200 Years of Libbey: Ohio Glass Museum Chronicles the Libbey Glass Company

By Lila Waterfield

Just a few years ago, Libbey Glass Company celebrated its 200th year anniversary and in early 2019, Robert Zollweg, retired designer for Libbey Glass Company and current President of the Libbey House Foundation, published his newest book, 200 Years of Glass: A History of Libbey Glass. This book would be the foundation and inspiration for the Ohio Glass Museum’s most recent exhibit. 

Having its grand opening late in September this year, 200 Years of Libbey has already been a hit. “The reception we are having at the museum has been phenomenal.” proudly said President Michael Shook. Featuring several hundred pieces of unique and rare glass, the self-guided exhibit spans across the decades and will provide visitors with a clearer picture of Libbey’s innovative timeline until February of 2022. The collection was provided by numerous sources: The Libbey Glass archives, the Libbey House Foundation, Robert Zollweg’s personal collection, and Ray Duty’s personal collection, another member of the Libbey House Foundation.

Libbey Through the Years

Although it’s been an integral part of Toledo history for over 130 years, Libbey, Inc., then called the New England Glass Company, actually began its career way back in 1818 under the care of Edward Drummond Libbey’s father. In 1888, Drummond moved the company from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Toledo, Ohio, where it has remained ever since. 

The exhibit takes visitors through these past 200 years packed full with rich history, making sure to touch on all of the important historical periods along the way. 

“This is the first time that I can recall that an exhibit for Libbey has ever been done chronologically… [the visitors] can really see the progress of how Libbey started in 1818, and it just goes right around the room,” said Robert Zollweg.

Beginning with pieces from the New England Glass Company, you can expect to see the radical and historical transformations in our country reflected in the pieces before your eyes. There will be ornate pieces from the Brilliant Period, the renowned Arthur Douglas Nash collection, sleek Modern America designs, and most recently, Freda Diamond and Robert Zollweg designs. 

“It’s eye candy; Visually, it’s very alluring.” – Michael Shook. Pictured above is Brilliant Period glassware on display in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Robert Zollweg.

The Brilliant Period

“The Brilliant Period is] probably the most important period for Libbey as far as historical value,” explains Zollweg. Currently considered the star of the show, this period showcases the glass industry before the intervention of machinery. From the late 1800’s spanning until the 1920’s, consumers demanded intricate glassware, pieces that were each unique and took hours or hard work to produce. This trend faded away after the stock market collapse that led to the Great Depression.

“This captures a time where only the affluent could enjoy having these pieces. The average guy could not have these in their home. I think that is what makes these so especially rare and unique… I can just imagine some of these sitting in a parlor, a sitting room, or on a credenza and just dazzling,” said Shook.

Don’t Forget

Libbey’s unforgettable mark might be on full display in this exhibit, but Shook reminds us that this isn’t the only story worth telling.

“This is just one of the many stories of glass manufacturing in Ohio…. Ohio was the epicenter of glass manufacturing in this country.” 

To learn more about the exhibition and admission costs for the Ohio Glass Museum, visit their website or call (740) 687-0101.

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