Frederick Stacey Shirley (b.1841, d.1908) was the animating force behind the Mt. Washington Glass Company during its most productive and creative years, from the mid 1870's until his departure from the company in 1891. During this period the company established its reputation as a manufacturer of high quality cut glass and as a leader in the new market for Victorian art glass. Shirley had worked with his father in the chandelier business in London before immigrating to the U.S. in 1869. This was the same year the Mt. Washington Glass Works decided to relocate from its old factory in South Boston to new facilities in New Bedford. Shirley joined the company in 1872 as foreman of the chandelier department. Two years later, on August 17, 1874, he was elected to the position of agent of the company. As agent he was responsible for all aspects of the company's business, from developing and marketing new products to managing daily operations in the office and factory. He personally directed the installation of the company's displays at the Centennial Exhibition. According to author Kenneth M. Wilson he took out 27 patents for inventions or processes, five design patents and four registered trademarks (Mt. Washington & Pairpoint Glass, p. 70). One of his patents was for the company's most famous line of art glass, Burmese. Shirley oversaw the reorganization of the company in 1876 and the establishment in 1880 of an independent silver-plating business called the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company. Throughout his years of association with the glass business he carefully saved literally thousands of pages of factory documents and records: correspondence, photographs, catalogs, price lists, patents, awards, glass formula books, court records, etc. In 2005 his granddaughter donated this incredible resource, known as the Shirley Papers, to the New Bedford Museum of Glass.
Photograph of Frederick Shirley, c. 1885
H: NBMOG Collection Rockwell Library Gift: The Shirley Papers Acc.
Photograph of the Centennial Crystal "Toilet Table," 1876 The focal point of the Mt. Washington Glass Company's booth display at the Centennial Exhibition was an impressive "toilet table" featuring glass legs, a cut and silvered glass top and a large standing mirror having "a border of glass blossoms... fastened within the edge so ingeniously that they seem to grow there." The late Kenneth M. Wilson quotes a long description of the table his book Mt. Washington & Pairpoint Glass, but, as with the fountain described above, he was not aware that a photograph of the table survived in the Shirley Papers (see illustration to left, NBMOG Collection, acc. 2005.253.088). Both discoveries will be published in volume 2 of the book, which is being completed by Jane Shadel Spillman, Curator of American Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass. Click Toilet Table to learn more about the table and the company's Centennial booth display.
Photograph of the Centennial Crystal Fountain, 1876 Frederick Shirley spared no effort to distinguish his company at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. In addition to mounting an impressive booth display he built a spectacular 17-foot high glass fountain at the intersection of the South Avenue isle and the East Transept inside the Main Building. A visitor to the exhibition noted that the fountain "presented a spectacle of fairy beauty almost beyond imagination." Author Kenneth M. Wilson quoted the visitor's full description in his 2005 book Mt. Washington & Pairpoint Glass, but was not aware at the time the book went to publication that an image of the fountain survived in the Shirley Papers (see illustration to left, NBMOG Collection, acc. 2005.253.089). Click Centennial Fountain to learn more about the fountain and to see close-up details of the photograph.
Centennial Medal, 1876 The American organizers of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition decided to break with the tradition of earlier World's Fairs and to issue only bronze medals in recognition of outstanding achievement. Undoubtedly they were concerned that American exhibitors would be overshadowed in gold and silver categories by their European competitors. The simple solution was to eliminate those higher categories altogether. Each Centennial Medal measured three inches in diameter and featured a seated figure representing America on the obverse and the words "International Exhibition / Philadelphia, MDCCCLXXVI / Awarded by United States Centennial Commission" on the reverse. The Mt. Washington Glass Company received one (see illustration to left), which descended in the family of company agent Frederick Shirley until its donation to NBMOG in 2005.
U.S. President Grover Cleveland Letter, 1886 Frederick Shirley demonstrated his skill as a promoter when he gave four beautiful Mt. Washington art glass vases to President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland as a wedding gift in 1886. The vases were in the company's new Burmese glass, patented one year before, and the President and his bride were delighted with them. On June 12th Cleveland wrote a letter to Shirley thanking him for the gift. Never one to miss an opportunity, Shirley made convincing copies of the letter using the same paper as the original and affixing canceled stamps to duplicate envelopes. He then distributed the copies to publicize the glass. The original letter and six of the copies descended in the Shirley family, which donated them to NBMOG as part of the Shirley Papers. Click Cleveland Letter to learn more about the letter and the First Family's beautiful Mt. Washington vases.
Queen Victoria Letter, 1886 During the summer of 1886 Frederick Shirley traveled to London to sell the English patent rights for his new line of art glass, Burmese. While on the trip he presented a tea service in the new ware to Queen Victoria and four vases to Princess Beatrice. The Queen's letter of acknowledgment, written on her behalf by Major F. I. Edwards and dated September 8, 1886, states that Edwards "has been commanded to convey to him [Shirley] the Queen's thanks for the beautiful specimen of the Ware of the Mount Washington Glass Co." The letter is preserved in the Shirley Papers (see illustration to left, NBMOG Collection, acc. 2005.253.079.1-2), along with other documents relating to the gift. The Queen subsequently ordered additional examples of Burmese glass, and Shirley used her patronage to aggressively market the new ware.
New Bedford Industrial Exposition, 1887 One of the most impressive images from the Shirley Papers is a photograph of the Mt. Washington Glass Company's display at the 1887 New Bedford Industrial Exposition (see illustration to left, NBMOG Collection, acc. 2005.253.163). The display presented a sumptuous array of ornately decorated art glass and brilliant or "rich cut" glass. Large cut glass cornucopias and a prismatic hall light hang from above, while the company's framed, three-foot wide Certificate of Award from the Centennial Exhibition is featured prominently in front. Click 1887 Exposition to see details from the photograph and learn more about the glass on display.
Photograph of the Shirley Epergne, 1903 The Mt. Washington Glass Company did not permanently mark its rich cut glass, and consequently the identification of this glass can be challenging. One exception is a magnificent, 25-inch high epergne (table centerpiece) that descended in the Shirley family for more than a century before its donation to NBMOG in 2005. The epergne is accompanied by a wonderful photograph showing it in use at the family's 68 Russell Street house in New Bedford. The pencil inscription on the back of the photograph reads "Dining room day after Nellie's wedding." Frederick Shirley's daughter Nellie was married on October 14, 1903. Click Shirley Epergne to learn how glassblower and NBMOG trustee Arthur Reed collaborated with glass cutter and NBMOG member Edward Poore to recreate the missing base, which was broken and discarded in the 1970s.