Vintage Treasures Into Modern Novelties | Glass Insulators

It takes a special kind of person to turn old thrown away items into beautiful and useful keepsakes; someone with an eye for design, with the capacity for creativity and the drive to innovate something unique and lasting.  I am not this person, but looking around the Stamp & Coin Etc. shop, my mind begins to turn with ideas about refurbishing hundreds of items I don’t even know the names of.  Customers come in to the shop searching for their next creative project in objects long forgotten.
With the gleam in eyes that see endless possibilities, they tell me all about how excited they are to upcycle and recreate.

Image by Napa Style

Image by Napa Style

With all of the pressure towards consumerism in America, there’s something truly desirable about creating modern treasures from the past.  Refurbishing is affordable and eco-friendly; ultimately adding a wistful charm of an untouchable period of time in your home – if you have the knack for it.

An item that we have a ton of are glass insulators.  They are lovely little glass caps that range in shades of blue, green, orange, purple and clear among several hues.  Seemingly useless nowadays, it turns out vintage insulators make a charming, functional array of goods today.  This out of date technology, with a little creativity and care becomes a habitat for small plants, a chandelier or a coat rack.  The only limitation is imagination.

by Mark Kintzel

by Mark Kintzel

At about three dollars a piece at our store, glass insulators are a great way to add a bit of history to your home.  The oldest insulators pre-date the Civil War and thus are a prized collectible today.  Like several other collectible items, various styles were produced, some in more limited quantities, making them rarer and consequently more valuable.  Subtle nuances in style and appearance differentiate glass insulators by date, location and manufacturer.

With Pinterest as my guide, I’m going to create hanging candles with my insulators.  What will you do with yours?

Glass that Glows in the Dark

Some might call them crazy. Believe it or not, some collectors collect – wait for it – radioactive glass.

Now, it’s not exactly dangerous. Vaseline glass, often called uranium glass for its uranium content, won’t kill you. The radiation they emit comes out in very tiny amounts, less radiation than people typically expose themselves to in a single day.

However, some early 20th century pieces have up to 25% uranium, not a number to scoff at.

The best part is that Vaseline glass glows in the dark. There’s a kind of novelty in owning glass that glows (think of all the neat party tricks). The glow comes not from its radioactivity, but from uranium’s own chemistry.


J J Harrison, CC 2.5

The 1830’s first saw uranium oxide used for coloring glass, and Vaseline glass continued to be made through the 19th century, reaching its popularity in the 1880’s.

(Carnival glass also came in Vaseline glass shades.)

The glass has never quite been able to drop its sketchy reputation. Adding that to claims connecting Vaseline glass to lung cancer in glassblowers, the glass definitely lost its popularity over time.

In the 1940’s, the U.S. government began severely regulating the use of the substance uranium. Only later in the century did Vaseline glass come back, this time made from depleted uranium. These new, depleted uranium glass pieces are still made in small amounts today.

So how do you know if you have a glass piece containing uranium? If it’s a green or canary yellow color, expose the piece to a black (or another kind of ultraviolet) light. If it glows bright green, it has uranium.

Do you own any Vaseline glass?

All About Carnival Glass

The rainbow colors of carnival glass have caught many a collector’s eye.

Carnival glass is an inexpensive kind of glassware with a rainbow shimmer. Although it got its name from its use at carnivals, that’s not where the glass got its start.

Tiffany made the first iridized art glass, but the formula was expensive, as the iridescence was mixed into the glass instead of sprayed on the surface.Carnival_glass_vase

But then Fenton Glass Company made a cheaper kind of iridescent art glass in 1907: the first carnival glass, then called “Venetian Art” by Fenton. This made the glass much more widely available, although it took a while to catch on. But other glass makers copied the manufacturing process and made it more widely available.

Customers didn’t want to pay a lot for a piece with such a cheap process, so soon the glass was being given away as a prize at carnivals. Forget stuffed animals: glassware was the way to go.

Movie theaters and grocery stores also gave the glass away for promotions. Pieces were otherwise found at five-and-dime stores.

A carnival glass pattern uploaded by Wikimedia commons user russavia, taken by user aussiegall.

A carnival glass pattern uploaded by Wikimedia commons user russavia.

When the Great Depression came around, carnival glass had a decline thanks to the emerging of the depression glass patterns, which were very cheap, colorful machine-made glass.

Carnival glass has been called many things, such as “Taffeta,” “Cinderella,” and “Poor Man’s Tiffany.” It really only got the name “Carnival Glass” after World War II, by which time it had become collectible. Glass companies started to make carnival glass again in the 1970s, but collectors prefer the original, early 20th century pieces.

Red or pastel-hued carnival glass is especially rare. One ice blue carnival glass plate even sold for about $16,000 on eBay.

Do you own or collect carnival glass pieces? Let us know in the comments!


About Antiques

Collectors Weekly

In a Nutshell

Vintage Insulators: From Phone to Home

For some collectors, purchasing a Hemingray No. 42 insulator completely makes their day.

But what exactly is an insulator, you might ask? Let’s start with the basics.

An insulator is a glass item originally made to insulate telegraph and telephone wires against their wooden poles. You would see these on telephone poles especially in the 1920s through the 1940s.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at SNC-ETC.

An oddly-shaped insulator in-store at S&C-ETC.

Insulator collecting is a niche market which, for those involved, incites great enthusiasm over these beautiful pieces.

The most common insulator colors are clear and aqua thanks to insulators’ natural iron content. But many, many colors exist for insulators, which is part of the fun for collectors.

The earliest insulators were “Ramshorn” and “Glass Block” designs in the mid-19th century, following Morse’s invention of the telegraph line in 1844.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Clear and teal Hemingray insulators, available online.

Put a battery-operated light inside the insulator for a dreamy lighting effect!

A lot of change in insulator design occurred through the years, as people had not yet figured out what worked and what didn’t. This led to many different insulator designs: all the more for collectors today.

The popular “Ramshorn” pattern held the wire suspended beneath. This design held for a while, but soon it was replaced by the superior “pin-type” insulator.

Louis Cauvet patented the last major insulator design in 1865, which marked the last big change until the end of insulators’ production in the 1970s.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

Interesting insulator shapes abound.

All this flip-flopping did lead to a big number of colors and designs available out there. One is called the “Gingerbread Man”, with a rounded top and pointed arms. Another is the “T-Bar”, which resembles a robot with its square top and grooved, outstretched arms. However, the most popular design by far is the Hemingray No. 42. Hemingray made the biggest variety of insulator styles.

Insulators can be found in many an antique store today, and they also make great pieces for home décor, whether stand-alone or as do-it-yourself projects.

Make sure to keep an eye out for these special pieces the next time you visit an antique store.


Collecting Info

Insulator Summaries

In-depth Website