By James Measell
The glassmaking firm of Burtles, Tate & Co. is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting English firms that manufactured pressed glass novelty items in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, this establishment has received little notice in the various books devoted to pressed glass made in England, so I hope to both summarize what is known and add some information based on my own research.
The company was centered in Manchester, and its initial operations seem to have begun about 1858. At the time, there were several other glass factories in Manchester such as Derbyshire, and Percival, Vickers & Co., and there is reasonably good documentation of their products and histories.
The Pottery and Glass Trades’ Journal for January 1879 records that one of the principals in the firm, perhaps Mr. Richard Burtles, was a skilled glassblower and member of the Flint Glass Workers Friendly Society prior to becoming a partner in the company. As a part owner of the glass company, he had to relinquish his standing in the Society and could not work as a glassblower. However, when the company received an order for items that “required very particular execution … Mr. Burtles determined to make the goods himself rather than trust to any one else.” As a result, “all the men in his employ threw down their tools and walked away.” Fortunately for all concerned, this labor-management matter of dispute was settled within a few days.
Researcher Ray Slack reports that Burtles, Tate & Co. had two separate glass plants in the early 1880s. The factory on Poland Street was probably the main enterprise for colored glass, and the other factory located in Boulton called the Victoria Glass Works was known especially for table glass. The company’s advertising in late 1880 mentions “glass for home and export trade,” so the firm must have had ambitious plans.
In the Pottery Gazette and Glass Trades Review during 1883, the firm advertised a variety of crystal items — pitchers, cream jugs, sugar basins, biscuit jars, covered butter dishes, marmalades, and tumble-ups — with light cut decorations done by copper wheel engraving.
A new factory called the German Street Works was built in the mid-1880s, apparently to replace the Victoria Glass Works facility. Advertising in the Pottery Gazette and Glass Trades Review in 1889 provided these details about the Burtles, Tate firm: “Manufacturers of Flint and Coloured Glass, also Ornamental Fancy Glass [and] Glass Novelties of All Descriptions ….”
In 1891, Burtles, Tate & Co. was producing glassware described as “opalescent” in trade journal accounts, and opaque white and black were likely being manufactured about this same time. Because many English glass pattern designs and items were “registered” (the equivalent of copyright or patent in the U. S.), today’s researchers can often document the manufacturer of a specific item.
In January 1885, Burtles, Tate & Co. registered its design for a “glass flower holder” in the shape of a swan. These have been found in at least three different sizes, and the general design may well have inspired the creation of similar swans by the Northwood and Dugan firms as well as the large swan from the Cambridge Glass Co. in the 1920s. The Burtles, Tate swans typically have the registry information (“Rd. No. 20086”) on the underside, enclosed within a rectangle. A glass color called “Sunrise” was being marketed by Burtles, Tate in the early 1890s. This interesting, variegated pink, which is created by the presence of gold in the batch ingredients, will vary considerably in intensity. The yellow opalescent color was originally called “Uranium” by Burtles, Tate, and this nomenclature reflects the chemical ingredient that is so popular with today’s collectors of “vaseline” glass.
One of the designs registered in 1885 featured thin, barren tree branches and oversized stylized acorns. This motif was used on items in several shapes, ranging from a boat that sits on four peg-like feet to an attractive curved flower trough. All carry the same registry information: “Rd. 29106.” A “flower bracket” (a.k.a. “wall pocket vase”) was registered late in the same year (“Rd. 39807”), and this design features thick branches and a seashell-shaped body with scales.
The Burtles, Tate elephant flower holder is surely among the most desirable items for today’s collectors of English pressed glass. This article is just the size of a toothpick or match holder, but the details are quite remarkable.
In 1886, the firm registered yet another design (“Rd. No. 44445”) for a flower holder. This seven-inch-long boat has stylized seashells along the top edges and two-tailed mermaids at each end! Like the other Burtles, Tate novelty items from the 1880s, this piece surprises one with its weight, indicating that much lead is present in the glass at a time when other glass manufacturers were using lighter glass batches made with soda-lime formulas rather than lead compounds.
Black glass is the perfect color for the Burtles, Tate “salt cellar” that is designed in the shape of a coal scuttle. This item is well detailed with some plain narrow bands on the exterior to suggest strong metal and stippling, replicating the typical surface of such an object. The coal scuttle salt cellar dates from about 1907, and the registration information (“Rd. 510504”) appears on the underside of the circular base.
Burtles, Tate & Co. sold their assets in the mid-1920s, bringing the history of this interesting firm to a close.