The C.F. Monroe story is one of the many Cinderella stories of modern day collection. Until recently this fine glass was amazingly neglected: amazingly since it easily rivals similar articles produced by the Smith Brothers and Mt. Washington Pairpoint Glass Companies in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. However, while the demand and the prices began to rise for the various decorated Opal Ware articles produced by Mt. Washington and the Smith Brothers, comparable C.F. Monroe pieces often sat unnoticed on the shelves of many antique shops. All this irrevocably changed when Albert Christian Revi, author of nineteenth Century Glass, and other authors began to call collectors’ attention to the fine qualities of this lovely glassware. The fire of collector enthusiasm was ignited, and prices began a dramatic rise.
Decorated Opal ware was at the height of its popularity from 1890 to 1910, and the C. F. Monroe Company was one of the largest producers of this type glass. Charles F. Monroe opened his shop first shop in 1880 in Meriden, Connecticut and he dealt primarily in imported glassware. By 1882, Monroe was operating his own glass-decorating studio, and was soon employing highly talented local artists as decorators. When the 1890’s arrived and the demand for finely decorated glass was its height, Monroe employed such fine artists as Carl V. Helmschmied, Walter Nilson, J.J. Knoblauch, Joseph Hickish, Carl Puffee, Flora Fiest, Gustave Reinman, Florence Knoblauch, Emil Melchior, and Alma Wenk, Blanche Duval, Gussie Stremlan, Elizabeth Zeibart, and Elizabeth Casey, The decorators often went back and forth between other companies, and sometimes posed a problem. The C.F. Monroe Company went out of business in 1916.
The Monroe Co. did not manufacture its own glass; rather, it bought its blanks, i.e. undecorated glass, from France, Mt. Washington-Pairpoint and possibly other American glass houses. These glass blanks were of an opaque, creamy white glass called, by the trade. Opal Ware. The majority of these blanks were made in a mold and the mold lines can be detected on the finished product, pieces have been discovered without any mold marks.
Before the blanks were decorated, some of them were treated to an acid bath which gave the blanks a soft, lusterless finish. Many of the blanks had a matte surface painted on them which was the background color. Some pieces have been found with a glossy background color painted on all or part of their surface, very few pieces have been found in their original glossy state.
In C.F. Monroe, the decoration is EVERYTHING. The decoration came in at least seven categories or ‘Assortments’, as the company called it. The more intricate the design, the more costly the charge from the factory. Some of the finest pieces are possibly done in limited numbers and there may have been special orders. The 1900-01 catalog states, ‘any change from our regular line of stock goods will have to be submitted to the factory, and special prices quoted’.
The C.F. Monroe Company turned out its decorated Opal Ware in a variety of forms. Undoubtedly the most popular was that of a covered, hinged box, and these boxes are found today in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, which include jewelry boxes, oblong glove boxes, etc. Some of these items are in excellent condition and still have the original linings. In addition, today’s collector can find Monroe items in such forms as vases, bowls, biscuit jars, pin dishes, cardholders, letter holders, etc. Scarce items include sugar sifters, napkin rings, paper weights, whish broom holders, pin jars, wig holders and blotters, etc. Monroe items, although decorative, were meant to be used. This may be the reason why so few Monroe pieces still exist – they were used, got tarnished, or broken and thrown out.
The majority of Monroe pieces may be divided into three main categories; Wave Crest, Nakara, and Kelva, and pieces may be found with one of the other of these three signatures. Many of the pieces were never signed, especially some of the finest pieces. Monroe frequently stated his belief that the glass ‘spoke’ for itself, and needed no signature. Wave Crest was the first on the market, and enjoyed the largest and longest period of manufacture. Although Wave Crest is generally found with pastel backgrounds and on blanks with elaborate embossing, articles with dark colors and pieces with perfectly plain blanks are occasionally encountered. Wave Crest used a lot of flower transfers, and occasionally scenes and cherubs, etc. They then colored over them, also adding thick enamel touches to make them look hand done. However, it is felt that most of the transfer work came late, when the company tried to save money before it closed. Wave Crest is found in a much wider variety of shapes and forms than either Nakara or Kelva.
