Watching just one episode of Netflix's Blown Away will make you itch to add some delicately molded blown glass pieces to your cheap Ikea coffee table. While Blown Away has introduced a new generation of people to the art of blowing glass, collecting blown glass isn't a new thing. In fact, you have the Blenko Glass Company to thank for much of America's decorative hand-blown tradition.
With consistent colors and balanced forms, Blenko has been hand blowing pieces since 1921, and it's this decades-old glassware that makes the brand so collectible today.
William J. Blenko was an English immigrant who took his overlooked talents to the New World in the late-19th century. Eventually, he ended up in Milton, West Virginia, where he started up a glass company. Yet, innovation is the result of desperation, and the Great Depression forced Blenko to diversify his products so the company could survive. Thus, in 1930 the version of the Blenko Glass Company that's still around today was born.
Vintage Blenko Glass Characteristics
Blenko glass was the most popular in the mid-20th century, where its unique shapes and bright color combinations fit right in with the bold post-war designs. But, unlike your favorite modern porcelain plate manufacturers, Blenko didn't always sign their pieces. As if it couldn't get any harder to authenticate one on your own, they also never standardized a stock design or pattern, letting the glass blowers show off their talents for each new sale.
So, when you're looking for vintage Blenko glass from its prime, go into it with eyes wide open. It's not going to be an easy process to 100% authenticate on your own. However, you can use some characteristics to help guide your assessments.
- Blenko color palette - Blenko favored various color palettes over the years, such as a rich orange and yellow for the mid-century pieces. Their colors very rarely show up as opaque, but in different degrees of translucence.
- Silver Blenko sticker - Very few pieces today still have their silver Blenko stickers that were used until the 1980s as a sales tactic. Yet, if you find one with the sticker still there, you're in luck.
- Visible but polished pontil marks - Being hand blown means all Blenko pieces have to be taken off of a pontil rod, leaving behind pontil scars. Instead of leaving them rough, Blenko blowers fire polish the pontil scars to reduce their visibility.
Another way you can try to verify a potential Blenko piece is by referencing it against images and descriptions in past catalogs. Currently, the company's website offers a collection of downloadable catalogs that stretch back to the 1950s.
How Much Is Vintage Blenko Glass Worth?
As a collectible category, Blenko glass is moderately expensive. Considering you can find new pieces on their website ranging about $50-$200, you can expect older, rarer pieces to be worth a fair bit more.
The most expensive vintage Blenko glass is going to be the taller/larger pieces. This is dictated by how difficult it is to hand blow large pieces of glass without breaking them. Smaller pieces are comparatively much easier to make (and to perfect), meaning that they're not as valuable. For example, this nearly 3' tall gold vase structure named "Three-Part Epergne" made in 1958 sold on eBay for a just shy of $9,000. In comparison, this small yellow and red decanter from around the same year sold for $235.
Size isn't the only selling point for expensive Blenko glass - it's also age. Since it's glass, it's harder to find older pieces in pristine condition. Thus, Blenko glass from the mid-century is about as old as we can find on the market today, and it's among the most expensive available.
Is Vintage Blenko Glass Just for Decoration?
Your Blenko glass might look pretty enough to eat off of, but realistically, it's made for decoration more than anything. Modern Blenko glassware is a completely different story since being used to drink out of is what they're made for. But, when it comes to vintage pieces, it's best to leave them alone. Of course, you can use a soft cloth duster to keep them nice and clean should they start to get a little dusty.
Gone in a Blenko of an Eye
For glass collectors, Blenko stands as a highly collectible example of mid-century decorative glass from an American tradition. Their pieces may range in price, but they still have a ton of fans today. So, dust off your mantle shelves and get ready to display that beautiful Blenko piece you thrifted for a steal.