Thursday, January 28, 2010
On a fine winter day about four or five years ago, I was standing in the sunlit front entry of our home looking at a display cabinet containing some special floats. One of the floats caught my eye in a way that made me want to pick it up and look closely at it. That float is a beautiful aquamarine blue ball with the letter VG embossed onto the seal, and it is completely covered in the "whittle look," caused by pouring molten glass into a cold mold.
I held the float up to the bright light coming in through the front storm door, and looking it over from top to bottom. I suddenly realized that there was something that appeared to be worn lettering within the whittle effect on the surface of the float's glass. My eyes weren't deceiving me. There were letters there, in the form of wording on both sides of the glass, and each side had different lettering.
Excitedly, Nancy and I began diciphering each letter, one at a time, until we came up with the words:
VIDRIERIAS DEL GUADALETE SA on one side of the float, and
PUERTO STA MARIA ESPANA on the opposite side of the float.
Vidrierias del Guadalete translated means glazing or glass things of the Guadalete, and
Puerto Sta Maria Espana means Spanish port or bay Sta Maria
I was so excited to have discovered this, and wondered if anyone else had one of these floats? Euro collectors were few and far between at that time. I stashed that piece of information away for my future book. A couple of years later, Greg of Gregsboat1 fame, won an Ebay auction for the second example of that float that I had seen. After urging Greg to go for the float, then seeing him emerge the winner of the auction, I wrote to tell Greg what I had found on the side of my float, and to be on the lookout for the writing on the sides of the ball. After receiving it, Greg wrote back to tell me that his float also had the writing.
A year or so passed, then another example of the float turned up from an Ebay seller living in France. By that time, there were a few others collecting Euros, and a year later, there were more Euro collectors getting into the game. A pair of VG's were auctioned by one seller. One of them was different. It had the VG letters on the seal, but there was also a cross, similar to the molding that divides a window into four panes. I wanted to win that one, but came up short.
Tonight, a photo of that float was pointed out to me in an email from Todd. Todd asked if I had seen the new information on Roger and Maria's site: www.norwayfloat.com. Roger had told me that he was preparing new information about the Shamrock embossed float. I looked for it, but didn't see it. After reading Todd's email, I immediately went to Roger and Maria's site. Not only is there new information about the possible maker of the Shamrock marked float, but also a very nice piece about the VG float, and a great photo of a VG embossing. That photo was copied and pasted to this post from Roger and Maria's site, for a comparison between the two markings.
The maker's marking on that float is decidedly different, and really beautiful. Not only is there a cross dividing the seal into 4-parts, but also the letters, "PO," over the VG, and "St. Maria," embossed below the VG. What a great mark. That float resides in Todd, the "Norsknailpounder's" collection.
The other day I received the following email from Greg:
If you recall, we had a conversation about "VG" floats a couple of years ago; and after some research, I had one of my biggest "eureka" moments ever-regarding floats.
When I purchased this float you asked me if there were any SOG (side of the glass) markings.
If you had not asked me this, I would probably not have even noticed but, it clearly says:
VIDRIERIAS DEL GUADALETE SA (on one side and)
PUERTO STA MARIA ESPANA (on the other side)
Per your translation, the top line means "Glass things of the Guadalete."
From my research, the Guadalete is a river in southern Spain and PUERTO [Santa] MARIA ESPANA, is a fishing village near Cadiz.
I know there was some controversy regarding the country of origin of these floats but, I think our collaboration should now put this question to rest.
Thank you again for all of your help.
Detective work is paying off, and excellent sharing between collectors is too. To continue in the sharing vein, I want to post another tidbit. This one from the "float collector extraordinaire."
Found some new bits of pieces of information recently:
- The first floats in Norway looked like a bottle with a neck
(like the rare light blue I have in my collection), but they were difficult to use and many lost;
A photo of the float that Olaf mentions above, can be found on the last post written to this blog.
- Norway exported glass floats to Sweden and England
(F floats - Made in Norway - for export);
- cork was bought from Portugal (before glass floats were used);
- Bergen glasss works (B) - produced 4",4.5" and 5" only in 1894;
- in 1950 Flesland (F) produced 750.000 glas floats alone,
and they were blown in a form.
- Holmen Glassworks (1813-1840) markt their glass floats with HOLMEN?
