Martin: OK I have jack Wilson on Skype, how’re you doing Jack?
Jack: I’m doing well Marty, yourself?
Martin: Good, thank you, and where are you? You’re in Arizona?
Jack: Prescott Arizona; one of the top retirement locations in the United States.
Martin: Ah, well, that right away makes me think of a lot of goodies that may come in that area.
Jack: That’s Correct.
Martin: Yeah, I think of it this way, in retirement places like Florida, places like that, a lot of people may sell their furniture but a lot of times they’ll bring nice decorative arts with them or art work; in Florida a lot of things end up settling there and I’m sure it must be the same where you’re located.
Jack: more so actually in phoenix than in Prescott. There’s a lot of the antiques shops here but not a lot of what I would classify as genuine antiques; more tourist type stuff.
Martin: Ah. So today we are going to talk mostly about the subject of Ruba Rombic glass which has always fascinated me from the very first time I saw it, now how did you get interested in this subject and start researching and collecting this type of glass? And before you get into that can you explain basically what the glass is, you know I think of it as like the Cubist type form in the Art Deco era but I want you to give a description if you would please.
Jack: Sure, in the mid twenty’s, actually 1926, the Consolidated Glass Company located in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, 15 miles outside of Pittsburgh, got into the art glass business at the urging of Reuben Haley who had worked at the U.S. Glass Company and had left when the ownership changed and he didn’t like the new owners. So in ’26 he came out with a line of glass called Martele which is basically American Lalique and in ’28 he came out with a line of glass called Catalonian, all Spanish, and ‘28 was Ruba Rombic. Ruba Rombic was very very Deco. There’s a lot of different ideas of where the name came from, but I think it came from number one, Reuben, and number two, rhomboid which is a geometric figure with no parallel planes, and Ruben Haley was actually a sculptor; had worked at some of the silver companies earlier and the way I heard the story he picked a piece of plaster off the factory floor and sculpted the first piece of Ruba Rombic design in the plaster. And I heard that from a guy who worked for him. I also interviewed his son, Ken Haley in Pennsylvania before he died. So it’s very cubistic glass that came out in ’28 and the problem was it was ultramodern, number one, so some people liked it and some people didn’t, and in 1929, in October actually, we had Black Friday which was the great depression so bam the production lifecycle of Ruba Rombic wasn’t very long, and we’ve had varying estimates of how many pieces there are. Bob Aibel of Moderne Gallery of Philadelphia thought it was about 1,500; based on what I know, I think it’s between 2,000 and 3,000. But those are very, very, very small figures when you compare them to something like Lalique where if you go to a major glass show in Miami you’ll probably see 20 or 30 pieces of Lalique you can purchase, and if you see one or two of Ruba Rombic you’d be lucky.
Martin: I would say you’re right, the first time I saw a piece was when I was working in California, I’ve been in this business all my life, and this thing came in the doors, someone put it on one of our display case shelves, and I looked at it and I go “Wow. What is that?” I mean it really hit me as something pretty special. And it was a little difficult to find it when I was doing my research. But that was only, I’m gonna say seven or eight years ago and I’ve been at it since 1970.
Jack: You were asking how I got into it. I was collecting at one time Millersburg carnival glass, and I had a very advanced collection, you know; got to the point where I was looking for pieces I didn’t have and making offers of multi 1000 dollars and couldn’t buy them, so I started looking for something else to collect and I knew a dealer down in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, and she had a couple pieces of Consolidated and I didn’t even know what it was at the time, I just liked the look of it so I bought it and then I started to try to figure out what it was, and there was very little research material and I really like research, more so than even collecting. And I started researching this stuff and I said ” there’s really no definitive reference work” and so I started going down to the Pittsburgh area because there’s two different companies involved; it was originally called Phoenix Glass which was wrong, it was just like the idea of carnival glass originally, before the research was done. So there was Phoenix Glass in Monaca, and Consolidated in Coraopolis, so my research led me more and more into collecting but it took me a while to find this Ruba Rombic and that was kind of interesting because the people that originally collected it were depression glass collectors, of all things, because of a woman named Hazel Marie Weatherman who found an old catalog that had some illustrations of Ruba Rombic. So originally when collecting it early on I remember an ad in Hobbies Magazine, and I bought some shot glasses for $5.00 a piece from the East Coast and I got 1 for a dollar because it was chipped. Now you look at the prices today and you’ll pay $150, $200 for a shot glass.
