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"Painting the Glass Bubble" Reverse Painted Glass Silhouettes

Throughout the 1920's - 1950's, inexpensive art forms adorned the homes of many people who sought the nostalgia of the Victorian Age. One popular art form was the silhouette picture painted reversely on a concave bubble glass, overlaying a printed picture.

The pieces were often encased in thin metal frames with cardboard backing and a tiny metal hook. The silhouette pictures were hand painted on the reverse side of a bubble glass with a small detailed brush in a black or black with gold guilted paint, which cast a shadow over the background in certain light. The subjects of the pictures varied from elaborately dressed Victorian costumes to nature or sporting scenes. The backgrounds featured printed landscaped scenic views of pastures, cottages or mountains. The Benton Glass Company of Benton Harbor, Michigan was a major producer of these bubble glass reverse paintings which usually featured thin, multicolored, metal banded frames. Many of their pictures feature nature scenes rather than elegantly costumed characters. The company operated only thirteen years from 1940-1953.

Advertising promotional silhouettes were commonly manufactured as gifts for clients of various home maintenance companies. The pieces depicted home scenes that corresponded with the company product, such as heating, livestock feed, furniture or other home use products. These silhouettes often included red liquid bulb thermometers with the company name, address and phone information. These marketing tools were usually 5"x7" or 8"x6"x rectangular framed pieces, and are rare finds in today's market place. The Newton Company of Iowa was the main manufacturer of these items, which discontinued production after 1952.

Collecting reverse painted silhouette pictures can be an inexpensive pastime, with small pictures selling as low as $5.00 for a common piece that was mass produced. Larger pieces can be valued up to $50.00 if the image is unusual and the piece is in excellent condition. Sometimes a silhouette painting has a penciled date or personal note on the cardboard back which the original owner lovingly inscribed as a reminder of a particular event or person, which gives the collector a warm connection to the past.

(Sources available upon request) Pictures from the collection of Suzanne Skwarski

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4"X5" Bubble Glass Silhouette- Victorian Picnic Scene

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8"X 6" Bubble Silhouette Scene-Italian Washer Women