I have never seen or heard of such info before. (written in a book)
Holmen may have merged with Aasnæs in 1840, and it is more likely they markt their floats with an H (the large aqua H).
I wrote back commenting on my theory that the first floats may have been Dog Floats made in Sweden, and perhaps Olaf's findings were supportive of that thought? Norway hired Swedish glassblowers to work in the first glassverks, and to teach the craft to Norwegian workers. Still a mystery to be solved conclusively.
Continuing on with bits of float info:
In the first post about the Hovik Knobbed Eggs, there is mention of finding a reference to Vallo Glassverks showing glass fishing floats at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878. Per Einar asked in a comment for more information about the Vallo Glassverks. An email reply stated that I had not found anything in my research about Vallo concerning floats, other than what Vebjorn had written on his site. Two days later, Per emailed me with the following research he had been doing:
Here is some info from Vallø:
The main productions were bottles for the beer industry and drug-store glass
In autumn 1875, the production was started at Vallø Glass Works. It was an industrial-adventure that would last for 4 years.
The man most closely linked to the creation of Vallø Glasswork was the son of
a wealthy financier in Christiania, who also had a solid education. He was
named, Ernest Christopher Frølich (born 1836). He was a businessman. He lived his life in Vallø, or value-which showed that he belonged to the upper society. He titled himself "the squire," and lived on Vallø Manor, as he called it. Here he held large parties for Christianiasosieteten, or society from Oslo.
Frølich had lived in England during his youth, and had acquired many contacts including the king. In 1874, he had settled on Vallø with his wife Sara Victoria Jacobsen and 6 children. Frølich was attracted by the opportunities given to those who would establish a new business in Norway. According to his calculations the best prospect of a good financial result was a glassworks.
In the years between 1860-70, there was a tremendous increase in the brewery industry in Norway, and there was a constant shortage of bottles. Imports of luxury goods increased significantly, including wine in bottles. The supply of capital was also higher, because of the charters of the first Norwegian commercial banks, and foreign investors were looking at the possibilities by investing in Norway.
Ernest Frølich's calculations showed potential for good profits, and he knew that investors were looking to invest. He estimated an annual production of 3.6 million bottles, selling for the price of 15 cents each. This would provide income of 540,000 dollars per month. A dividend of 55% per month per year for the shareholders.
On 18. April 1874, this share allocation was adopted by the General Assembly: The share capital of NOK 240,000 was to be divided into 96 shares, each costing 2500 kroner. The major stakeholders were Frølich, pharmacy owner Wedel Jarlsberg, and
brewery-owners M. Langaard and IH Schwensen. In total there were 37 shareholders, and Frølich was president.
There were many reasons why Frølich selected Vallø as the location for the glassworks. Calculations were made based on bottle beer production, and Vallø appeared to be the geographic center of the large eastern beer breweries. At the sametime it was a good ice-free port, and with excellent business ties both inland and abroad. Only ten years before, an excellent salt mill operated there, and its large buildings were available. The site had a dock, which would also facilitate the investment.
Moreover, Frølich received a contract for rental of the old workers' homes on the site of the salt mill. There was only minimal investment required. Cheap fuel from the nearby forests was also a part of the equation.
In order to initiate a glassworks Frølich was dependent on skilled labor. There was a shortage of glassworkers in Norway, and most of the glass-factory workers were obtained from Sweden. When the "glassverket" were started in 1875, there was the following workforce: 20 glasspustere, 26 innbæringsgutter
(child labor was banned in 1892), 2 oppleggere, 1 smelter, 2 Laboratory, 2
glassildere, 1 coal rolls, 2 bricklayers with 1 henchmen, 2 smiths with 2 assistants, 1 engineer with 3 assistants, 1
run, 1 flaskevraker, 3 pack wives, 2 dagarbeidere, 1 carpenter and 1
gateway. There was a total of 78 workers and 2 office workers. To ensure a supply of child workers (innbæringsgutter), a separate school was built. The teacher was also the plant's bookkeeper.
As time went on it became difficult to retain their labor force because of the demand for workers in the emerging business climate. Workers would leave for a better offer. An agreement was reached between the glassworks on a common wage. A number of workers from Sweden were employed. He offered them a house to live in with one room and a kitchen, and each of them had a piece of land as well as free fuel and a salary equal to the prevailing wages. The salary was paid every 14 days. Breakage was deducted from the salary. The work was hard, and the hours had to be flexible. A good glassblåser or glassblowere could earn the salary of 150 kroner a month, and the glasshouse master earned about 200 kroner.
