A piece of Nova Scotia glassware, perhaps a goblet or a bowl, often sold for less than a dollar at the turn of the century; today those same pieces of old glassware have increased in value a hundredfold and more.
It has been more than 100 years since glassware was first manufactured in Nova Scotia and this alone explains why the old collectible pieces have increased so much in value. In their glass collection, for example, Gerald and Roberta Bishop of Coldbrook have a Nova Scotia starflower compote – a glass bowl supported on a stem – that was passed on by a grandparent. At least 100 years old, the compote originally sold for no more than a few dollars; in 1993 the compote was listed in a Canadian antique catalogue at $130 to $140.
Before the turn of the century, there were three major glassware manufacturers operating in the province, all in the same area. In these factories, hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass products, such as chimney lamps, tumblers, goblets, bottles, etc., were turned out by skilled craftsmen.
In 1881 the Nova Scotia Glass Company opened a factory employing over 100 men and boys in Pictou County at Trenton. Lamp chimneys, lantern globes (this was, after all, the age of the kerosene lamp) and pressed tableware were among the first items produced by the Company. By 1886 Nova Scotia Glass was producing the crystalware and other pressed glass tableware that is eagerly sought today by collectors.
By 1892 the Nova Scotia Glass Company was out of business but other firms had taken up the manufacture of glassware products. In 1890 the Lamont Brothers opened a factory near the site of the Nova Scotia Glass Company, producing an assortment of glassware, bottles, jars and so on. The Lamont Glass Company operated for less than a decade.
In 1890 the Humphrey Glass Company began operations, also near the site of the Nova Scotia Glass Company, and soon became the leading bottle manufacturer in the province. Besides bottles, Humphreys produced an assortment of lamps, fruit jars, glass rolling pins and fly traps.
In a period when spirits and patent medicines flowed freely, whiskey flasks and medicine bottles were Humphreys’ specialties. Humphreys also made bottles for what at one time was the best selling patent medicine in Canada, Minards Liniment. Old records indicate that Minards may have been one of Humphreys largest customer since they usually ordered 300,000 bottles at a time.
The Humphrey Glass Company ceased operations in Nova Scotia in 1917 and moved to New Brunswick. Thus we have a period of nearly 40 years between the time the Nova Scotia Glass Company began producing and Humphreys moved out. It is the glassware produced in this period that is prized and eagerly sought by collectors. However, if you’re new to the collecting game, specializing in Nova Scotia glassware may become frustrating. Parkway Antiques is a Kentville firm that often handles estates and collections. Parkway’s proprietor Wilfred McPhee says that while there may be a lot of the old Nova Scotia glassware around, he rarely comes across it in his business. “We haven’t had a lot of it ever,” McPhee says, intimating that while there are serious collectors, there isn’t much trafficking in the glassware.
If you’re interested in old Nova Scotia glassware, an excellent collection is now on display at the Old Kings Courthouse Museum in Kentville. The “glass from the past” exhibit will be in the museum until April.