Visit to Smethwick Heritage Centre for Chance Brothers display
Further to Bernard's earlier thread
on Chance Brothers Glass, the following may be of interest.
Located right next to Smethwick Council Offices, the Heritage Centre is located within the converted Lodge in Victoria Park.
As can be appreciated, the displays cover all aspects of Smethwick’s industrial and social history and due to space constraints, the amount of glass on show is relatively small and confined to one cabinet. However, the items on display were of great interest, including two industrial pieces; a large (approx. 6” diameter) red ‘reflector’ with a circular deep-cut prism, and an off-cut from the lens used at Lizard Point lighthouse! Not sure what the reflector was used for (like a massive brake light), but it would an excellent dish.
At this stage I would like to offer my thanks to Dr. Delia Garrett, the Curator, and her colleague who kindly allowed me to take photographs. While I’m not allowed to publish these without permission, if this is granted I will post the news on this topic thread. Delia was very informed on Chance Brothers and I have also encouraged her to join in this topic.
Some of the photographs were, in any event, slightly blurred due to having to take them without flash — taking clear glass, on clear glass shelves, with clear glass in the background and through a clear glass window does not lend itself to good photography. On top of this the display revolves, so I think you get the picture (or not, as the case may be!) :? The good news is that I have a more advanced camera with manual control so, if allowed, I will revisit and take a tripod…
On a better note, Delia did show me two of the only books on Chance Brothers:1. A History of the Firm of Chance Brothers & Co. Glass and Alkali Manufacturers
, first published c.1919 – I believe this is mentioned in the other Chance thread.2. Mirror for Chance
Both titles are out of print, but it might be possible to obtain copies through an online bookseller. The former was probably of limited interest (to me), as I don’t believe art glass or glassware was produced by Chance until after WWII – I beg to be corrected here.
The second, though, contained some fascinating photographs of glass production at Chance Brothers in the 1950s and included a short chapter on Tableware including, of course, Fiestaware. A pity this particular topic wasn’t covered in more depth, but some of the industrial photos were amazing, such as one worker spinning a very thin, 4 foot (1.3m) diameter “microscope cover glass”* on the end of what appears to be a pontil rod! Gulp! :shock:
* I think this is the glass used in microscope slides, so that should give you an idea. The spinning action stretches the glass to become ultra-thin prior to being spliced.
Additionally, Delia very kindly photocopied a list comprising 15 pages of the Centre’s entire Chance Glass collection (most in storage and about 500 pieces I believe). I have also been offered the chance to come back out of season when the Centre is closed, to view the remaining stock: needless to say I will certainly follow this up.
On a historical end point, Chance Bros. ceased production in 1981 after 150 years of glass-making production and the rights to produce Fiestaware was bought by Mr. Michael Joseph who continued making art glass and glassware using the same techniques pioneered by Chance. The company has now passed to his sons who have renamed it ‘Joseph Joseph’ (reminiscent of John Walsh Walsh!) and glassware can still be bought today, some looking quite similar to Fiesta, from various outlets. It is noticeable that these later pieces are much thicker: no doubt a result of Health & Safety!
Any questions, please just ask.