The property Frølich had taken over, contained a number of buildings and the
quay. Before the glassverket could be initiated, it was necessary to repair and reconstruct the existing buildings as a glassverk. To do the reconstruction of the smelting furnaces there was a need for a large quantity of bricks, which were produced on site.
The Grain magazine found on the property later came to be called the "workshop building," and here was a crushing yard with steam, a drying plant for the smelting furnace and storage space for raw materials.
The "melt" or the "cabin" was built from scratch. Here, the melting of the glass and the blowing took place. There were 2 melting furnaces, ovens and 8 ovens where the finished products were slowly cooled. Later, a third furnace was added. Also, a forge and a new office building were erected.
In August 1875, production was initiated. Raw materials for bottle production were purchased. Brown stone, melkalk, Fluorite, broken glass, straw, coal, sand, soda ash and peat were the raw materials for bottle production. From August 1875 to April 1876, the average production was 4716 bottles a day. This increased to 5,436 bottles. The top production occurred in 1878 with 7000 bottles per well. Despite the large production, product quality was maintained.
Eventhough the product was good, it was difficult to sell, and large parts of the production was held in stock. In December 1878, there was a stock of 849,84 bottles. The calculations Frølich had made, proved to be very optimistic. When the calculations were made, business was booming. When the glassverket initiated production, there was a strong economy. Although production went as planned, and Vallo Glasverks won the silver and bronze medal at the World Exposition in Paris in 1878, it was difficult to sell the bottles.
In his calculation had Frølich estimated a sale price of 35 SPD. pr. 1000 bottles (15cents apiece), but by 1876, the price had fallen to almost half, 19 SPD. per thousand. The price competition between the Norwegian glass works continued, even after they had tried to reach agreement on a common price. Although production of Vallø went very well, the first accounting showed a deficit.
Profits to the shareholders went down, and the situation worsened steadily. There were major disagreements within the board, particularly between Frølich and Ditten pharmacies, which culminated in a fight about the protocol on the board of directors during the meeting of 4 juli 1879.
During summer and autumn of 1879, it was increasingly clear that the work could not keep going, and on 16 September it was acknowledged that Mon was bankrupt, and Vallø Glass Works was left in the hands of the bankruptcy court. The cause for bankruptcy was the lack of sales, falling prices, large debt obligations and no credit.
Vallø Glass Verks bankruptcy can largely be said to be a result of the
economic downturn in Norway in the 1870's.
Thanks to Per's research in Norway, we now have the Vallo story. It's a story that was replayed over and over again in the glass industry. While the individual glassworks' histories contain differences, the outcome was the same. In most cases, glassworks lasted for only short periods of time. The glassworks that lasted more that 5-10 years were an exception. There is no mention of float production in the Vallo records, but thanks to the listing of Vallo floats in the 1878 Paris show, and Vebjorn's great Vallo float find, we do know the company produced glass fishing floats. How many still exist?
While researching, found a new site about the Aasnaes Glasverks. There is an excellent history of the glassworks, and a terrific photo showing a float next to a two float mold used for shaping floats as they were blown into it. The mold appears to have been for two sizes of floats. It's great to finally find evidence of a float mold. According to Frank Wheaton of Wheaton Glass, all of the old molds, embossing tools and records were either recycled or thrown away. Once the orders were filled, and there was no more use for the molds, they took up space so were trashed. Once the sales records were filed for taxes, and the time needed to keep them as proof had expired, they too were destroyed. Anything that has survived is a blessing.
One last tidbit, I've found a great site with the patent from one of the major American glassworks which produced glass floats, and will be doing a post about the patent and the company. The idea to write about that company has been in my head for many years, and I'm looking forward to finally putting all of the research down on paper.
During the last year, I've been researching, and studying the 1800 to 1950 North American fishing history. I'm having a tough time pulling myself away from the reading and researching in order to write. Bear with me. The business is calling, and I've been taking advantage of sunny winter days with temperatures in the 40's, to do much of the start up plant work. There's still the books and taxes to do, and some final ordering of supplies. In the current economic climate, I'm doing everything possible to survive and prosper.
