Museum reaches 20, celebrates glass manufacturing’s local history

Published Jun 12, 2013 at 7:33 am (Updated Jun 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm)

Most Pennsylvanians, and even those new to the Keystone State, are aware that Western Pennsylvania is widely known for its coal and steel industries. But how many newcomers, and even students, are aware that the Washington, Pennsylvania area is a pioneer in glass manufacturing?

The well-known George Duncan & Son glass factory had its start in 1865 on Pittsburgh’s South Side. In 1874, experienced glass manufacturer John Ernest Miller joined the George Duncan firm as a glass designer, giving his creativity and the glass factory international recognition. After George’s death, James E. Duncan Sr. headed the firm and in 1893 relocated the glass factory to Washington, establishing the Duncan and Miller Glass Factory.

On June 13, 1955, the exquisite artistry, skill and assembly lines for creating fine handmade glass became uneconomical and the plant, operated by four generations of the Duncan family, closed. Men and women traveled hundreds of miles to purchase the last pieces of Duncan-Miller glass.

With a mission to gather information on the patterns and techniques and to establish a permanent exhibit, in 1975, a group of glass collectors formed the National Duncan Glass Society.

This year, the Duncan & Miller Museum is celebrating 20 years in its current home on Jefferson Avenue in Washington. A earlier need for additional display areas and space for visitors had the eyes and ears of the board of directors peeled for the availability of a larger home convenient to its growing patrons.

From a two-room space in the historic LeMoyne House, filled with a collection from its rich glass history, the museum now occupies a two-story gallery in a totally renovated Victorian-style dwelling, formerly owned by a Duncan and Miller worker. More than 5,000 handmade glass objects in unusual designs and color, created 1865 to 1955, are showcased at this location, just a block away from the original Duncan & Miller factory.

Glass collectors will be delighted with the lamps, shades, baskets, stemware, pitchers, punch bowls, comports, solid figural items of Duncan & Miller glass spanning its 90 years.

Through the generosity of local collectors and enthusiasts from across the country and acquisitions made by the society, the collection now includes glassware and memorabilia. Photographs of craftsmen at work, tools to blow and mold glass, glass used in Norden bombsights, rockets and clay pigeons from Duncan’s production to aid the WWII effort, barware, smoking items, Art Deco, opalescent glass, etchings and cuttings have been preserved for all to see.

Members of the National Duncan Glass Society are dedicated to caring for this local history for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

The museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. April-December or by appointment. Call 724-225-9950 or visit Visitors to the museum may purchase books, catalog reproductions and original Duncan glass.

The National Duncan & Miller Glass Society, Chapter I will hold a lively discussion on glass at 7 p.m. June 25 at the Church of the Covenant in Washington.

Washington County Fair & Expo Center will be the setting for the 38th Annual Duncan & Miller Glass Show & Sale held 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 20 and 21. The much-anticipated glass auction is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday with a preview starting at 4:30 p.m. The 20-year anniversary of the museum will be recognized on July 19, prior to the glass show opening.

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