Glass museum breaks out archival materials

At 4 p.m. Thursday, the Tiffin Glass Museum is to have a ribbon cutting for its new archival room, just in time for Saturday’s Art Walk in downtown Tiffin. Paul Coffman, president of the Tiffin Glass Collectors’ Club, located and obtained many of the items and researched numerous sources to get the addition organized.

“We breached the wall in November to create this. This was a solid wall here. This material is all archival material that was stored around in different places in the basement of the museum. Over a period of several years, I’ve been digging things out, cleaning them up, getting them ready to put on display sometime. This is the result of that effort,” Coffman said.

The room cannot hold the museum’s entire collection, but Coffman plans to rotate the displays periodically.

Near the doorway hangs a framed 1913 insurance map of Tiffin Glass House. Coffman said a woman named Nancy Popoon of San Antonio contacted the museum by email and offered to donate it. She had found the map while clearing her dad’s Florida home to move him to a senior center. His name is Richard Archer, now 92. Coffman was able to travel to Pennsylvania to talk with him.

“This was on the wall above his desk. He had been the last president of the U.S. Glass Co. When the company closed up, he had moved on,” Coffman said. “He was there during the Interpace years and Towle, the last owner.”

Next to the map is a painting of an aerial view of the glass house as it probably looked soon after it opened in 1888. Coffman pointed to the houses shown near the factory. He said they were built as employee residences on Sixth, Seventh and Eighth avenues. Twenty-seven of the homes still are standing.

“When A.J. Beatty made the move to Tiffin, it was the understanding that several local businessmen would get together and build housing for the people he was bringing with him from Steubenville. … The rest of the employees found housing throughout the community as they moved in,” Coffman said.

In Steubenville, Beatty had to rely on the river to ship products, Coffman added, but Tiffin had three railroads that allowed the company to ship year-round. As an incentive to locate in Tiffin, the Board of Trade promised Beatty free real estate on which to build the plant, a five-year supply of free gas and $35,000 in cash, according to an article at

Black-and-white photos of the factory from various periods are arranged near the painting. Another large frame holds rings studded with keys that once opened all the doors and cases at the glass house. Coffman said someone donated the collection to the museum.

Also on view are samples of metal molds used to shape liquid glass. Coffman said glassmaking was done with hand-operated and press-operated molds that would shape molten glass into various forms.

A third process involved blow molds, which required employees to blow hot glass into them through a long pipe. The archival room features a rack holding blow pipes with a variety of end pieces to fit into molds and long-handled gathering tools.

Coffman pointed out a mold for a Chinese monk sculpture. He is hoping a visitor who has the actual figure will come in someday, see the mold and give more information about it.

“We have the mold. We’ve got a picture of what it looks like, but nobody in the club, that I know of, has ever seen one. They were made probably in the 1930s or early ’40s,” Coffman said.

On another wall is a bookcase with documents from the glass company’s offices that Coffman has organized into more than 20 notebooks. The files list the employees and the jobs they did, as well as descriptions of various operations at the factory.

The Seneca County Museum had 230 slides of glass being manufactured in the glass house. Coffman said he was allowed to borrow the slides and make a DVD. A worker making glass in a press mold is shown in a large wall photo.

A former glass mold maker, Roger Mann, left the factory in 1970, took his tool box with him and went to work for a glass company in Oklahoma. Later, he moved to Texas. Coffman said Mann “showed up out front” one day while he was in the area to visit relatives. When he offered to donate his tool kit and lathe to the museum, Coffman accepted.

The tool collection now has its own case in the archival room, next to a display of small oval windows.

“Lincoln Continental Mark IV is what these ‘opera windows’ are. They are shown here (photo) in the back of a 1971. Every one of them for the entire Lincoln line was cut by Clyde King at the Tiffin Glass House and then sent to Detroit, where a second layer of glass was laminated over the top of it,” Coffman said. “If you can find one in a junk yard, it was made in Tiffin.”