I would like to leave the readers with one thought, if you have not visited the site, try to remember to find a bit of time, and go to www.norwayfloat.com. You will be amazed at the wonderful float photos, the site's inspired layout and the great wealth of research that Roger and Maria have been doing.
Thank you Roger and Maria for allowing me to use the photo of Todd's beautiful float from your website.
If you enlarge the top float photo by left clicking on it, you will see a bit of the writing on the side of the VG float.
Friday, January 15, 2010
This morning I received the following email from Olaf:
Your AT has already arrived - today.
It is perfect, I liked it very much.
Wondering where to put it in the collection - together with the LT ??
German or British ? Difficult to say.
Hope you get the small Hovik soon,
and that you are as happy as I am for the trade.
all the best
Quickly took a few moments to write back that I was glad that Olaf received the float, and that he was happy with it. Also, thought that the float might have been German-made, but there was no way to know for certain. The look of the glass, together with the striations reminded me of no glass floats other than German-made. Yet, the color was atypical German glassfloat coloring. It appears colorless until held to a light. The glass then captures a light aqua blue along the edges. It's a beautiful float.
Later this morning, I heard the mail truck go by. Checked the front porch, and there were two boxes. One box held a fine old research book: PARIS UNIVERSAL EXPOSITION 1878 vol 5 REPORTS of the UNITED STATES COMMISSIONERS Washington 1880.
The book was found on an Ebay auction. I had to try for it. The old exposition literature often has excellent glass float history of the makers and sellers. The auction description listed drawings of Norwegian fishing boats. So far, I have not gotten into the book in depth, but plan to do so right away.
The second box was from Olaf. The box was cold. I did not want to take any chances, so let the glass acclimate to the indoor temperatures before opening the box. Finally, as the afternoon sun filtered through the south-facing window of my float room, I opened the box, to find another box. Good Olaf. He double boxed the float. If you want to make certain that a float will not be damaged in transit, request that the float be well-wrapped inside of one box, then inserted into another with padding on all four sides. No problems with receiving a broken float when packed that way.
Before opening either box, I started taking floatos. I love to have a floato record in my files of the opening. Cut open the taping on box #2 to find the float was wrapped in bubble wrap. Began to carefully cut the tape, and even though the float was securely wrapped, hoped that I would not find it in a 100 pieces. As I unwrapped it, the bundle got smaller and smaller, until the wrap was fully opened, and there in the palm of my hand was the smallest Knobbed Egg that I've ever seen. Even the smallest Japanese rollers are much larger that that little beauty.
Must have taken 20 pics. Above are some of them. Hope that you enjoy the comparison of the little one with the other Norwegian float shapes in the collection. During the last two years, thanks to the diligent pursuits of collectors, searchers and sellers, a number of new Euro shapes have come foreward.
I have to take another picture showing the above shapes together with the normal egg float, and the little pontil-marked-applied-neck Swedish floats that David Neff first found two years ago. Are there other shapes to be discovered? The one that Olaf has, which is similar to the plumb bob float in the S.H. Davis patent, is another variation. That is a float that will take a bunch of good fortune to add to the collection. They are super rare. I've included one of Olaf's photos of his example for your pleasure.
Do any of the readers have some favorite floats to share? I would love to show some of your favorites if you will send them to me through my email address.
Later, I wrote Olaf to tell him of the Hovik's arrival, and my happiness. Amazing! Our trade floats were mailed from two different countries, passed eachother during the Atlantic crossing, made it through each country's customs deptartments, turned over to the postal services and were received just about the sametime on the sameday-allowing for the 6-hour time difference. Now that's service!
I've been very fortunate to have shared experiences and collections with so many kind, interesting and passionate float collectors. Fortunate to have so many email friends around the world. And fortunate to have good trading partners, who have expressed their happiness with the trades we've made. Nothing like sharing happiness.
P.S. Had a bit of time to look at the Paris Universal Exposition 1878 book this morning, and found one piece of information that is definitely worth sharing with all of those collectors wanting to know more about the Vallo floats.
In the Norwegian displays there is mention of: an exhibit by Vallo Glass Works of glass floats for fishing nets. The notation is found on page 445.
Now we know that in 1878, Vallo was displaying their floats. Questions come to mind, was Vebjorn's find a display float? Are there other marked Vallo floats still to be found and added to our collections? Did Vallo produce unmarked floats, or floats with markings other than the only known example? What will the future bring in the way of knowledge about the company and their wonderful floats?