A hand vase is formed like a hand holding a vase in the shape of a torch, a cornucopia, a bunch of leaves, a trumpet or even a fan. Glass hand vases first appeared around the 1870s, a little after their porcelain predecessors. They soon became a popular novelty and were made in a wide variety of colors, styles and sizes, by many different companies in several countries, notably the UK, USA, and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). In recent years they have even been made in India and other parts of Asia. The heyday of glass hand vases was in the 1870s and 1880s, as can be seen from the frequency of design registrations for hand vases.
One of the earliest designs was made by John Derbyshire and Sons of Manchester, England, and registered in 1874. It is pictured on the left below (see also Jenny Thompson op. cit. page 41, and Charles Hajdamach op. cit. page 354). This vase is shaped like a sheaf of leaves and bulrushes and is easily identified by the makers trademark, JD and an anchor, on the base. They were produced in several colors, including yellow and green "vaseline" glass, plain and frosted flint glass, and black.
Another early vase, probably made by one of John Derbyshire's competitors in the UK in the late 19th century, is shown on the right below. Although the two vases are very similar there are clear differences between them.
Most glass hand vases are right handed, and left handed ones are quite rare. In my collection I have only 11 left handed hand vases, out of close to 100 hand vases in total. Both of the Victorian hand vases shown above are left hand vases, which adds to their rarity. The belief that the left hand is somehow sinister persists in many different cultures. One can often find matching pairs of hand vases, but nine times out of ten the pair will be two right hands. A left and a right handed matching pair are extremely rare, and I only have one example.
The hand motif in glass was popular in the USA as early as the 1870s. Gillinder and Sons of Philadelphia, USA produced several different pressed glass items held by a hand, including a vase made in 1876 to celebrate the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. This vase, resembling a hand holding a sheaf of wheat, was made in frosted flint glass and has the words "CENTENNIAL 1876" on the side of the base (see photograph below). On the right below is a glass hand vase in a very similar design to the Gillinder and Sons Centennial vase. This one is approximately 6.5" tall and these are very common on ebay at present.
Unfortunately for collectors, the majority of hand vases are not conveniently marked with a manufacturer's name nor a trademark, so it is often difficult to identify the makers. Original factory catalogues can be a very useful resource for information about designs.
The two vases shown above can be identified as made by George Duncan and Sons in the USA because they appeared in both the 1886 and the 1890 catalogs of that company. The larger one is just under 8" tall and the smaller one is approximately 6" tall. (They are also shown in Bill Edwards op. cit page 116). Known colours are clear, amber, vaseline, amethyst, apple green and blue. The clear vases were also produced with the hand stained amber (see Walt Adams article "Give me a hand" page 69) and also with ruby stained sections (top, tip, and base). This company closed in 1893. The design is similar to, but not the same as the "daisy and button" cornucopia vases produced by Fenton Art Glass in the 1930s, shown below. On the Fenton version you can see the buttons which are in between the daisies, but in the Duncan version above, there are no buttons, just a geometric pattern.
The cornucopia vase was reproduced by Fenton in the 1930s. An advertisement from c 1937 which showed a picture of this design stated "Authentic reproductions of the famous "Sandwich" designs. 1900 - HAND CORNUCOPIA or HORN OF PLENTY For Small Flowers - Cry(stal) - Wistaria - Colonial Blue - Vaseline REPRODUCTIONS OF EARLY AMERICAN DAYS" (see William Heacock, op.cit. page 89). Fenton called this design "Cape Cod".
Of all the known makers, Fenton Art Glass stand out as the firm that has consistently made hand vases in a diverse range of styles and techniques over their 100 years of manufacturing art glass. There are many books and catalogues of Fenton glass which show these designs, which makes them easy to identify.
