In my seventh year as design director at Blenko Glass, I decided to try something fresh and new for the company’s 1960 line. I would eschew the bright rainbow color palette and introduce three new lines, the Rialto line in translucent white, the Regal line in ruby, and the Raindrop line in clear crystal with bubbles. I christened the lines “the three R’s”.
I designed about fifty new shapes, created branding for the three lines, and samples were made. Blenko had an annual sales meeting in November 1959, and all of its US sales agents assembled in the board room, including Ed Rubel from New York and Chicago, Lee Kennedy from Atlanta, Sam Johnson from Dallas, and Ed Dillon and Jack Wells from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Bill Blenko, Sr. and Bill Blenko, Jr. sat behind a great mahogany desk at the front of the room. Bill Jr. held the ledger with records of how many of the designs could be made in an hour and costs for each item. The reps sat around the boardroom table, and I set out one piece at a time. They looked them over, asked questions and commented.
Their interests varied—some agents favored large pieces, and for others, the brighter the colors, the better. New York and Chicago were the most price conscious and liked more conservative grays and purples. (In one lurid example, Leslie Pina in her book BLENKO COOL relates an anecdote about the time that Winslow Anderson introduced the color chartreuse in 1952, Ed Rubel declared that he would not have any piece in that “frog shit green” in his showroom, but he acquiesced and it sold well.)
The reps’ first question was usually “What’s the retail price?” Bill Jr. would consult his ledger and a discussion of costs, margins, and what the market could bear ensued. Each piece was priced separately, but the retail prices on average for these new lines ranged from $6.50 to $15. Remember, these are 1950s prices.
“Thumbs up!” for the shapes but a “Thumbs way down” for the Rialto white opalescent group and Raindrop crystal seeded lines, each with about twenty designs. The reps were unanimous: Buyers for gift shops and department stores want Blenko glass for its bright colors. Forget the opalescent and bubbly crystal look.
Talk about a bad day. I was devastated. As soon as the reps left, I was called into a meeting with the dour looking Blenkos. Blenko had always given their designers free rein, so this experience created a new dilemma for them. The admonition went something like this: “Obviously the reps didn’t like your new lines, but we’re stuck with them.” They even suggested that I might want to “move on”. But I stayed for another three years. The reps put the lines in their showrooms and buyers bought the ruby Regal line, but shunned the opal Rialto and bubbly Raindrop.
With 53 years of attrition and breakage, Rialto and Raindrop are some of the rarest examples of Mid Century Modern Blenko available.
For example the website 1stdibs offers a Raindrop bowl for $850 that originally retailed for $15. I’ve also seen the “Here’s looking at you” decanter of the Rialto line priced at $3500.
In 1960, I was fascinated with developing a way to use sodium bicarbonate to produce the bubble texture in crystal. I loved this new look I had developed. I had never seen glass with bold bubbles like these. Bubbles in most glass had been achieved by indenting the hot glass in molds with nail-like spikes. This was the way the Ericksons, two Swedish brothers and the first glassblowers at Blenko, made bubble textured tableware. Their texture was was controlled and formal and evenly spaced which was very different than the organic looking texture of the saturation of bubbles in my Raindrop line.
Now, with the attitude that everything old can be new again, I’m developing new pieces in colored bubbly glass for a line that I’m tentatively calling the Pacific line. The piece shown above is a very heavy large bottle that was made at Slow Burn Glass last week. I’m sculpting a solid cast abstract fish for its stopper, so stay tuned.
What do you think? The blue is very sea like…Mermaid?
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