Martin: That’s right. That’s right. I had someone actually come into my office in April that said they have a collection of 20 pieces and I was, I’m still, very excited and hope to get it because you rarely see a grouping that large. When you’re saying there’s 1,500 to 3,000 pieces in total that’s, you know, a very limited supply out there.
Jack: and what’s strange is it’s scarce but when it was being collected early on, a couple real treasure troves of it came out. One was like 100 pieces in sunshine yellow that Bill Heacock found, another bunch was like 25, 30 pieces on the East Coast, I actually bought that and I was bidding against Bob Aibel of Moderne Gallery and out of that lot came two 16½ inch vases which are ultra, ultra rare. But every once in awhile a bunch of it turns up and I think what happened is it was probably floor stock that somebody bought en mass when the depression hit.
Martin: Right, that makes total sense. Now, the Holy Grail of the Ruba Rombic, is it the Fishbowl on Stand?
Jack: Um, no I think the Holy Grail actually is the 16½ inch vase. They made vases in three sizes; 6½, 9½, and 16½. And the 16½ you typically only see in museums, there’s one in the Toledo Museum of Art in French crystal, there’s another one in the High Museum in Jungle Green, and there’s probably a total of 6 to 12 total known of the 16½ inch vases.
Martin: Wow. And in one single color?
Jack: No. They came in multiple colors. I have two in Smoky Topaz which is sort of a brownish crystal color, they come in French crystal which is a frosted glass where the edges are left clear, and French crystal is an allusion of course to Lalique. They come in Jungle Green, I’ve heard about them in what they call White Opal which is an opalescent glass with no color over it but I haven’t been able to confirm that. So it comes in several colors. You talked about the Fishbowl, and there’s probably 20 to 25 Fishbowls without the stands, and there’s probably 6 to 12 with the stands.
Martin: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. As in all highly collected pieces, are there fakes?
Jack: Um, there actually are no fakes. There’s only one piece, and there’s, it’s kind of unusual, it was made in the 1960s. I’ve got one with the original label. It came from Yugoslavia, I believe it was a bath salts bottle, and it’s in a color that is very close to Jungle Green, it’s got a big tall stopper, it’s almost 15 inches tall and the reason you can tell it’s not a Ruba Rombic is it’s got a whole bunch of characteristics that are wrong. The stopper is hollow; all the stoppers on Ruba Rombic are solid. It’s got definite mold lines on the side of it, the size is wrong, you can find it every once in awhile on eBay and people try to sell them has whiskey decanters which of course they are not.
Martin: You just mentioned that the fake had a mold mark. Are there no mold marks on these glass pieces?
Jack: What they did at the Consolidated is they used what they call coggle-joint molds, and that’s where the mold lines follow the design so there are mold marks but they are very very hard to find.
Martin: That’s interesting. Now the design of these is just so abstract and it seems to me, my first thought in looking at a piece, it must be very difficult to design something like this so it has an appeal and doesn’t look awkward or clunky. Were there pieces that do have that type of look, a little say, not so appealing?
Jack: I think there are pieces that, I don’t know if I would say it that way, I would say there are pieces that are more highly collectible than others, it’s like rarity is not the only determining factor; desirability plays into it too. Some pieces just look spectacular you know, the water pitchers are super rare but they just look fantastic when you find one, but then some of the serving pieces are rare, you know, the relish dishes and stuff like that, but they’re not so desirable in my mind; they just don’t hit you the same way as some of the other pieces.
