Sowerby glass is a great name to collectors of pressed glass and its items are much sought after. Of all the pressed glass manufacturers in the North-East and Midlands of England, Sowerby is the one with a different approach to their decorative wares.
Sowerby glass produced many ordinary and useful domestic and other wares. However, their adoption of an artistic approach sets them apart from the other manufacturers.
Early Sowerby Glass
Early glass making in Gateshead by George Sowerby seems to have been general articles produced by the older methods used before press-moulding, from 1765 onwards. In the early 1820s he was joined by his son John in the New Stourbridge Works in Pipewellgate, a part of Gateshead.
In 1850 the firm moved to nearby Ellison Road and the Sowerby’s Ellison Glass Works, Ltd. There they had six furnaces with eight “pots” each where the pressing took place in different types of glass.
Sowerby maintained a reputation for ingenuity and testing methods of production until they were perfected. Sowerby glass makers continually looked for improvement in all aspects of the business.
Later Sowerby Glass
John Sowerby died in the 1870s and was succeeded by his son John George Sowerby, who was an artistic man which was important later on. By 1882 the Ellison Glass Works was very large at five and a half acres and 700-1000 employees. They were producing finished goods at the rate of 150 tons per week.
Production methods had moved on greatly so that one man could produce between 1100 and 1200 tumblers in one working day. There were 78 pots of glass in continuous use, each holding between 12-15 hundred weights of glass (600-750 kilos).
26th January 1876 was when John G Sowerby registered the trade mark which collectors always search for on pressed glass articles, the peacock’s head. As they registered many of their glass designs from the 1870s, this trade mark, sometimes along with the registered design mark, is found on many articles.
In 1887 they introduced one of their most visually appealing innovations, vitroporcelain. It looked like porcelain, could be multicoloured right through the material and moulded into complex patterns.
Queen’s Ivory Ware was vitroporcelain with a white ivory like body. It was introduced in 1879 and proved a great success with its classical, clean look. Other colours followed – deep red (rubine), tortoiseshell, aesthetic green, blue and white marbled (sorbini), green and white marbled (malachite) and yellow.
One very characteristic aspect of Sowerby glass wares at this time was the distinctive use of figures on their pieces. These were often taken from well known nursery rhymes. Flower holders in plain colours were produced as table centres and Sowerby and other glass houses produced swan posy holders. Raised designs with painting on the high points was also used.
Sowerby glass continued to innovate which kept their firm in business for much longer than many of their contemporaries.