VENUS RISING by Imperial - The Story of Mirror Images

by Roni Sionakides - August 1999

In 1981 both my late husband, George, and I had been in the business of selling Depression and Elegant glassware for about eight years. We had been doing quite a reasonable business, enough to support us realistically, and we were feeling this would be a long time business venture. We had not anticipated any foreseeable problems such as a down turn in the economy. But that happened. The country was converting from the Carter to the Reagan years and we, along with much of the rest of he U.S., experienced a dry time for both buying and selling. Since we were in this as a full-time job, we had to look in other directions for support or give up and admit that being our own business persons was a failure and go back to the daily grind.

The year before, we had done the first Glass Bash, an all glass show promoted by Barb Schaeffer, editor of the Glass Review (formerly Rainbow Review). At the Bash, we met the Boyd family who had just purchased the old Degenhart factory and was continuing the production of many of the molds used by Elizabeth Degenhart. We signed up and became dealers for the Boyd factory. Over the foltowinq year we noticed that new collectible glass, presented in a series of colors, was gaining in popularity. New figurines and objects were popping up with the Glass Review being the primary promoter.

As business turned downward for us, George and I got to talking about this new glass and if we were to get into the production and what we would produce. Many of the new pieces were not especially attractive either in quality, design or color. I had mentioned to George that one of the classiest pieces that could be produced in a series of colors was the Cambridge Bashful Charlotte, the 6 1/2" nude that had been in the line when Imperial bought the remaining Cambridge stock and molds. That led to a discussion about what colors could we produce and what Lenox/Imperial was capable of doing for us. They owned the mold, had a large repertoire of colors and would contract for special order work, an ideal situation to produce this little figurine.

Well, the next thing we knew, we were talking to our good friend, Orie Scherschligt, and he said if we did anything to count him in for support. So the partnership was born and the paperwork done in Eaton County in the great state of Michigan. We received our DBA for Mirror Images. All we had to do was convince Lenox/Imperial this was a great idea. Off to Bellaire, Ohio went George and Orie. Imperial was not exactly jumping up and down over this proposal so they came home a bit discouraged but with interesting stories of the Ohio River running through the Imperial morgue and the molds being in rusted and inoperable condition.

We examined the reasons Imperial gave us for turning down the project, primarily the fact that the mold was in poor condition. Conditioning the mold and reworking it was going to cost us up front. I suggested it we had to repair the mold that we have them remove the holes, making it no longer a direct reproduction. The base would be hollow. We would see a savings on postage costs as the solid base piece would weigh more than one with a hollow base. And we wouid also see the plunger action work smoother, another Imperial concern. This was suggested to Imperial and they agreed to the changss. Our cost was about $600.00. We each put in $300.00 and sent it to Imperial and before we reaiized it, we were in the glass making business.

The mold was cleaned and revised, marked with the IG-81 and all ready to go. Imperial had pressed a wax sample which I still have, to examine the mold action. We produced a trial run of glass in ultra blue (a dark transparent blue similar to cobalt), a few dozen, to see if the mold truly worked without the holes. Imperial was ecstatic. The mold worked beautifully and consistently. Cambridge had indeed designed a great piece of glass except for the holes which had a tendency to crack. We solved the problem neatly. Once the mold was functioning we began to advertise and promote. Early dealers who signed up for six or more figurines received the ultra blue figurine to use in their own marketing until we could get the first color out.

The first color we decided would be opaque black in plain and satin. We agreed that each color would be produced both ways. Imperial used a hydrofluoric bath for making a satin finish which creates a soft color that absorbs light and shows off all the lines. The result was so lovely that we never questioned the additional cost Imperial quoted us for the process.

But coming up with a name for the color was a little more of a challenge. I've had people ask me how we got our name, Mirror lmages, and how we selected the color names. Mirror Images, no explanation of the meantng needed, was my suggestion as was the first color name, "Midnight Magic", just a hair on the suggestive side and all of us giggled about the name and said it would be great. Midnight Magic was, and probably still is, the name of a hybrid black iris. Both our families were heavily into gardening so names from flower magazines were inspiration for some of the names. Orie and his family named all the other colors, most of which escape me eighteen years later.