More scarce than Wave Crest, Nakara is frequently found in quite simple shapes with deep, rich background colors accompanied by beaded and raised enamel rococo scrolls. Beading is a characteristic of Nakara, although sometimes a mixture of beading, Nakara pastel background, and Wave Crest decoration appear on one item. Although Nakara is usually found with an acid finish, pieces may be encountered with a glossy surface; these are quite rare. Transfers of portraits, scenes, Gibson Girls, and Kate Greenaway figures are extensively used in Nakara pieces. These are quite beautiful, and command high prices. Occasionally portraits and scenes are fully hand decorated.
Apparently very little Kelva is generally found in simple shapes; it is always found with its unique, mottled, batik-like background. While Wave Crest and Nakara are found with all types of motifs, Kelva pieces are almost always found with floral decor. Occasionally, the same blank was used for all three types, and of course there are many exceptions to the above generalizations.
In addition, Monroe produced four other categories of decorated glass. One is a type of decorated crystal glass with enamel stained background quite similar to, and frequently mistaken for Mt. Washington Royal Flemish and Verona in the finest pieces. Monroe’s Decorated Crystal Ware may be found in the same shapes and with the same decor as the Opal Ware pieces or may be found in entirely different shapes and entirely different decorations. Quite a few of the Decorated Crystal Ware items have the raised white beading found on so much of the Opal Ware. When signed, these pieces have the Wave Crest black mark signature.
The second type is a decorated Opal Ware quite similar in coloring to Nakara, but with bisque-like china flowers applied to the glass. Very rare pieces with both portraits and applied flowers can occasionally e found; these are generally of exceptional beauty, and are usually signed Nakara.
Monroe produced some pieces, which could be called Blown-out Opal Ware, and this is the third type.
The Monroe Company turned out unusual small boxes in which the top was almost entirely covered by an exquisitely tinted, blown-out flower. These blown-out pieces may be found with one of Monroe’s identifying signatures in all three lines.
The fourth is Wave Crest Cameo. The opal ware boxes were cut back with a pattern and then painted to outline the design. The bottom half of the box was also cut to finish out the design with the top. These boxes were cut back with a pattern and then painted to outline the design. The bottom half of the box was also cut to finish out the design with the top. These boxes are exceedingly rare.
The C.F. Monroe Company produced cut glass also. Around the turn of the century, they produced some of the finest cut glass in the country; unfortunately, very few pieces were marked. However, Monroe cut glass boxes can be easily recognized because they generally take the same shape and have the same collars and clasps as their Opal Ware counterparts. Even less well known is the fact that this same company manufactured some beautifully embossed sterling silver and brass boxes. Now and then an article of cut glass with a marked ‘sterling’ part and occasionally, signed with ‘C.F.M. Co.’ or trademark will come to light.
The majority of Monroe articles are found with silver plated or ormolu metal parts attached to them. Some pieces have brass parts and these can sometimes be found with ‘CFM Co.’ signed on the piece. While ormolu parts are found on a majority of the items, silver plated parts are usually found on table items such as biscuit jars, sugar sifters, salt and peppers, etc. and on quite a few of the Kelva pieces. The metal parts were attached to the glass with plaster of Paris.
As Monroe himself believed, his glass does speak for itself, and no serious student of glass needs a signature, true or otherwise, ‘early’ or ‘late’, in identifying the elegant pieces produced by this fine company.
A word on identification; Sometimes, I am not sure if a piece is C.F. Monroe. After working with this group and studying the glass itself, I find myself learning more and more about it. No one has all of the answers and most are more than willing to share what we have learned in our years of collecting.
When I first became interested in Monroe I asked one of the more knowledgeable collectors, “How can you tell if it is Monroe?”
They looked at me and said “You just know.”
Which I thought was kind of rude, but I realized that they were just telling me what I already had learned. The study of the glass, the look, the molds and styles are all attributed to Monroe. I hope this helps you in your quest for more C.F. Monroe.