Another grouping features hand tools used to handle the hot glass, such as wooden paddles to smooth the feet of stemware. The tongs are coated with asbestos. Coffman handled them with gloves, applied a sealant to keep the fibers intact and placed them in a sealed glass case. Workers would have been exposed to the asbestos every day on the job, he said, in addition to lead and other toxic materials.

“The two large molds at the bottom – we’re fortunate – they’re complete molds called prep molds, and beside them are the objects that were made in those molds,” Coffman said.

Linotype blocks with logos and drawings used to create ads for various U.S. Glass products occupy an upper shelf in another case. Below them are grinding stones, abrasive wheels and rotating pedestals for trimming goblets and tumblers with gold. Coffman described how a painter, usually a woman, would turn the pedestal with one hand and hold a brush against the rim of a glass object with the other hand.

Coffman said an inventor had developed a way to immerse powdered 24-karat gold in a material that would evaporate under heat. The mixture would be painted on glass that had been etched with acid to roughen the surface.

“It would go through an oven. The material used to emulsify the gold would evaporate off and the gold would be stuck to the glass,” Coffman said.

Silk screens were used to put enamel patterns onto glass pieces that were baked to affix them permanently. The archive also features smaller molds to make stemware and bases for larger pieces. Experimental, unfinished and uncut glass objects and designs make up another display.

“We have over 200 of these metal plates. They were used for sand blasting a design on the side of a glass. This one in the center is the one that usually gets the most attention locally,” Coffman said.

He indicated a curved metal shield that says “Pennsylvania,” which likely was used on glassware for the cottage of that name at the Junior Home. Coffman said the cut-out designs were used for sand- and needle-etched glassware.

Framed ads from the 1920s-1980s and price books and catalogs in the archives give visitors an idea of the products once made in Tiffin. Coffman said he does programs in which he shows various glass pieces to groups. He asks people to guess their original cost and then shows them the actual amount.

“I have the catalog that says these were $8.72 – a dozen. People can’t believe how cheap the glass was,” Coffman said.

The new room also has a large advertising piece bearing the name “Cascade.” Coffman said it probably was used at a trade show, but its date of origin has not been determined.

Brian Courtney, who volunteers at the Seneca County Museum and serves on the glass museum’s archive committee, has been looking through old newspapers in hopes of finding a photo or information about the piece. Its design looks to be art deco, and Coffman said a pattern from that period was called “Cascade;” however, museum director Ruth Hemminger said she believes it is from a later period.

A separate, locked room houses a library of glass resource books, more molds and more photos. Blueprints and drawings of molds and mold forms dating into the 1920s are kept in this room.

Coffman said he has about 1,000 more drawings to sort and file. They came from a former antique dealer in the area. Coffman said Courtney continues to bring in more artifacts every week, including news articles, photos and obituaries.

Coffman has compiled an obituary book of hundreds of former glass workers.

“Somebody will come in and say, ‘My grandpa worked out there.’ I’ll say, ‘What was his name?’ and come over and pull up a picture or obituary out of our archives,” Coffman said.

Retired from Tiffin Fire Department, Coffman said Donna Overholt is “irresponsible” for getting him involved at the Glass Museum. Although he is not interested in the glass itself, he is fascinated by the physical and chemical processes used to make glass, the history of the factory, its impact on the community and stories from its employees.

“I’ve spent the last almost five years, three to five hours a day, doing nothing but looking at glass papers and researching,” Coffman said.

He intends to continue that research. Coffman said he has located a glass press, repair parts and etching plates that came from the factory. He is making arrangements to acquire them from their present owner in Tiffin.

“The glass house manufactured glass for 91 years here in Tiffin. … They had as high as 600 employees at one time,” Coffman said.

The numbers dwindled to 150 before the factory closed. During an average year, about 300 people worked there. Coffman figures, if every employee had a family of four, thousands of people depended on the factory for their livelihood.

“At the same time, the Brewer Pottery came here, and the Sterling Tool Co. came here. Brewer Pottery became American Standard and Sterling Tool became Sterling Grinding Wheel, two of the largest longtime employers in Tiffin, because of the natural gas.”