Kevin Trickett MBE, president of the Wakefield Civic Society looks into the boom period of pressed Art Deco glass with British market leaders Bagley.
I guess I fell in love with Art Deco long before I knew what the term meant: indeed, I can trace my fascination with the design style back to when I was a child in the 1950s. On my mother’s dressing table sat a dish, made in amber coloured glass, about 12 inches across and in the shape of a butterfly. There was something about the shape, the style and the colour that just appealed to me. I don’t know how my mother came by it but I later inherited it and for nearly 30 years it sat on a chest of drawers in my guest bedroom. Remarkably, although it must be somewhere approaching 70 years old, if not older, it’s still in perfect condition.
It was a trip to the opening of a new exhibition at Pontefract Museum a few years ago that made me re-evaluate the dish. The museum had a new display dedicated to Bagley Glass, a Knottingley bottle works originally established in 1871 by cousins William Bagley (1842-1924) and John William Bagley (1838-1897) and whose fathers were also glass makers from Yorkshire. The company used coal to fire the furnaces in which their glass was produced – following in the footsteps of an emerging glass-making industry: there had been a glass works in the Knottingley area since the 17th century and so much glass was produced in the area that the nearby village of Houghton acquired the name of Glasshoughton!
Bagleys, as Bagley Glass was to be known, went on to make decorative household glassware and, by the middle of the 20th century, they had become the biggest manufacturer of pressed glass in England, exporting their products all over the world, adapting their styles to meet the demands and expectations of their customers.¹ Glass-making continues in Knottingley to this day although the company is now part of Stölzle Flaconnage Ltd. under whose name the factory now trades.
Anyway, back to the museum. On display that day was a butterfly dish, identical to mine but in green glass. My interest was kindled! In fact, on closer examination back home, quite a few pieces of glassware that I’d inherited from my parents turned out to be Bagley glassware; none of it particularly valuable (sadly): you can pick pieces up for around £12-£15 at antiques shops without trying too hard simply because it was so mass-produced and just about every home in the area would probably have had some in everyday use. Nonetheless, my butterfly dish has now been moved to the relative safety of a display cabinet!
A quick internet search revealed that other companies such as Davidson’s and Sowerby’s, both of Gateshead, and Jobling, of Sunderland, as well as European manufacturers such as Walther and Sohne of Germany were also turning out pressed glassware for the domestic market, again keeping up to date with the trend for Art Deco designs. Their products have the style, and the look, of the 1920s and 30s but without the price tag of more illustrious names such as René Lalique and they provide a much cheaper starting point for anyone interested in acquiring a few pieces of their own. Of course, you can buy modern Art Deco glassware; manufacturers today are still producing goods that reflect the public interest in the style and I have purchased some 21st century examples myself. Perhaps, one day, they will be the sought-after antiques of the future?
(¹) There is an excellent book detailing the history of Bagley glass and from which some of my notes above have been taken. If you’d like to learn more, do try to get hold of a copy of Bagley Glass, by Angela Bowey with Derek and Betty Parsons. Mine is the third edition published in 2010 but a fourth edition is now available.
Read more of Kevin’s articles at his personal blog www.itbroadensthemind.com
For more information on Bagley, visit http://bagley-glass.com/