Advertising on glass probably goes back several thousand years, to the days when Syrian glass workshops put the name of their workshop on their glass. But there is a difference between putting information on glass about the maker or the owner, or even the contents, and putting a message on the glass seeking to promote something else.
About 1800 bottle makers started using two-piece hinged molds into which the molten glass was blown to make a bottle. One major advantage of this method was that a metal plate with letters could be inserted in the mold to form words on the bottle.
Different plates could be used to make identical bottles with different wording, so it became possible to mark the bottles permanently with the name of the owner and his products. This was not advertising, it was an attempt to stop other drinks manufacturers from stealing the bottles. In the early 19th century advertisements were embossed onto bottles in this way, especially onto medicine bottles.
The use of glass as a means of advertising and promoting a business started in the 19th century. Advertising messages were embossed, or etched, or painted onto a range of glass “give-aways” such as paperweights, mirrors, and ashtrays. Salesmen carried these gifts and gave them to their special customers. Whiskey and patent medicine salesmen in the 1880s and 1890s carried sample glass with advertisements for their products.
Glass advertising paperweights had an interesting history. William H. Maxwell of Rochester, Pennsylvania patented a method (in 1882) of incorporating an advertisement painted onto a piece of glass, inside a glass paperweight. These pictures were often beautifully crafted in black on white, or sometimes two colors on white, and since the picture was incorporated into the glass, it does not deteriorate with time. The backs of these early paperweights are milky white glass. They are not painted and not usually covered with felt or metal, as occurs when a paper picture is glued to the back, like the little dish shown above left.
Maxwell’s patented type of advertising paperweights was made from the 1870s until about 1917, for a range of businesses in the Pittsburgh area. Other producers in the same area used similar techniques, and similar kinds of paperweights were made in the UK and Europe.
There were many other methods of putting advertisements onto paperweights like some “Glassport” models with the lettering molded onto the back.
In 1893 the United States Glass Company purchased 500 acres of land near McKeesport in Pennsylvania. They built a major glassworks and a town there over the next decade, and these paperweights were produced to encourage people to buy land in Glassport and bring their businesses to the town.