As a former Cambridge Glass Company worker, Susanna "Bea" Stillion is one of the most recent to be videotaped by the Cambridge Cordials Study Group. She has shared a glimpse of Cambridge Glass history with us, adding to the wealth of information about glass processes and including personal memories that might otherwise go untold.
Bea started working at the Cambridge Glass company at the age of fifteen; an age that, we came to find out, was not unusual. At that time, a number of young boys and girls were working. She and Mary Burik (see the June CRYSTAL BALL) shared some amusing stories concerning this topic.
Bea started out in the Cutting Department. After being laid off, she returned to work in the Etching Department. Within this department there were several "shops." In each "shop" there usually was a printer, a cut-out girl, two put-on girls, and two rub-down girls. Bea's job was that of putting the print on the glass.
The procedure within the "shop" was outlined in detail. Bea described the steel plate where the printer designed the etching. After applying ink he put a thin paper on the plate and rubbed it until the design was transferred. The paper was then lifted and handed to the cut-out girl, who used a penknife to cut off the excess paper. Then, as Bea had so often done when she worked there, the print was carefully put on the glass so that no lines overlapped and the print was perfect. Another girl placed the glass on a covered peg and rubbed an eraser-like tool over it until the print was on the object being done. After this was accomplished, the glass was dipped in an alcohol and water solution to remove the paper and leave the print on the glass.
At this point, the glass was put on a board and was taken to the Wax Department to have wax applied wherever the piece was to remain clear. From there it was sent to be subjected to the acid. After the acid treatment, the black ink was washed off with hot water in the "scalder." Then the glass was placed in sawdust and shined. Finally, the etched glass was inspected.
This department worked by "piece work" rather than a flat rate. Therefore, the shop's working together well was important to all members. Although the girls had their own jobs, when they finished their work, they would help the others within their shop. Rubbing down took more time and it was important to know just how much pressure to use. Bea stated that relish trays were difficult to do and that large pieces were awkward to do because they were hard to hold.
Bea has greatly helped us to learn about the Etching department and to picture more clearly the Cambridge Glass Company in operation. The Cambridge Cordials appreciate her assistance.