A Sowerby Archive
In 2021 I acquired a collection of items relating to the Sowerby glassworks. I have called it an Archive, as it is a collection of ledgers, minutes, pattern books, letters and ephemera that had ended up in the back of cupboards and drawers of the offices of the Sowerby company over a number of years. As a company Sowerby's was taken over by Suntex Safety Glass Industries Limited in 1957. The company carried on producing glass before finally closing in 1972. At some point the offices were presumably cleared out and all the old documents ended up in the hands of Mr. Jack Davis the managing director of Suntex. Several cards in the collection show that Mr. Davis loaned some items to the Laing Art gallery in the 1980's. Several references, and pictures, in both Simon Cottle's 1986 book "Sowerby, Gateshead Glass" and the 1982 "The Peacock and the Lions" by Sheilagh Murray show that both authors were using this collection when researching their books. While it was subsequently returned to Mr. Davis, it seems that he did not lend all of the collection to the museum as there are certain items that are not referenced by Cottle in his book.
My plan is to thoroughly go through the items in the archive photographing or scanning anything of interest and adding them to this webpage.
Ultimately the Archive will be donated to the Tyne & Wear Archives where it will hopefully be intact and available for all to see.
Please contact me if you think I may be able to help with any research.
24 Sowerby pattern books from the Archive and other sources with dates ranging from 1874 to 1960.
The Sowerby pattern books from the Archive were probably used in the Sales and Marketing office. A number are well used with added written prices and crossings out on patterns that had presumably been discontinued. There are also a number of blanks where patterns have been cut-out probably to include an image to send to customers.
Some books are incomplete with just a few pages, others are printed on very flimsy paper, these were probably sent out to distributors and retailers and were never meant to last let alone survive for, in some cases, over 100 years.
There are also a few later catalogues from other companies which I have included for interest.
I have scanned or photographed what catalogues I have and listed them as PDF files. I have done it this way to make it easier to view the pages as whole books and to zoom in on images where necessary. Some of the pattern books are very similar in content, especially the later ones, but I have included them all for completeness. I have added notes about the catalogues under the images.
Please feel free to use any PDF's or images for your own use or on non-commercial websites, with an attribution if possible.
To extract images from a PDF file:
Click on the catalogue to open the PDF file
Right-click on the open PDF file and click 'Save as..'
Save the PDF file to your computer
Download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC
Open the saved PDF file with this reader
Right-click on the open PDF file, then click on the 'Blue Arrow' at the top of the open box
Use your cursor to highlight the image you want to copy
Right-click the selected image and 'Copy Image'
The image can now be pasted into your chosen image editing software, eg Photoshop
Mouse over for more information, click to open PDF file in new window.
Pattern Book V 1874 - At 50 pages this is the earliest surviving pattern book produced by the Sowerby company. No cover but a very fragile inner page shows this to be a pattern book of Crystal Table Glassware.
Pattern Book V 1874 - addition - A continuation of Pattern Book V 1874 with extra pages 51 - 59.
Pattern Book VII 1878 - Just five colour pages survive from this book. These are probably from pattern book VII the first book to include a range of designs in the new coloured vitroporcelain glass.
The first page is interesting as the patterns shown look to be photographs on a shiny paper, the page has been coloured with a translucent blue revealing a very good rendering of turquoise vitroporcelain.
Pattern Book VIII 1880 - This pattern book is not an original from the Archive but is included for reference. It was reproduced, probably by the Tyne and Wear Museums Service, in the 1980's.
Pattern Book VIII 1880 - colour plates - Eight colour plates from an original pattern book, including one showing Sowerby's Venetian glass.
Some of the plates have been re-used from the 1878 pattern book, the original outline around the plates has been changed to a thick 'gold' line.
Pattern Book IX 1882 - This pattern book is not an original from the Archive but is included for reference. It was reproduced, probably by the Tyne and Wear Museums Service, in the 1980's.