We had our darkest hour about a week before we were to press the first color, the black opaque, a combination order of one thousand in plain and satin. We had already standing orders for more than three-quarters of the scheduled run and were excited to get going. Our little project was taking off and enthusiastically supported by so many of our friends and new acquaintances. The news out of Lenox/Imperial was enough to sink our spirits and send us to the poorhouse. Lenox announced that they were putting the Imperial factory on the market and if it did not sell in a week it would be shut down. Well, not to be too terribly done in, George and I began to talk about buying the factory outright. Lenox was only asking one-million for the entire factory, building, molds, everything. We were on the brick of approaching the Small Business Administration for a loan when Lenox announced the sale to Arthur Lorch. Lorch bought up small failing businesses with the intention of turning them around. Needless to say he was an entire failure with Imperial. There was no turning around their losses. Lenox had thoroughly damaged the Imperial Glass Company. But in the meantime, we were able to produce twelve colors in about a year at Imperial. Orie continued with the Mirror Images business after we backed out over the quality of a second project with Imperial involving animal figurines from Heisey and Imperial molds in ultra blue and opaque black. Orie wanted to continue with the now project, but George and I saw an upturn in the economy and had to make a decision to continue with a failing and intractable Imperial at the expense of Deer Trail Antiques, our real business, or let it go and build up the glass inventory. We chose the latter with no regrets. Mirror Images is a wonderful memory for me and recently with the advent of selling the leftover stock on eBay, I have had a chance to relive the experience, sharing my stories with new collectors.

Mirror images was able to produce the original idea of issuing twelve colors other than the sample in ultra blue . They were, not necessarily in order as my memory fails here, black (Midnight Magic), red/amberina (Ruby Sunset), pink (Pink Pixie), light green (Green Goddess), amber (Forever Amber), yellow, light blue (Blue Belle), caramel slag, opaque blue, dark green, opaque green, and the last one in crystal. The satin in this one is hard to find, as lmperial was having trouble and I believe Orie was considering sandblasting this one to get the satin. Red carnival, a thirteenth, was also made at the end, the only one not done in satin. Later Orie made the mold in a light Moonlight Blue but with original Cambridge base, solid and with the holes for flowers. It was not marked. He made about three hundred of these.

Originally we planned to limit the editions to one thousand pieces of each color and advertised it with that in mind. Black, the first color, had a great response and was the only one truly made according to plans. The response was so overwhelming when we announced the next color would be red that we increased The order to fifteen hundred for the red. The others were produced in approximately fifteen hundred until we ordered the light blue. That one we barely received enough to cover standing orders less than half what we told Imperial we wanted. The factory workers took them home (and you wonder why Imperial failed); we saw them at flea markets all around Ohio. After that, as interest waned, we only ordered about five hundred and eventually only three hundred. The first six colors listed above made in the originally advertised issue of one thousand or more today can be found readily. The rest were issued in a quantity of five hundred or less and will be much more difficult to locate.

Opposition did exist when word got out we were going to reproduce a Cambridge mold, especially from the National Cambridqe Collectors. They were not impressed that two of their members would do such a thing, but then we learned that the club had approached Imperial before we did and was also turned down for the same reasons we were given. We simply did not give up and created a way that Imperial could work with us. We radically altered the mold which did not cause any confusion as a reproduction and marked it with its date of origin. NCC was mostly upset because they had not thought to rework the mold. It is also doubtful they would have put money into making the mold function. We knew that many NCC members did like the figurine. Several purchased a set from us.

Packing that many figurines for shipping was an all day ordeal. George, Orie and I were the main packers with one of Orie's girls sometimes helping and our 2 1/2 year old son running around yelling: Mess, mess!" at the top of his lungs as we threw boxes, bags of styrofoam peanuts, tape and labels all over our yard or kitchen. That is still the one memory both Orie and I have firmly planted: little Zack learning language at ous expense. Today Zack is an engineering student at Michigan Technological University. So he was learning more than language while we packed boxes.

When I first got into collecting glassware in 1973, Imperial was one of the few remaining strongholds of glass making in America. Eleven years later, in 1984, after a stint being owned by Lenox, Imperial closed its doors for good. At that time George and I were putting the profits from the figurines into supporting Imperial's newest caramel slag issue. We had our first two orders go smoothly and as always, we paid our bill in ten days. We got an extra small percentage off the wholesale price for prompt payment. We sold the animals, bowls, candy dishes, etc. in the Daze and had a good clientele built up. Our third order caused us some concern as it seemed to take Imperial forever to fill it and it was not complete. We knew that the rumors about Lorch searching for a buyer for Imperial were serious. Our fourth order never came and shortly after, Imperial was sold to a liquidator. At that time, the mid-80's, we also saw Westmoreland. Fostoria and Tiffin succumb to the reality of imports and the wholesale farming out of American jobs overseas. Federal closed its doors when the FTC refused to let it merge with the Lancaster-Colony Corporation.

When I reflect back on that era of collecting it was a most exciting time to be a collector of American made glassware but it was also a time to weep as our rich heritage of fine design and quaHty product came to a dead halt. It has not to this day, and probably will never in the future recover. American-made glassware still lives on in the hearts of thousands of collectors who have preserved the heritage in collections all over the world, and who love the beauty of what the American craftsman was capable of producing in the past and can produce again in the future.

Webmaster's NOTE: This article was originally published on the DG Shopper Online web site. That site is now defunct, and we have received permission from the author to post it here.