Fenton Collector Finds A “Violets In The Snow” Treasure

By Gayle Manley
Posted February 2014

Ever picked up the Old Farmer’s Almanac and read about the language of flowers? To my surprise, February’s Flower of the Month is not the rose, but the nostalgic, shy violet. During the modesty-conscious Victorian Era, flowers became a socially accepted form to express one’s emotion. The tiny, jewel-toned violet with its velvety, heart-shaped leaves conveyed faithfulness and constancy, symbolizing a love that was delicate. The violet’s image appeared on postcards and greeting cards of the 19th century and soon became a popular decoration used by porcelain and china producers. More than 100 years later, the violet’s image has retained a loyal audience of admirers and collectors.

A treasure-seeking friend recently came upon a collection of violet-adorned Fenton Art Glass at a winter yard sale. As background, a young woman had acquired her West Virginia aunt’s collection of ten pieces of “Violets in the Snow” and had decided to pass it on to someone who would appreciate its beauty. My friend could not resist the charm of the dainty, bluish-purple violets on white milk glass. She purchased the lot and subsequently learned that this wintry day’s yard sale had yielded her a true collector’s treasure.

Fenton glass vase

A rare "Violets in the Snow" vase found in a yard sale, hand-decorated by notable Fenton artist Louise Piper;
base-marked sample, signed and dated Sept. 1975. Not placed in production by Fenton.

The Fenton Company introduced the Decorated Violets Line, more widely called “Violets in the Snow,” in 1969. In the mid-1960s, with a well-established market of Milk Glass Hobnail, Fenton was looking for its next big hitter to energize milk glass sales. The suggestion to create violet-decorated wares came from a field salesman, Carl Voigt, who covered the Upstate and Western New York territory. Carl had previously been a buyer for Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Department Stores in Rochester, New York.

In the early 1900s, Fenton had built its reputation on production of decorated glass, but had abandoned the practice since the Great Depression. That changed in 1968 when Fenton hired Louise Piper, an experienced artist who had trained under German painters at Jeannette Glass (and Jeannette Shade) in Pennsylvania. Jim Stage, a former supervisor at Fenton and now co-owner of Williamstown Antique Mall (West Virginia), remembers that Louise was the first decorator hired by Fenton to seed a new decorating department. To paraphrase Jim’s words, she was an extraordinary talent with a collaborative attitude and disciplined work ethic to match. Louise was willing to paint any design on glass and welcomed suggestions from co-workers. She created the vision and original free-hand design for “Violets in the Snow.” The pattern would become a top seller at Fenton throughout its 15 years of production.

Decorated Violets appeared in 1969 industry ads on the popular “Silver Crest” (milk glass with crimped “Petticoat” crystal edge) blank. In the 1970s, Fenton decided to extend the Violets decoration to pieces of the Spanish Lace blank. Other in-house designers were now trained as Ms. Piper’s responsibilities at Fenton had grown. The line included assorted vases, bowls, candleholders, baskets, a bell, bird, top hat, lamp, and even an ashtray. In total, Jim estimated that 40 different “Violets in the Snow” pieces were developed before the line was retired in 1984.

During her tenure at Fenton, Louise Piper presented numerous decorated items to the management review committee for approval. Some of these items were not adopted for inclusion in the line, such as the epergne. Jim Stage noted that only five “Sample” Violets in the Snow epergnes were produced. His antique mall was fortunate to offer one of these pieces for sale in recent years. Its scarcity and the name recognition of Louise’s artwork garnered a selling price of $750.

Louise Piper retired from Fenton in 1989 and passed away in 1995. Her artistic talent and leadership had lifted Fenton at a critical time in its growth. Pieces with her signature not only command added value, but are frequently retained in private collections when found. As my friend parsed through her yard sale acquisition, she found a true treasure—a signed and dated Sept. 1975 Sample Vase of Violets in the Snow hand-painted by Louise Piper. Like Louise and the language of the violet flower, the vase is dainty and modest, but ever-constant in its beauty. Its resale value exceeds $200, but this yard-sale find will be a priceless story to this Fenton collector for many years to come.

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Gayle Manley has been an antique dealer, show vendor and collector for over 25 years. She has a passion for the art of treasure-seeking. Gayle teaches antiques and collectibles college courses to help others gain knowledge and become more effective as collectors. 

 

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