The Bent Glass Novelty Company, New YorkThis set of pages follows Paul Crist's chapter on the Bent Glass Novelty Company in Mosaic Shades Vol 2. At the foot of this page are some important discoveries that collectors should be aware of when identifying and attributing shades from Bent Glass Novelty.
One unfortunate aspect of this Company's history involves the tragic fate of their designer Giuseppe Gambaro and his brother Vincenzo. Briefly, in February of 1909 Giuseppe Gambaro murdered his brother Vincenzo, was ultimately found guilty and executed.
The events are well documented online including a transcript of the trial and later appeal which was refused. However, coverage of this event in the press and the transcript did bring to light additional background details of the Company and some staff, which otherwise may not have been discovered.
The Gambaro family were from Sicily, Italy. There were four sons and one daughter, their parents arrived in 1904 but all settled in the New York area. Three of the four sons were employed at the company. Guiseppe arrived first in 1894, Vincenzo in 1901, with Francesco following in 1905. None of the three had prior experience working with glass back in Italy but, after arriving in America, both Guiseppe and Vincenzo had worked as tinsmiths in New Jersey and New York before starting at Bent Glass Novelty.
During the company's continued growth, in early 1908 the company moved from their White Street premises in Manhattan to 79 Walker Street, built during 1869 in the Tribeca neighborhood. Giuseppe was engaged as a designer at the firm and had been working at the previous premises on White Street. He was apparently skilled in his position and earned an excellent wage. Vincenzo was a foreman and Francesco Gambaro was a glass cutter in charge of a few men. At Walker Street, the firm occupied the top two floors of the building, the 5th and 6th. It would appear from the trial notes that the administrative offices were on the 5th floor along with some manufacturing. The 5th floor plan is attached here, unfortunately the captions are mostly unreadable.
Several employee names known to be working there are included here. This is not a complete list by any means because at their peak, the firm employed between 50 and 60 staff. Marcus Rettiner, George Percy, William Deihl, Salic Tonkelson were accomplished singers and known to perform as the BGN quartet. Other employees included Oliver Brown's son Robert, Simon Bernstein, Mario Fesi, Mary E. Hare (Checker & Office Clerk), Anna Govertson (Clerk), Angelo Mendola, Anna Redington and Mamie Schepperle Pietro Carollo joined the company and replaced Giuseppe Gambaro as designer.
Simon Bernstein had left the company in 1903 and within a month of leaving, he and another unnamed person had set up a company named Bent Glass Globe Manufacturing. Oliver Brown, owner of Bent glass Novelty immediately filed an injunction to prevent the new company from continuing. The charge was unlawful competition. Bernstein's company was causing confusion in the marketplace by adopting the same product numbers as Brown's firm. Brown prevailed with his injunction, it is unknown what became of Bernstein after this.
In June of 1913, the business was handed over to Charles Hauck in resolution of bankruptcy. Oliver Brown continued in the glass industry up until his death in 1929.
The following images compare several of the Bent Glass Novelty models (left side) with those appearing in the Williamson catalog #15, c.1909 (right side).
It has been widely acknowledged that some companies were not above copying certain designs and patterns from others. In the case of Bent Glass Novelty and Williamson, catalog images from both firms show identical models with some of their designs. In the following set of side-by-side model comparisons, they appear to be identical in every respect. So, one might ask if this could be a case of outright copying or sharing, perhaps occurring due to some special agreement. It's especially interesting since these 2 companies were so physically distant. Williamson was an enormous company with generous resources, it's unlikely to see why they would need to be copying some models from the much smaller firm of BGN. Williamson, all along, were perfectly capable of making some of the finest leaded shades of the period.
Perhaps the most telling aspect, is that the images in the Williamson catalog have markings on them (shading and various marks) in areas of their patterns that also appear in the BGN catalog. It seems most likely that these were Bent Glass Novelty designs that Williamson used, and not the other way round.