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Collecting Blenko

 

The Blenko Glass Company had been adding color to homes for nearly 100 years. Whether you’re an avid collector or simply someone who enjoys the occasional tchotchke, it’s impossible to deny the beauty of Blenko. The distinctly-colored glass brightens up any room, making it appealing to the average shopper, and they have a variety of limited edition colors and pieces, making it a perfect collector’s item.

And it was difficult for us not to hop on the Blenko bandwagon after talking to Ed Rothenberger. He was kind enough to show us his collection, give us some insights on what pieces are particularly exciting, and show us how to tell the difference between Blenko and the myriad other art glass companies.

Blenko Glass Company has been in business since the 1920s in Milton, WV, in the heart of glass country. Many well- and lesser-known glass companies found their homes in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. And glass blowers and designers often worked for more than one glass company in their lifetimes, which resulted in some similar-looking pieces.

Bischoff is more similar to Blenko than anyone else,” Rothenberger said. “That’s because they were in the same town, before [Bischoff] closed.”

Identifying art glass can be a difficult task, but there are some calling cards when it comes to Blenko. Some pieces are signed, which certainly makes things easy. Some have stickers, which are also helpful—not only do they indicate that the glass is Blenko, but it will also identify the first year the design was made.

But what about those that are unmarked?

First, check for the pontil mark, or pontil scar—the place where the glass blower breaks the glass when it’s done. It’s basically the piece’s belly button. “Most glass blowers from other companies grind it smooth so it will sit level,” Rothenberger said. But Blenko tends to place the pontil mark in such a way that grinding is unnecessary. The scar may be rough or polished, but they are not ground away.

But that’s not to say that all Blenko pieces have pontil marks. Mold-blown glass will not have a scar. But in most cases, Blenko glass won’t have mold-lines, either.

Aging your Blenko can also be a difficult task, if you’re working with stickerless pieces. The color is a good indication of the year, particularly when you’re dealing with an uncommon color.

For example, Rothenberger said Blenko produced Alpine Green pieces in 1993 only. “So if you find something in Alpine Green, that’d probably be a good piece.” But, he said, the various greens produced by the company can sometimes be difficult to differentiate.

Lemon, another unusual color, was produced for only two years—1968 and 1969, he said.

On their website, Blenko has archives of its catalogs as far back as 1953. The first catalog, Rothenberger said, was released in 1936, so the oldest pieces may take more research, but it’s a good resource to start with to identify your piece and its color.

Common colors, Rothenberger said, include tangerine (“that’s probably the most common color”), turquoise (made as early as 1936), and chartreuse (which was made for many years, but relatively early in Blenko’s history “so any piece would be an old piece,” Rothenberger said.)

Caring for your Blenko glass is easy, but it’s important to follow a few simple rules. Rothenberger warns against leaving water in Blenko glass for any extended length of time. “Blenko glass is used for display,” he said. “If you put water in it, you’ll be really sorry.”

When you do clean your glass, avoid extreme temperatures on both ends of the spectrum. Certainly keep it out of the dishwasher, but very cold water, too, can put stress on a room-temperature glass.

We appreciate the time Rothenberger took to show us his impressive Blenko collection, though he admits it’s small compared to more dedicated collectors. Blenko has put out a variety of styles and a full spectrum of colors—all sizes of vases, pitchers, glasses, animals, faces. Many collectors will seek out a certain design in all available colors, others will focus on finding as many pieces in one specific color as possible, And, of course, others take what they can find, as they find it. Check out your local estate sales and see if you can’t start a collection of your own!

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