Amongst the many designs produced by Fenton there was a milk glass "hobnail" cornucopia hand vase made in the early 1940s (Heacock p.46) and also produced in clear topaz, vaseline, amethyst and in opaque blue. Fenton made minature hand vases in various opalescent colours and in carnival glass and other colours. Fenton's large mould blown hand vases are stunning examples of the form and have been made in many unusual and beautiful colours. Examples include Peach Crest (cased white over pink c 1942 and different crimp on rim in 1953 - Heacock p. 48); also Black Rose (shown in the centre below, an extremely rare 1950s colour which was later remade in an iridised version in the 1990s); Blue, Rose, and Amber Crest (1940s - 1950s); Mulberry, Burmese, Gold overlay, Turquoise Blue with Opal Ring, Black Amethyst and many more. There are some beautiful examples shown at the top of this page and the picture below shows three more recent and very beautiful hand vases by Fenton.
Later Fenton hand vases (from 1974 onwards) are marked with the Fenton logo molded into the glass as well as paper or foil labels. Some have been made as limited editions for the Q.V.C Channel, a home shopping network in the U.S which often features Fenton items for sale, typically limited edition pieces made especially for the channel. Fenton have been promoting their products on QVC (which stands for Quality, Value, Convenience) since the late 1980s and have produced numerous hand vases for QVC over the years. These items are sought after as they are only sold through QVC and were not available through other suppliers. Special editions of Fenton items often have signatures on the base and certificates of authenticity. The vases shown below are beautiful examples of Fenton hand vases. On the left is a Fenton Plum Crest hand vase, iridised pink with hand painted decoration, probably from the 1990s-2000s. In the centre is a miniature hand vase in Fenton's Burmese glass, c. 1990s, also found with a carnival treatment over the Burmese. And on the right is a beautiful hand painted tall Burmese vases, from 2001.
Hand vases were produced in every kind of finish, and the Victorian vase shown below is one of the most beautiful examples. It is made of "mother of pearl" glass, with an outer layer of blue frosted glass overlaying an inner layer of white, with a pattern of air traps caught between the two layers. This style of "mother of pearl" is called "Raindrop". This exact same vase is shown in Ray and Lee Grover's book (op.cit. page 30) and carries a sticker identifying it as from the collection of Maude B. Feld. The high quality of the glass indicates one of the better Victorian glassmakers, such as Thomas Webb in the UK or Mt. Washington in the USA.
The French company Portieux et Vallerysthal also made an interesting array of hand vases over a long period, and these are seen in typical white or turquoise opaque glass, as well as some more unusual ones like caramel and jade green. The picture below shows four of their vases, the two outer ones have a raised rim at the back, in the style known as "Jack in the Pulpit".
Frank Chiarenza and James Slater, in their book on Milk Glass (op. cit.) show pages from a 1908 catalog and a 1933 catalog from Vallerysthal & Portieux. Both of these catalogs show hand vases. The 1908 one as two hand vases on page 313 (of the catalog) both right hand vases, one in white glass with the hand painted flesh colour like the example shown lower down this page (but without the blue). And the other in blue glass which doesn't look to have been decorated (small picture). They also produced a well-known toothpick holder, the Beggar's Hand (shown below) which features a hand holding a cup with a corrugated pattern. This design was also in the 1908 Vallerysthal & Portieux catalog, on page 312, where three examples are shown each with a flesh painted hand and one has a deep blue bowl. These are also found in white, turquoise, amber, Vaseline, and flint glass. Some are hand painted, and there are possibly other colours to be found.
In the 1933 Portieux catalog the two hand vases are shown again, but this time they are left hands (see below). The white one is shown plain on the left, and with the hand painted flesh coloured and the vase itself decorated with enamel painting. The blue one also has decoration on the vase but not the hand. Underneath each picture is the design name (main = French for hand), the catalog number, and the height (reproduced with permission from the West Virgina Museum of American Glass CD of the 1933 Portieux catalog, op cit.)
The picture below shows a collection of white hand vases, one of them painted. White is a close second to blue as the most popular colour for hand vases. These examples are probably all by Vallerysthal et Portieux.
Below is a selection of small size (15 cm or less) mould blown hand vases in opaque glass. Some feature traces of gilding & hand painted decoration. They are from the Victorian era, possibly French origin.