Martin: Now, can you explain how this was brought into the market, you know, to begin with?
Jack: Yeah, what happened is there’s an annual show down at the Fort Pitt Hotel in Pittsburgh in January for both glass and pottery, and what happened with Ruba Rombic is Consolidated rented three rooms in 1928; one room was full of Martele, one room was full of Consolidated, and one room was full of Ruba Rombic. And they actually took out a seven page add to advertise this in the Gift and Art Shop and several other glass trade magazines (that you could review at the Library of Congress is one place). So it was introduced at the Fort Pitt Hotel in 1928 and that’s when you start getting reviews and that’s when you started hearing what it meant; Ruba Rombic, Ruba’i was a poem, rhombic meaning regular in shape; you had a lot of press coverage from that. Mainly in trade journals because trade journals is where the wholesale buyers bought the stuff, department stores, and that’s how it was introduced.
Martin: I see. Now you mentioned earlier about a piece being in a museum. Are there holdings of these pieces in museums or is it just a few pieces that you’re aware of?
Jack: There are several museums that have significant amounts of this. Kirkland Museum in Denver has a significant collection and Antique Roadshow actually featured them; they made a visit there a couple years back. Brooklyn Museum has got a collection, Toledo Museum has got a collection, there’s several museums that have it and there’s been a couple of traveling exhibits also that have featured this glass. The Machine Age in America, when it traveled to Carnegie in Pittsburgh, I actually loaned them a dozen pieces from my collection to augment their display when I was living in Chicago, including my Fishbowl. The Fishbowl, one interesting thing is that all the Ruba Rombic is made by Consolidated except the Fishbowl, and if you look at the patent on the Fishbowl it’s got the factory owner’s name but it was actually designed by Kenneth Haley who was working at Phoenix after his father died.
Martin: Wow, how about that. You mentioned earlier Hazel Marie Weatherman I believe, and you talked about a catalog, could you explain again how this had something to do with depression glass?
Jack: Yes Hazel Marie Weatherman had a book called Price Trends of Depression Glass II and in her revised edition of that book she came up with a catalog of Consolidated Glass, including some Ruba Rombic pieces. So she published that catalog in her price trends book, it’s like a price guide really, and she put it in what she called market prices, and they were all ranges, you know like say a shot glass would be 5 to 10 dollars. So that was the first that I could find of actual, in the marketplace, information on Ruba Rombic. And it was for depression glass collectors and dealers so initially I would find most of my Ruba Rombic at depression glass shows. I would go to the show down in Miami, go to Chicago, et cetera, and there would always be dealers that would have some because that’s where the information originally came out.
Martin: I see. Well a lot of people always want to know this; are you aware of what the record price is for anything in this line?
Jack: the highest price that I can document, and the problem always is there’s private sales and people won’t talk; that’s one of the problems you run into. But I know, and it’s almost 20 years ago, one of the 16½” vases sold for $12,500. And I think if that were to hit the market with a knowledgeable buyer and seller today it would be closer to $25,000. But the documented price is $12,500. I also heard that Fishbowl has sold for close to $20,000, with the stand, but I can’t confirm that. And that’s the problem you run into again when you have private sales and people won’t talk about when they spent.
Martin: Now did the Fishbowl itself come in different colors or was it that yellow Marigold?
Jack: No it’s a Vaseline, a true Vaseline, very thick glass it’s like ¼” thick, it’s got a signature on the base molded into it, and the Fishbowl came in two sizes which is sort of amazing because I didn’t see the second size for a long, long time but there’s a ¾ sized version of the fishbowl that you see once in a great while. It also came in a couple of different bases; the one that you normally see is the one on the cover of my book which is a floor stand, but there’s also a small table stand, maybe three or 4 inches tall that would sit in the center of a table. That’s highly unusual. Those are the two stands that I’ve seen that actually were made for the Fishbowl. And they actually follow the angles of the base. I’ve seen people put them on bases they don’t belong on and try to say it’s a Ruba Rombic base, but it’s not.
