) for permission to be affiliated with it as a subsidiary organization. The founders currently are members of my extended family, each of whom has an interest in collecting Higbee glass.
The J. B. Higbee Glass Company was the successor to Bryce, Higbee and Company, a joint venture of John B. Higbee and two Bryce brothers, which built a plant in Homestead in 1879. The company prospered until 1907 when a combination of financial problems blamed on Charles Bryce and a disastrous flood that destroyed the plant drove it into receivership.
John B. Higbee’s son Orlando (Ollie) was able to acquire the equipment and moulds that had survived the flood. He incorporated a new company, named it for his deceased father, and decided to locate it in Kirwan Heights in a new industrial complex being developed by the Bridgeville Land Development Company.
The company prospered, producing numerous new patterns with about one hundred different pieces in each pattern until 1918 when Ollie Higbee sold the Bridgeville plant to General Electric. GE produced glass tubing for light bulbs there for nearly a century before closing down.
The current “home” collection at the BAHS History Center is modest, but still impressive. The tableware pieces on display include an “Iris” cake stand, a small “Colonial” bowl, a large “Delta” bowl, a “Fortuna” celery dish, a yellow “alphabet plate”, and two small items whose patterns have not yet been identified – a salt cellar and a toothpick holder. The Society also has two other “Colonial” bowls not yet on display.
The founding members of the Association possess about a dozen more Higbee pieces, including examples of several other patterns. They include a “Madora” salt cellar, a “Gala” celery dish, and two “Laurel” mugs. One of our objectives is to acquire affordable, relevant Higbee pieces, to supplement the home collection for special exhibits.
The Association also hopes to provide support to BAHS related to Higbee Glass by supplying speakers for interested groups and by identifying and authenticating possible Higbee pieces in response to queries. A unique characteristic of J. B. Higbee glassware is its “bumblebee” trademark, which is imprinted at the center of every piece produced in Bridgeville. The letter “H” is embossed on one wing of a bumblebee; “I”, on its body; and “G”, on the other wing. Committed J. B. Higbee collectors insist on examining pieces to confirm authenticity by looking for this trademark.
When the JB Higbee Company was liquidated, sales representative Ira Clarke joined the New Martinsville Glass Manufacturing Company in West Virginia. They purchased numerous moulds and patterns from JB Higbee and produced (minus the trademark) many pieces which are, currently, incorrectly attributed to Higbee. Other major glassworks reproducing Higbee patterns include L. G. Wright Glass Company, Paden City Glass Company, and Mosser Glass, Inc., in Cambridge.
A separate JB Higbee product was a thermos bottle. The idea of using a vacuum-insulated flask to maintain a constant temperature was developed in 1892 by James Dewar, a Scotsman at Cambridge University, as a scientific vessel to store liquefied gases. In 1903 a German glass blower named Reinhold Burger patented a device for everyday use and registered the trademark “Thermos”.
In 1910 and 1911 Oliver Higbee was awarded seven different patents for the design and manufacture of glass “Sanitary Vacuum Bottles” that immediately became a major product line. As a promotional gimmick, they produced and gave away child-sized mugs inscribed “Keeps Hot 24 Hours, Keeps Cold 48 Hours”. Thanks to Dana Spriggs and Mike Oscella, there are two Sanitary Bottles and three promotional mugs in the home collection.
A survey of the JB Higbee glass items recently available for purchase on Ebay identified thirty-eight different pieces, for prices ranging from $5.99 to $70.77. All of these pieces appear to be excellent candidates for collectors; however, their authenticity as JB Higbee products is frequently questionable. Eight of them indicate the presence of the Higbee “bumblebee” trademark. Four others clearly state that they have been produced by other glassworks – “New Martinsville” or “LG Wright”.
We suspect that most of the remaining twenty-six pieces were not produced by JB Higbee. One of the objectives of the Association is to convince these dealers that, to be advertised as authentic JB Higbee pieces, they must have the trademark. Another objective is to help collectors confirm authenticity of items for sale.
An important resource for any collector of Higbee glass is a book entitled “Bryce, Higbee and J. B. Higbee Glass” by Lola and Wayne Higby. Remote relatives of the Higbee family and avid collectors of Higbee glass, the Higbys did extensive research and travel in the 1990s, gathering information for this book. A copy of it is part of the home collection at the BAHS History Center.
Serious and would-be collectors of JB Higbee Glass are encouraged to join this new Association. Annual membership for non-BAHS members is $5.00 (there is no fee for BAHS members). Send a check made out to “Bridgeville Area Historical Society” to JBHIGCA, c/o John Oyler, 92 Youngwood Road, Pittsburgh, PA. 15228. Please provide your postal and email addresses, and information on any Higbee pieces in your collection.
There are numerous good reasons for collecting JB Higbee glass, especially for folks in this area. The existence of the “bumblebee” trademark as a measure of authenticity is the icing on the cake. Welcome aboard!
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