Well, the snow is gone, but the halls have been decked out for Christmas and we are making plans with our families for the holidays to come. We are pulling out the old family traditions and creating new ones. At Past and Present Home Gallery we have brought out the tinsel trees and Christmas lights and are having a ball swapping Christmas stories and favorite recipes with you. And during it all we are reminded by the hutch on north wall about some of the family traditions from long ago.
Waterford Crystal: The Family Tradition
The Penrose brothers had poured their hearts and souls into their small crystal company in Ireland. In just five long years they and their master glass-blowers had created fine crystal fit for the royal family. Their company continued to succeed with new cutting patterns and increased trade overseas. But in 1796 William Penrose passed away and the company was put up for sale a year later. These sad days weren’t all bad because it was Jonathan Gatchell, the man who had started with Waterford as a clerk, who purchased the company along with partners James Ramsey and Aimbrose Barcroft.
This new company pressed on until 1810 when John Ramsey passed away and the partnership was dissolved. Jonathan Gatchell took full proprietorship and was looking forward to continuing in the traditions of fine crystal making. He and his master glass-blowers met the challenges of increased taxes on exported goods and were even able to introduce the steam engine into their factory for running the cutting wheels. Jonathan Gatchell passed away in 1823 after working for Waterford for forty years.
Gatchell’s young son, George, inherited his portion of the company in 1835 and took on partner George Saunders. Together they saw great success for the Waterford Company including winning the Silver Awards at the Royal Dublin Society’s Exhibition in both 1835 and 1836. The partnership stayed strong until Saunders’ death in 1848 and young George carried on alone.
However, these successes were hard earned as taxes on exported goods continued to increase. This caused many of the Irish glass and crystal companies to close and Waterford Crystal struggled for another 25 years. In 1851, young George displayed a beautiful banquet center piece that included forty pieces of finely cut glass at the London Exhibition. But by October of that year, Waterford Crystal Company closed. Many of the master craftsmen worked for other companies, but they too were struggling. In 1896, the last of the Irish flint glass companies closed and the industry ceased to exist in Ireland.
The family tradition of Waterford Crystal which had been passed from family to family and generation to generation had lasted a strong 68 years. Countless innovations to the art of glass cutting can be credited to the master craftsmen of the company and millions of consumers around the world appreciated the quality of their work.
At this point you may be wondering how you can go to the store and purchase your own Waterford Crystal if the company closed all the way back in 1851. The secrets of Waterford glass cutting were held safely by the National Museum of Ireland until after World War II when a new generation of craftsman prepared to re-ignite the old Irish traditions. And that is a story for another time.