Pattern Book XI 1885 - In 1885, after three pattern books of Fancy Glass, Sowerby's returned to their original production glass by producing a pattern book of 'Crystal Table Glassware'. This 82 page book was produced in various versions. There is a 'deluxe' faux leather bound version with marbled inner covers, net price list and tissue guards between the pattern pages. The book contains new patterns as well as those from older books. The pattern number is a guide to the age, the lower the number the older the pattern. The Preface to this pattern book contains the line 'Fancy Goods will be found in a separate Book (XII). There is no copy of this book in the Archive.
There is also a version of XI produced on flimsy paper, presumably for general distribution.
A continuation to this pattern book with a further 30 pages was also produced (see below).
The 1885 catalogue was still being used in 1888 when Sowerby produced a flimsy 'Reduced Edition' which had 4 pages of the 1885 pattern book reproduced on each page.
Pattern Book XI 1885 - continuation - Continuation of pattern Book XI 1885, pages 82 to 107.
Pattern Book XIX 1907 - Similar front page to the 1912 Pattern Book but the wording on the cover is different.
Pattern Book XXI 1922 - Ten years between Pattern Books XX, 1912, and XXI, 1922. No pattern books were produced during the First World War.
Pattern Book XXII 1925 - No cover but this is probably Pattern Book XXII circa 1925. Page 21 has the first colour plates since 1880.
Pattern Book XXIII 1927 - On the inside front sheet of this pattern book it is described as 'Illustrated Pattern Book and Price List No. XXIII.' Pattern books from this date are now referred to by Sowerby's as 'Ilustrated Lists'.
Illustrated List 33 1940 - Just 16 pages, a very simple pattern book produced at the beginning of World War Two.
Pattern Book X 1883/1884 - Sowerby pattern book numbers are sequential and were produced around every two years. Pattern books IX, 1882 and IX, 1885 are well known but I have never seen or heard anyone mention Pattern Book X. Assuming this pattern book was produced it would have been in 1883 or 1884 and presumably would have contained virtoporcelain and fancy glass. There are a number of marked Sowerby pieces that do not appear in known pattern books so maybe some are in Book X. If there is a Book X. Anyone?
A simple 4 page 5.5" X 8" leaflet produced by Sowerby's which has no date but looks to be from the early 1960's.
This is interesting, as well as the leaflet there are also the original photographs of the glass used to produce the leaflet.
All of the photographs are black & white and mounted on card. All have been re-touched with very fine black/white lines and white air-brushing. This is very difficult to see, the only way to properly see what has been done is to capture the original photograph sideways under a light source, which I have attempted to do.
I have included a picture of a stamp from the studio which did the original work.
It shows the amount of work that went into producing the original pattern books.
Catalogues, Price Lists, Leaflets - Other Manufacturers
Hover for information, Click to open PDF
Included in the Archive are a number of books, catalogues and trade leaflets from other companies. Sowerby's were obviously keeping an eye on the products and prices of other manufacturers.
Davidson Catalogue 1956 and Price List 1957 - 32 page B/W catalogue with trade price list.
Davidson Catalogue 1968 - 14 page B/W catalogue with trade price list.
Davidson Trade Catalogue c. 1950's - No date, 4 page colour catalogue and trade price list.
Jobling Catalogue c.1930's - 35 page catalogue with some colour plates.
Fountain Glass Leaflet c.1960's - 4 page leaflet from the Fountain Glass Works, Huddersfield Road, Roberttown, Liversedge, Yorkshire.
Clayton Mayers Catalogue c.1950's - Clayton Mayers were merchants and distributors of British and continental table glassware. This 108 page colour catalogue includes lots of Jacobean glassware. More on Clayton Mayers on the Cloud Glass website. HERE
Two A4 ring-bound folders containing around 140 line drawings of patterns for glass moulds.
They are not original drawings but copies, 90 percent are like this but there are a few that are hand coloured.
There is a stamped mark on the back of some of the coloured patterns for the Gradenberger company of Köflach in Austria.
