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Fenton Glass looks for online support for inventory

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The owners of Fenton Art Glass Co. have created an online crowdfunding project that they say is crucial to restarting glass production at the Williamstown plant, the company's president said Tuesday.

George Fenton said U.S. Glass Inc., which bought out Fenton Art Glass last fall and formed its subsidiary, The Fenton Group, started a Kickstarter.com project in April to determine its entire mould inventory and what to continue to market. The inventory would also benefit collectors and supporters of the historic 107-year-old Fenton Art Glass who want to know more about specific moulds, he said.

The Fenton Mould Preservation project would take the more than 10,000 cast iron moulds stored in Fenton's factory, organize them in an online database and make the information available to everyone who donated at least $10 toward the company's goal.

Kickstarter is a popular funding platform for projects that are independently created. Since its launch in April 2009, 4 million people have pledged more than $611 million to fund 41,000 creative projects, according to the company.

Kickstarter operates on an all-or-nothing model where a project's goal must be reached to get funding.

The total cost of the Fenton project is $50,000, and the Kickstarter deadline is Monday. As of Tuesday afternoon, the project had nearly 200 "backers," or supporters, who had pledged $9,552, or 19 percent of the total cost.

Fenton said he would like to see supporters help the company reach the $50,000 goal as "we're getting to the end of the time limit."

People who pledge at least $10 would have access to the online catalog forever, Fenton said. Those who contribute $100 would also have access to the site, be invited to the first U.S. Glass Director's Council event in July, which could be held at the Williamstown factory, and also receive a gift.

"The idea to create a catalog was something people involved with U.S. Glass -- the designers and marketers -- have said it's the first step to put together a reasonable marketing plan so they know what they have to work with," Fenton said. "The function of the Kickstarter project is necessary for U.S. Glass to get started."

The glass company's collection of 10,000 different moulds includes many Fenton-made pieces but also some from various American businesses, including McKee, Beaumont, Dugan-Diamond and Imperial, Fenton said.

The new owners need to know which moulds are usable to be successful in today's market, but to figure that out "on a practical basis is impossible" because the moulds can be very heavy, he said.

When a U.S. Glass official recently asked about a hobnail tumbler mould, Fenton said he spent an hour going through Fenton files to find a picture of one. Almost all of the records are on paper and some are decades old.

The comprehensive catalog of moulds online would include the mould number, pattern, shape, recent Fenton production using the mould, original owners and a picture of the mould itself.

Supporters would be able to sort through moulds online based on pattern, shape, or year.

"This project is to put together an electronic reference to allow someone who is interested in knowing what moulds there are to use and to be able to sort them and find them easily," Fenton said. "It would save a lot of time in terms of going through a startup marketing plan."

Collectors would appreciate the site because it confirms which moulds really are Fenton-made, he said.

Fenton said he sees glass pieces on websites like eBay that identify as Fenton, but aren't. This catalog could change that, he said.

The catalog could also show how rare a piece is because the project would include the production numbers.

"People who have collected things are very interested in the history of what they've collected. From an evaluation and knowledge standpoint, people have items that they would like to know more about the history ... we're trying to clear up some of that history," Fenton said. "In recent production, people are interested in how many were made and that's information in this file."

Fenton said he hasn't heard of a glassmaking company organizing such a comprehensive reference in a database that goes back to the original mould.

U.S. Glass continues to raise funds for the restart of Fenton production, including restarting furnaces, product development and hiring marketing personnel, according to its April newsletter.

The West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust provided $100,000 to The Fenton Group in March to help the company pay for operating capital, marketing and advertising support.

Owned by the Fenton family for generations, the company struggled with rising costs and declining sales. The company stopped production of art glass in 2011. The company's gift shop is still in operation.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.

 

 


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