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  This out of date technology, with a little creativity and care becomes a habitat for small plants, a chandelier or a coat rack.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?

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An insulator is a glass item originally made to insulate telegraph and telephone wires against their wooden poles.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