Martin: now let’s talk about your book. What’s the name of it and where can someone find it?
Jack: it’s called Phoenix and Consolidated Art Glass 1926-1980. It’s been out of print for 10 years so where you find it is used book dealers and eBay. We printed 5,000 copies and it sold out in oh, 1999 I think it was.
Martin: almost time for a second printing?
Jack: Yes, the publisher is out of business but I’ve got all the files and pictures and all that sort of stuff and with the advancement of technology it would be actually fairly easy to do.
Martin: I understand from all the people I’ve talked to, I’ve never written a book but I understand that there’s a lot involved in that; how long did it take you to put that book together?
Jack: The research is really what took the time because what you find is finding the glass is easier than finding the catalogs and the real information, not just the thoughts about it, it took me about 10 years to pull it together because I was definitely against a picture book where you just have a lot of pictures and no information. I wanted something that was definitive in terms of really being a reference book.
Martin: Has there ever been any rumor or any factual evidence that you’re aware of, as to what actually inspired Rueben Haley to design the first piece?
Jack: No, I actually talked to a guy that worked with him, who’s still alive by the way, down in Pennsylvania and he told me the story about him picking up the piece of plaster off the factory floor and sculpting it but there’s nothing that says I was inside his head and I can tell you why he did this. Don’t know. It was very Art Deco, you know, the height of Art Deco, so I’m sure he was influenced by other things.
Martin: I had just wondered if perhaps it was maybe a Cubist painting that he was inspired by, but I can totally see… I love the Deco era because it’s so out of the box, and you find so many unique pieces whether it’s a radio, or any type of decorative art or furniture. You never know what you’re going to see; it’s really amazing. Overall how do you think the market is on Art Deco; is it just the high end items or is everything still strong in general?
Jack: I think it’s like a lot of antiques, it’s cyclical, it’s up and down, and Ruba Rombic is so rare that anything that comes on the market, unless it’s very common, and the only thing that are really common are the smaller plates, will sell for fairly good money, and the reason you can tell that is if you watch some of the stuff on eBay, even the stuff that I would consider to have significant damage, brings fairly good money these days. And the reason for that is in the early days the good stuff was bought up by collectors and museums, and that’s where it’s sitting right now. So what you’re seeing that’s coming on the market is stuff that was probably passed on 20 years ago. You know if it had a crack in it, people wouldn’t buy it. Today they will. So I think the really great stuff, no doubt about it, is going to bring big bucks and you can see it in terms of, they appraised a whiskey set that I think was last year on Antique Roadshow from a woman in Pittsburg, that’s a premiere piece if you want to collect that stuff, here’s a whiskey decanter and shot glasses and a tray which is very hard to find, which is sort of an iconic piece if your collecting that stuff it’s going to bring big bucks. And when people realize how rare this stuff is, a lot of people still don’t know even what Ruba Rombic is; I see glass collectors and they’re talking about how rare there glass is, and I say “have you seen a piece of Ruba Rombic” and a lot of them haven’t.
Martin: Right, it goes back to what I said; it took me a long time to find my first piece, and I had never had a big fascination for it, but every time I see a piece these days I’m pretty interested in looking at it. It’s funny how you can look at a piece at different angles, and this is a type of glass that you can actually move around on your shelf to get a whole different effect.
Jack: Right, fantastic and especially if you’ve got a display case with mirrors and stuff like that you really get some interesting look-sees at it.
Martin: What are other types of glass that you collected. You said there was a type of carnival glass?
Jack: Yes I started off with carnival. Initially I was just collecting general carnival, and then I met a collector in Chicago that knew what he was doing and I basically dumped what I had bought originally and I got interested in Millersburg carnival glass out of Ohio and again that’s another company that didn’t have any research, so I did a bunch of research and what I published was Millersburg Research Notes at that time. I sold my collection of Millersburg in 1982 in Strongsville Ohio. The auction grossed a little over 100 grand.
