Friday, February 26, 2010

Extra, Extra - Read all about it!

Holt Glass Works never existed! We've been hoodwinked. Yep, I'm guilty as charged, along with a lot of other collectors. I swallowed the Holt myth hook line and sinker for the past God knows how many years. According to legend, Holt Glass works was located in West Berkley California, and was dated to ca. 1893 - 1906. This according to Dr. Julian Toulouse in his work "Bottle Makers and Their Marks" written in 1971.

Unbeknownst to each other, Andrew K. and I have been working independently on documenting the dates that Holt Glass Works was supposedly in business in order to more accurately date some of the transition whiskies from the turn of the century (TOC). Somewhere, I thought that I recalled hearing or reading that the factory had been rebuilt in 1905 after some sort of calamity and subsequently went to the ground for good on April 18,1906, courtesy of the Great Earthquake and Fire. We tried to use those events as a research tool as well. Problem was, the harder we researched, and the deeper we dug, the more it's mere existence seemed to slip from our grasp. To heck with tightening up the time frame and narrowing down the "* H" to "*** H" base mark. We couldn't even find written documentation of a Holt factory.

Andrew published the following this morning on the glop top site. His research seemed to point increasingly to the probability that existence of Holt Glass Works has been nothing but a myth.

He wrote:

"Did Holt Glass Works Even Exist??

I'm pretty sure it did, but who founded it and how long it existed needs to be more clearly defined. A while back I tried to research Holt Glass Works and came up with rather inconclusive findings. I started my research by reviewing the Berkeley 1892,1894, and 1897 city directories and did not find ANY glass works in the business section, and furthermore I could not find anyone with the last name of "Holt" living in or doing business in Berkeley during those years. Next, I investigated the 1900 census and found a William Holt (born in England) living in Berkeley with an occupation of "glass dealer". After reviewing city directories and census records, I decided to investigate the 1901 Sanborn Map of West Berkeley to see if I could find any clues and located a vacant glass works on the corner of 2nd and Addison Street. Could that be Holt Glass works ??????? Unknown.

I then turned my attention to 19th century Bay Area newspapers and found the following:

March 23 1885 - Campbell Glass Works of Berkeley about to begin producing glass by May 1st.

May 22 1885 - J. Campbell & Co. (proprietors of Campbell Glass Works) dissolved and J.H. Campbell to continue business in his own name.

January 15 1887 - O'Neil Flint Glass Works of West Berkeley burned and planned to be rebuilt.

November 7 1895 - Vacant glass works in Berkeley.

March 26 1896 - Glass works in West Berkeley to be re-opened or re-built.

1902 - Vacant glass works in West Berkeley on 2nd and Addison Street.

My theory is that the English emigrant William Holt re-opened one of the above vacant glass works between 1896 and 1901. I'm even open to the possibility of Holt Glass Works never existing or being named something else since the phrase "Holt Glass Works" or even "Holt Glass" did now show up in ANY documentation (newspapers, municipal reports, books. ect) published between 1885 and 1922.

Maybe a much more thorough investigation of Campbell and O'Neil glass works could shed light on the true history of Holt Glass Works.

Has anyone researched the years of all the western companies that put out bottles with that base embossed H ?

We were able to find one link to a Wm. Holt in conjunction with glass making in Berkeley. The reference was gleaned from a book written in 1952 entitled The Glass Industry; Volume 33‎ - Page 256 (Technology & Engineering - 1952).

The dating is close, but no cigar when it comes to a match according to what Toulouse wrote. And where did they get their information back in 1952? Why can't we pick up the trail of breadcrumbs? Is this what Toulouse used when he listed Holt? And why the discrepancy in dating the enterprise?

In the meantime, weeks worth of corresponding finally started to pay off and I began to receive information from research librarians and historical societies in the East Bay. I also spent the better part of this afternoon digitally screening all copies of the S.F. Call, and other Bay Area newspapers for news articles and or advertisements. I ran Holt Glass, Berkley glass factories, Berkley glass works, etc. etc. from 1895 - 1905. The search was absolutely void, nada, nuthin'~.

And then came the straw that broke the camels back in the form of an email from a senior research librarian in West Berkley. It stated;

I found many references to industrial and manufacturing businesses in West Berkeley during the era you mention, including multiple references to a glassworks called O'Neill Glass Company located at the foot of University Avenue. However, there was no mention of a Holt Glass Works or Factory.

There were also references to two substantial fires in the area. The first, in 1893, is described in The History of West Berkeley as "BIG FIRE at Sixth and Delaware destroyed four buildings including a shoe store, a saloon, a butcher shop and adjoining dwellings." The second, in 1901 is described as "A disastrous fire destroyed the Niehaus Brothers & Company Planning Mill." Neither mentions a glassworks.

I found entries for a Wm. Holt in the Berkeley City Directories from that era. The first entry I was able to find is from the 1899 Directory and the last from 1904. They read as folows:

1899 - Holt, Wm, lab, r 4th cor Holyoke
1900 - Holt, Wm, glass S F, r Anthony nr 5th
1902 - Holt, Wm, glass dlr S F, r Anthony nr 5th
1903 - Holt, Wm, glasswkr S F, r 829 Anthony
1904 - Holt, Wm, glass dlr S F, r Murray bet 7th and 8th

I say, too many inconsistencies and contradictions! Holt Glass Works - Myth Busted?


Mike Dolcini said...

I am not so convinced, but will dig deeper into this subject before calling it another "Old Figment".

NorCalBottleHunter said...

It appears you were relying on what an outdated book read, even though the so called book I hear is a must have for bottle collectors. I really hope more information surfaces in time, cause I am hooked! Good job on your recent findings through hard work and a lot of time spent!

Anonymous said...

The Toulhouse book has many errors. He even got the dates wrong on the C & I bottles.

Mike Dolcini said...

Back in bottle collecting's "pre-teen" years it was perfectly acceptable to use the SWAG method when dating glasshouses and/or bottles themselves. The "information highway" was many years from construction and not a lot of information on the subject(s) was printed. Dr Toulouse did a yeoman's job of making this information available. To fault his errors, especially considering the internet and the research available today, is not only unfair, but unwarranted.

Kentucky Gem said...

Hi all, just some quick input before I get back to our newest article.

Both Tom and Mike have valid points. One on hand Dr. Toulouse (and Bill Wilson for that matter), made more than their fair share of mistakes. And yet, they made do with what little they had to work with "way back" in 1971. Research into bottles and the companies that made them was all but non-existent. Archives were often located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from where these authors sat at their desks, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. The internet was decades off and what research being done at that time was often accomplished via phone or US mail and often relied on librarians who may or may not have transcribed the available facts to the letter.

That being said, both authors did the best they could with what tools that they had available at the time, and yes mistakes were made. But without their efforts, odds are, we wouldn't be sitting here today, having a cup of coffee some forty some years later, trying to reassemble the pieces of the puzzle that they left for us.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, if no one points out the errors in books, we will pass on incorrect info from generation to generation. I dont fault Toulouse's undertaking and effort, considering the amount of legwork it must have taken him back in the day, but I will point out an error when I see one. He got the ball rolling, now it's up to us to fine-tune it.
We can't have everyone still believing in the Tooth-fairy at this stage of bottle collecting

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