A famous handmade glassware company, Heisey went out of business in the 1950s but still sends passionate collectors hunting the Holy Grail of their own: the perfect piece, the dream Heisey of each individual collector. I am lucky enough to conduct an interview with a very knowledgeable and long-time collector, as well as lucky enough to be around her rich and beautiful collection every day, as she is my grandmother-in-law. Joyce Rohde was kind enough to answer all my questions. You'll see some pictures as well, although I'm saving the real photo shoot for a sunnier day.

- Can you tell us a little about the Heisey brand?

Heisey was a handmade glass factory located in Newark, Ohio, started in 1896 and closed in 1956. And the reason it was closed, and which has been the fate of most of the other handmade glass companies, is that it was too expensive – the cost of labor was just too much to keep producing the glassware. And it was hard to compete with factory made glassware. It wasn’t the first and the last to close, like Fostoria, Cambridge, Seneca, Imperial, all have since closed. It is a very sad thing though because it is such beautiful glassware. They do still make handmade glass in other countries like Ireland by Waterford, and Austria by Bohemia, but then labor is so much cheaper there.

- How did you start collecting Heisey?

I remember the very day I started – I heard about it before, but after that day, I immediately got books to study it. I used to go to an antique fair called the Treasure Mart in Pendleton at the Catholic Church and they always displayed furniture on the ground floor, and in the basement they had houseware, and I had never been there, because I wasn’t interested in any houseware. This one year I went, in 1969, I looked around, but there was absolutely nothing I could find, and so I went down to the housewares section in the basement. There was tables and tables of stuff, for which I would go wild if it was today, and I saw this little creamer and sugar for 25 cents, and after playing some bridge, visiting with the people, etc. I took them to the cashier. The cashier said, “What in the world, they priced it 25 cents? It should be much more, this is Heisey,” and I didn’t’ even know what it meant. I asked, “What is Heisey?” And I got them for the sheer utilitarian purpose. But then I decided to find out about Heisey, and I did, and shortly after that, I became an avid Heisey collector.

- What, in your opinion, makes Heisey special?

Well, I don’t suppose it is any more special in quality then Imperial or Fostoria, for the most part, but I did limit myself to one brand and didn’t want to collect a whole bunch of glassware. Instead I concentrated on Heisey.
Also, in 1973 or 74, the Heisey Collectors of America bought all the Heisey molds from Imperial glassware, who had bought the factory when it was closed. The reason was to prevent any other company from making glassware in the Heisey molds and then calling it another name. So when you’re collecting Heisey, you can be sure that it’s Heisey.

- How about the social perks of collecting Heisey; have you made new friends who are collectors over the years, or have you reinforced friendships?

Actually, I would say that it’s the biggest reward of collecting Heisey - the relationships we built and the friends we have made. As an example, we started the Caraways, our friends in Texas, collecting Heisey. We used to take our mobile home to the Heisey convention in Newark, OH, and this man approached us when we were in one of the social gatherings there. He was Percy Moore, the director of Heisey Collectors of America. We visited for a while, we talked about glassware, and then Glenn said, “Well, enough about Heisey, are there any old cars?” That started a long and rewarding friendship, and we bought 3 antique cars through him. The following year, the Moores invited us to stay at their house, and we did every subsequent year thereafter, and I can’t tell you how we loved that! One of Percy’s favorite quotes was, “Gosh, I wish I’d known you wanted that,” indicating that he would have found us the piece, after we found things in the yard sales in the area. All the people in Newark knew about the convention, and we would go a few days earlier to the convention, and look at the yard sales that people organized knowing that the town would be populated at that time, and every time we found something we would go back to the Moores, go through our stuff, and he would say the same thing.
And we made so, so many friends collecting Heisey and going to conventions.
And the Caraways - even though we have been lifelong friends, now we had a common purpose; it made our collecting so much more fun. Calling each other and talking about our finds and interests, because we each had our concentration – Dale collected candlesticks, and Barbara liked old-sandwich and empress and crystolite – and it made us closer and we had more in common, and more things to do together.

- What are your best sources in finding new pieces?

It’s a great question. I have to say that ebay is where I find most of my stuff in the last 10 years. Previous to that, it was estate sales, yard sales, and antique shows. And then I also became known in this area for collecting Heisey, and I was always asked to do programs for different organizations, and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to come up to me and say they know of someone who had Heisey, or they have some Heisey, etc. and I found quite a bit that way.

- Do you wish that Heisey was still being produced, or would you rather have it this way?

I’d rather have it this way. It wouldn’t be any fun if anyone sold Heisey it wouldn’t be hard to find, there would be no challenge.

- What is your favorite piece of all times, and do you have a dream piece, one you have been looking for but can’t get or find?

I do have a piece that I have been looking for in years - and it’s the favor vase in tangerine color. Heisey indicated that there were some of these made, but as far as I know, there is no one in the US that has the favor vase. But if I found it, the hunt would be completed.
And I have numerous favorite pieces, it’s in the flamingo color, it’s a cologne bottle and I love it so much that I can’t resist buying it. I already have 3, and there’s one on ebay right now and I’m watching it with anxious expectation.

This is one of her favorite cuts from Heisey.

Her favorite piece, the one she cannot resist buying over and over again even though she already has 4.

A capturing display of her favorite color, 'zircon'. Her favorite zircon piece is the mustard bowl with the little paddle. She even remembers the day she got it.


irem said…
This collection craze in the US continues to bypass my understanding. I have been sensing it through such shows as Cash In The Attic. The way people bid in those auctions suggest that they have hopes selling the stuff. Yet at times, this stuff is not old, leave alone being in a genuine sense collectible (by collectible i mean like the case of heisey here).

There is clearly something I lack personally to grasp this. I do not dare mock all the millions of Americans who are hooked up. Say I do not come from an aristocratic family. We have never had "precious" objects in the house, save some old brass kitchenware. Another reason might be because I am too young and have been living in a time and place where love for objects are despised. A third reason which is more sociological can be that we in the old world have never felt a lack of old things around us.
irem said…
Another little note. Glassware is certainly not dead. But continues to be expensive. South of Sweden is famous for it, see "Kosta Boda" and "Orrefors". Yes they cost a fortune. The best thing about them I find to be the little name tags they attach to pieces with the name and photo of their designers.
p e l i n said…
I've always been a collector of stamps, postcards, tin boxes myself, but I don't exactly know why. But Americans love to collect, that's for sure. They have an admiration and respect for what they consider 'old' objects that reflect a former lifestyle - my grandparents-in-law collect old advertisements and signs, too. Maybe their lives changed so fast that these things became different and precious in no time. We still have many of those old stuff around, we haven't completely got rid of the things of an older lifestyle for new gadgets and other stuff. And they have so much more space than we do - we're cramped in little apartments as opposed to their two-story houses and huge basements plus the garages.

I personally like glassware but prefer porcelain.

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