Martin: That was big money then!
Jack: Yeah one piece brought $8,000 a Rose Columns vase in blue that I had purchased for $300; two people were after it and it was the only one known at the time; there’s a couple known now. So from that I bought a house. It was the middle of the depression. But I actually had started collecting Consolidated at that point in time, and I was really into research, so I was finding out what this stuff was. I was in Chicago at the time so I could drive to Pittsburgh in 8 hours, so I just ran down people, looked at catalogs, and finally found Kenneth Haley in Greenberg, PA with his wife, visited with him several times, interviewed him over the telephone several times, and that was in effect a breakthrough. I also found an owner of Consolidated at one time, Bob Dietz, that was living out in Studio City in California, went out and visited with him, he had some catalogs he gave me.
Martin: Original catalogs?
Jack: Original catalogs, yeah. He has a couple pieces of glass and he had several catalogs, and if he had two, he would keep one and give me the other. If he had just one catalog he wouldn’t give it to me but he would let me photograph it. The catalogs are really the hardest thing to find.
Martin: Oh I bet. Now has anyone ever talked about the molds turning up anywhere?
Jack: Yes the molds actually have turned up, it’s kind of interesting because Consolidated went out of business in 1963 and it was in the middle of a labor dispute and the Dietz brothers actually bought the company for, it was $20,000 I think, in that range, with backing from the guy that owns Sinclair Glass in Hartford City, Indiana. Sinclair Glass Company ended up with the molds or at least half of them, and the rest were scrapped, and I actually visited, when I was researching for the book, Sinclair Glass in Hartford City and they were using about a dozen of the molds. The rest of them they had out in chicken coups laying on the ground and you know chicken coups are not water proof of course, and just amazing that I could see a Dancing Nymphs mold, or half of it at least, laying on the ground full of water. But they had about a dozen they were actually using. They made, in the sixties, they modified one of those molds to make swag lamps; you know how they used to hang from the ceilings? So they put flanges on top of some of these vases and made swag lamps out of them. Didn’t make a lot, because you don’t see them very often. Those molds, a dozen or so were eventually sold to Pilgrim Glass up in Ceredo, West Virginia, when Kelsey Murphy was up there as their glass designer, and after they were sold I actually went up there and visited Kelsey to take a look at what they were doing. They had the big 16-inch blackberry umbrella stand mold, and when I was there they made me one in black that was sand blasted to make it look matte rather than bright. And Pilgrim now is out of business and those molds have gone to a collector; they’re out of the market. Phoenix molds, they had a bunch of molds too, and they’re in a basement. Phoenix no longer has hand-mold capabilities; they’re all machine molds, so they can’t use those molds.
Martin: I would still feel a little bit uneasy if I had a major collection and I knew the molds were out there, myself, but is there any danger of that being pirated in any way?
Jack: Well anything is possible. I’ll tell you one story when I was in Chicago, and I won’t name names to protect the guilty, but I’ve got a pair of Ruba Rombic wall sconces, they’re rather large, they were probably commercial you know in a theater or something like that; they’re very rare. So I knew a lamp dealer, a fairly significant lamp dealer in Chicago, and I was telling him about the sconces and he asked me if he could borrow them to send them to China and have them reproduced. Which I would not concur to, of course, but that’s just the kind of stuff that’s going on.
Martin: Absolutely. I’m going to get a little off track here but I’m going to tell you that I saw some French Empire-style, dore bronze figural candelabras that were cast in China that you could not tell these were not period re-gilt. The casting was perfect. They can make amazing copies in China, it seems.
Jack: They have to have something to copy though, so unless somebody cooperates, they’re not going to do it.
Martin: Yes. I’m glad (laugh) you didn’t in that case, but I’m sure that person that was looking is probably continuing to look.
