Discover Vintage America - NOVEMBER 2017
A 'just ducky' antique mystery
Sometimes, you just have to have it. Such was the case this summer when I attended an annual one-day flea market in a town near me and just when I was about to call it quits after having traversed a double-town-green's worth of vendors and finding nothing I couldn't live without, I spied a small (6" x 5.5") milk glass duck on nest. It wasn't quite like anything else I have in any of my mostly 20th century glass collections (American Sweetheart Monax and Petalware, a couple of 1950s-'60s Fire King table sets, and a whole lot of Fenton art glass).
Here's my duck dish, which shows fiery opalescence around the edges of the top and bottom when they're held up to light – a characteristic of white glass in the olden days before the creation of the denser milk glass with which we're more familiar today. The translucent quality of the top edge of the base is visible even in the photograph. The top, with its slightly raised edge, fits snugly onto the narrow shelf at the top of the base.
The seller pointed out what I had already noticed, which was that the item was old, with opalescence on the edges of both top and base plus a slightly bluish cast to the glass – features one doesn't find in later opaque milk glass. The duck sits on a base with water reeds rather than on the more usual ribbed or basket weave base. Instead of the standard presentation in which the duck's head is raised and looking straight ahead, this duck's head is slightly turned with head and neck gracefully curved in close to its breast. The feathering in the body is much more highly detailed than in typical duck dish models. Well, for $12, I just had to have it.
A few weeks later my duck and I found ourselves at the glass identification panel at the Fenton Art Glass Collectors of America convention in West Virginia. Glass historian Jim Measell said he thought my duck might be a married piece, but also quickly added that he wasn't sure about that – an uncharacteristic ambivalence on his part. He suggested that the bottom, at least, of the piece reminded him of a very early and short-lived 20th century glassmaker called Coudersport, named for the small town in Pennsylvania where it was located.
In researching this company, I found an article on the website The Antiquarian. As we know, the history of American pottery and glassmaking is one of those "six degrees of separation" tales. I was reminded that two Fenton brothers, Frank L. and John W., worked at Coudersport Glass from 1903-1904 before that factory was put out of business by a fire. (The following year, Frank and John would found their own glass decorating company that would evolve into the glass-making dynasty that lasted for more than 100 years before it, too, was forced to close in 2011.)
Well, I thought the top duck portion of my piece fit too snugly into the base to be married – especially not with a base of what was clearly of an equivalent antique vintage. But any online images I found for animal covered dishes made at Coudersport showed chickens on reeds (which I guess the folks at Coudersport took as mere grass).
Widening my search again to the more generic, I found three online images of my duck dish. Two had the very same reed base as mine, one of which was titled in its auction listing as EAPG (which I learned stands for "early American pressed glass" and refers to glass made from the mid-19th century to about 1910). Neither of these older auction listings gave an actual description or attribution for the piece. The third duck was photographed atop a standard ribbed milk glass base to which it was clearly married as the top overlapped the base at awkward points.
I now know enough to confirm two things to my own satisfaction: The base is original to my duck top and the whole piece is a genuine antique. I may never know who made it because the further back we go in time, the sketchier production records become. But I can live with that – and am very happy to live with this fine little, genuinely antique duck covered dish.