Gradenberger were founded in 1949 and still exist but they are now OMCO and still making moulds for the glassmaking industry.
One pattern for an ashtray is dated 1937 so the company may have existed before WW2 and started up again after hostilities had finished.
A lot of the patterns are marked with the German abbreviation Nr. for number and some have German phrases, but there are a few that are marked No. for number and a couple more that are obviously for the UK market.
Presumably Gradenberger were making moulds for several different companies, there do not appear to be any Sowerby patterns in the books.
Which raises the question, why did the Sowerby company have them? Maybe they were looking for a company to make their moulds.
If anyone recognises any of the patterns and can put a name to the company which produced the glass I would be interested to know.
The second book marked 'Trinket Sets' is split into 2 parts.
Included in the Archive is a small leather bound diary. The front of the diary has an impressed monogram and a paper sticker with the word Sketches written in ink.
The diary contains 17 pictures which have been drawn on paper, cut out, then stuck onto pages in the diary. The drawings are of glass patterns, some of them are signed 'JS' and have a date of August 1900.
Cottle has 2 pictures from this diary on page 33 with the title 'Two pages from J.G.Sowerby's sketchbook' with no further reference to it in his book.
The 1907 pattern book shows a bowl and salad bowl on pages 6 and 7 which are very similar to 2 of the pictures in the sketch book.
The notations written in pencil on the drawings are descriptions and instructions for manufacture, some of which seem to be in a different hand.
Assuming the drawings are by JG Sowerby and are signed by him, are the written instructions also by him?
Cottle page 31 tells us that JG Sowerby took less interest in the company from 1892 and left the North of England in 1898 for Colchester.
Update: John Sowerby was attending Sowerby director's meetings until at least the end of 1899. In 1901 he was developing a 'new flint metal' and submitting designs for new moulds for 'Citron'(sic) and 'King's Ware' goods.
Another interesting item from the Archive is a small 130 page book which contains notes on experiments carried out by a glasshouse making coloured glass. The first entry date in the book is dated 1802, the last 1832. The inside of the book is annotated with the name John Sowerby in black ink. Cottle makes a number of references to this book.
On page 9 of Cottle ".. this book contains detailed daily experiments into the manufacture of a wide range of coloured and flint glass.
It was probably transcribed in the 1840's by Richards nephew, John Sowerby (1808-1879), whose signature appears on the inside cover.
Although not an original diary, it would suggest that the Sowerby's were making glass before 1807.
Whilst the entries in the recipe book for the years from 1802 to 1809 were made daily, those from 1810 to 1832 are sporadic and less detailed.
It indicates also that at least ten glass pots were in use, each pot containing a different mixture of coloured glass."
I have been studying this book for a long time and I am sure it is original and has not been transcribed at a later date. Looking at the writing and phrasing used, more than one person has written in the book over the years. The name in the front is probably an 'ownership' signature, added to the book when it was acquired by a new owner. The signature could be John Sowerby (1808-1879) or it could be his son, John (George) Sowerby. It would make sense for JG Sowerby to have a book like this, when he joined Sowerby at the age of 21 in 1871 he joined as a manager and colour-mixer. He was responsible for developing the vitroporcelain colours sold by Sowerby's in the late 1870's. On the first page of the book there is a list of pages that the owner has noted to look at and on the next page he marks a recipe with a cross and transcribes the weights and ingredients from the older spellings into something more readable. This is signed 'JS' and is the same writing that is found in the Sketch Book.
I think this book was owned by JG Sowerby but I do not know which glasshouse was responsible for the much earlier experiments. There is nothing in the book to really give a clue as to it's origin except perhaps the reference to Mr. Tassie on pages 83 and 86. As Cottle relates on page 51 of his book, this would have been William Tassie a maker of glass cameo medallions who was working in London at the time. It is possible it may have been a London glasshouse, unfortunately I do not have any knowledge of glasshouses working with coloured glass in the early 1800's.
An interesting, old and rare book, if anyone has any ideas about its possible origin I would be glad to compare notes.