Many companies made hand vases worldwide, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, there were large quantities of glass hand vases manufactured in Bohemia, which later became Czechoslovakia and today, the Czech Republic. Bohemian hand vases are usually mould blown and made in opaque glass or cased glass. They often feature detailed enamelled decoration.
A white hand vase (right hand) with enamel decoration is pictured in a 1888 catalogue page from the Muhlhaus company reproduced in Robert and Deborah Truitt's book "Collectible Bohemian Glass 1880 - 1940". This is very similar to the vase shown in the centre of the picture below, except that the one shown here is a left hand. The shape and decoration are otherwise virtually the same. This is a typical example of a Bohemian style glass hand vase with a ruffled rim and hand painted decoration.
The vases shown in the picture above are, from left to right: cased white over pink and hand painted, cased pink over white and hand painted, opaque white and hand painted (note rare left handed shape), shaded blue satin glass hand painted, cased white over pink hand painted.
In Bohemia during the 19th century and up to 1940 (before state operation become the norm) there were literally thousands of small decorating companies applying decorative finishes to glass blanks made by Bohemian glass factories. It has been said that "nearly every home contained a studio for painting or engraving" in the area around Novy Bor and Kamenicky Senov in northern Bohemia (Truitt, op. cit.).
The blue opaque hand vase on the left below is marked on the base "Made in Czecho-slovakia". This dates it to the period between 1918 and 1939. Its plain rim gives it a pleasing classical appearance. On the right is an almost identical vase with a frilled rim.
The Victorian era mould blown hand vases shown below are single opaque colours from Bohemia with hand painted decorations. They are seen in a variety of colours. The mould shape is one I like to call the "chunky hand", due to the thick fingers (no ring) & puffy sleeve cuff.
And here are five more Bohemian hand vases from the 1880s-1890s. Four of these are cased (coloured over white) mould blown hand vases with very pretty hand decoration. The central one is opaque custard glass.
Above: Five more Bohemian hand vases from the 1880s-1890s.
Blue is the most common colour in glass hand vases. The picture below shows a cased cobalt blue over white had vase with gilding, in the rare left handed shape. Next to it are two clear blue variants and then an opaque blue with traces of gilding. All of these vases are probably Victorian & European origin.
These cased glass hand vases (shown below) are possibly from the Victorian era. They are seen in many colours, with a distinctive trefoil crimp rim. This design has been reworked/reproduced in a slightly simplified form (see the mid 20th century cased hand vases further down this page). They are possible of European origin.
Moving further into the 20th century, hand vases have been made from old moulds or new moulds which copy the old designs. With little information available, unfortunately, most hand vases are automatically labelled as "Victorian", whether they are or not!
Two hand vases by the American glass company L.E Smith are shown below, in Amberina and Colonial Blue. They date from the mid 1960s. They are often mistaken for the small hand vase by Fenton, which is shown beside them in iridized green. However, the tops are very distinctly different, as are the base and design details like the ring of beads. This Fenton design dates from the early 1940s.
Avon produced what they called a decanter shaped as a hand holding a vase made in milk glass and sold in 1969-1970 containing ladies' cologne. It was called "Fragrance Touch" and has the name AVON embossed on the base. In the center below is another kind of bottle, this one shaped like a hand holding a gun. It has the name "Geschutzt" moulded onto the side. These were made in Europe about 1915 to 1925 according to Michael Polak (op.cit.). On the right is an unusual mould blown hand vases in cobalt blue. It looks like a hand around a goblet and is hard to identify in terms of its maker and its age.
The picture below shows three frosted satin mould blown hand vases of recent origin. For some reason these are often referred to as "art deco" or "Depression" hand vases. The pink "jack-in-the-pulpit" shape is similar to a known Portieux hand vase, but I have seen these with a "Made in Portugal" label. Circa mid to late 20th century. The centre vase in green is also seen in many clear Depression-era colours, some frosted, but most are glossy finish. These are also seen in a larger size (30 cms). They are plentiful and could be of Asian origin. This green vase was purchased from a dealer who bought it in Vietnam.