Jack: They’re still in business and I’ve seen some of the Consolidated lighting glass, the lighting glass came out a little later than the rest of the glass, and so there’s a lot less of it because of the depression, but I’ve seen some of the stuff reproduced. Some of the sconces I’ve seen reproduced, and those you can actually, if you’re a glass collector, you can actually tell the differences between the reproductions and the originals. But I haven’t, other than the molds I told you that actually moved around to Sinclair Glass Company in Pilgrim, are the only ones and those are identifiable. There are ways of telling those.
Martin: You mentioned when we first started talking that the Great Depression hit. So that hit in 1929, was this glass made just the one single year?
Jack: I think it was probably made in 1928 and into 1929. I read the trade journals, I was at the Library of Congress, and the union used to send in a report every month about what was going on at the factory, and it sounded like the worst thing in the world, you know the people were being laid off, so I think the longest it was made was 18 months. Now they made some lighting glass a little later; ‘28, ‘29,’30, but it’s very hard to find so they couldn’t have made very much. For example, I sent you a little recap of Ruba Rombic, and it include a 14” shade in there; there’s probably less than ten of those shades known worldwide. So they couldn’t have made them very long, just impossible. And after Consolidated shut down in ’31, some molds actually went to Phoenix, and they had labels on them originally called The Reuben Line because Kenneth Haley moved them over there, not his father. But they never made any Ruba Rombic after Consolidated shut down, and they never made it after reopening in 1936. So it was just a short period of time that Ruba Rombic was actually produced, and I’ve never seen a Ruba Rombic mold; even when I visited Sinclair and I walked through all those chicken coups looking at all their molds. They weren’t there. And now, Sinclair is out of business, and my understanding is those molds have been turned under ground, (according to) some people I’ve talked to down there.
Martin: What do you mean by that “turned under ground”?
Jack: Basically buried them. Took a tractor and pushed them under ground.
Martin: That’s good. What would you consider has been the biggest grouping that has come up in Ruba Rombic glass?
Jack: The biggest collection that I’ve ever seen that have become publicly available was Bob Aibel’s Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia in 1992 mounted an exhibition and sale called “Ruba Rombic at Moderne” and Bob Aibel actually hired a professional PR firm, sent out postcards to 3,000 people on his mailing list and it was 350 pieces of Ruba Rombic that were on exhibition and sale. Most of them were for sale; there were a few pieces that were for exhibition only but most of them were for sale. The majority of the pieces in that collection, but not all, were from the collection of a depression-glass dealer Kevin Kiley of West Orange, New Jersey. And then Aibel augmented it with additional Ruba Rombic dealers in New York. And they had a preview, which I attended because I had lent them a lot of illustrations from my book, a seven-panel broadside that introduced Ruba Rombic was blown up, and so that sale set the water mark, the early water mark as far as pricing because all of a sudden when Ruba Rombic appeared at Moderne Gallery we left the age of being able to buy cheap Ruba Rombic at depression-glass prices to having Ruba Rombic accepted as true Art Deco glass and priced accordingly. Several major pieces sold at that sale; there were a lot of museum acquisitions, I mentioned that French crystal vase that Toledo Museum of Art acquired for $12,500; that actually came from Bob Aibel’s sale, so it was the high water mark. I’ve never seen a public accumulation like that since. There are several private large collections of Ruba Rombic; I have one, I know of one in San Francisco, I know another one in Miami, but these are not public so you can’t just go and look unless you know the people.
Martin: Interesting. This has been great. I want to ask you one more question. Are you available to the public that is listening to this to evaluate …
Jack: Yes I will, but I give my opinions but I’m not a professional appraiser, and I guess there’s a difference between that because I’ll say what I think something’s worth and I’ll say “here’s what the market looks like today” and a professional appraiser would probably give them three different values on it, you know; “Here’s a replacement value, blah blah blah”. So I give opinions based on my experience.
Martin: That’s the real opinion, (laughing) that’s what it is. So thank you so much, and what’s the best way for someone to get in contact with you?
Jack: The easiest way to contact me is just to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin: Alright, thank you so much, this is Martin Willis with Jack Wilson, and we are signing off.