A style of hand vase that is regularly seen on Ebay and often described as "Murano" is yet another recently produced vase that re-uses an old mould. These vases are made in a thickly cased spatter glass (hence the Murano attribution) with very bright colour combinations. Some have bizarre exaggerated rims that are pulled up into dramatic peaks, although the majority have simple wavy rims like those shown below on the left and right. The blue spatter glass vase on the right has a label which reads "Made in Rumanian". It appears that sizeable amounts of this type of vase were imported into England. They seem to me to be based on a mould from an old Bohemian hand vase. Compare the so-called "Murano" hand vase on the left below with the "chunky" Victorian hand vase in the centre. The colouration is also similar to that seen in spatter glass baskets in the Victorian style that were produced in Romania during the 1980s (Carol Bess White op. cit. page 111).
The Akro Agate Company of West Virginia produced a design of hand vase shown below, from the early 1930s until they ceased production about 1949 and finally closed in 1951. These miniature hand vases are approximately 8.4 cm tall and so far as we know were only made in marblised colours. They are marked with the Akro Agate trademark of a crow flying through the letter A.
A large number of hand vases have been produced by manufacturers in Asia, probably from the mid 20th century onwards. These are widely available and usually quite cheap. Typically they are brightly coloured, cased glass ones, like those shown below. They were probably made in the 1960s and 1970s and are occasionally seen with a "Made in Taiwan" label. They make a colourful addition to a collection of hand vases. The mould they are made from is very similar to that of a Victorian hand vase, but there is less detail and the rims have simple pinched or wavy finishes, not the elaborate trefoil shaped crimp seen on the Victorian versions.
The Jain Glass Works (P) Ltd at Firozabad, Utter Pashar Province, in India produced mould blown carnival glass hand vases from c. 1935. This company operated from 1928 until 1986 and their glass was widely exported. Sometimes Jain iridized hand vases are not marked at all, sometimes they are marked JAIN and sometimes with the company's logo, a sathya or swastika (a traditional sacred emblem in India). There are different versions of the Jain hand vase, some with flowers like the one on the right below, with and without the watch around the wrist and a pattern on the base, both left and right hands, and in two sizes 8 to 9" and 4 to 6".
Besides hand vases there are numerous other novelties in glass that feature a hand as part of their design. They work in very well with a collection of hand vases and are just as collectable. They include hands holding bottles (some of these bottles are even shaped like guns and daggers), pin dishes and card receivers shaped like one or two palm-upwards hands, hands holding fans (either upright as toothpick holders or lain flat as dishes), hands holding comports, hands holding lamp bases, and hand-shaped ring holders. Rare items include a perfume bottle modelled on a hand vase made in the late 1930s by Baccarat for the Elizabeth Arden scent, "It's You". It is now one of the most valuable and sought-after perfume bottles made by Baccarat.
If you are looking for hand vases you can usually find a selection on offer on ebay. Click here to see a selection of hand vases currently for sale.
About the Author: Marinka Bozzec is an artist who lives in Sydney, Australia. She has been collecting hand vases since 1995, and was inspired to begin collecting them by a photo of a hand vase she saw in book, and from then on she was hooked!
Marinka has been interested in glass since she was 8 years old when she first saw a Venetian millefiori glass paperweight in a shop. She started collecting glass in earnest in the early 1990s, and her collection is very eclectic, with glassware from the Victorian era to the present day. Marinka is planning a book that will feature Victorian art glass from her collection. The hand vases are the major subset of her collection, at over 100 examples. She finds the many variations of hand vases, such as mould shape, decoration & colour, endlessly fascinating. Just when she thought she'd seen them all, along comes another interesting variant. There also a number of rare examples that she is still hunting down.
Marinka has been researching hand vases for the last couple of years, and is in the early stages of writing a book about them. She is very interested in hearing from other collectors of hand vases, and anyone who has more information, for example, original pattern books, manufacturers, or any other relevant documentation. She would love to see photos of other collector's examples of hand vases, too. You can contact her via the Glass Message Board at http://www.glassmessages.com.
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