American brilliance

Centerpiece of the St. Louis World's Fair, Libbey's Punch Bowl

Libbey Glass Company, Punch Bowl and stand with 23 cups, 1904, thick colorless glass, 54.6 x 60.6 x 60.6 cm, 134 pounds (Toledo Museum of Art). Speakers: Diane C. Wright, Toledo Museum of Art and Dr. Beth Harris

Punch Bowl

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Key Points

  • The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. An international success, it drew more than nineteen million visitors. World’s fairs such as this were designed to establish the U.S. as a leader in art, technology, and manufacturing.
  • Glassmaking had a long history in America as one of the first industries developed by the early colonists. The “Brilliant Period” of cut glass, represented by this punch bowl set, was an American style of glassmaking that gained worldwide recognition.
  • This punchbowl, made by the Libbey Glass Company, represented an exceptional level of craftsmanship in terms of its scale and decoration. Each piece would be blown before being hand-cut in the intricate geometric pattern to achieve the full reflective effect. This set was a showcase for American skill and mastery, although many of the craftsmen were likely immigrants themselves.

Go deeper

This punch bowl in the Toledo Museum of Art

Learn about American Brilliant Cut Glass

Learn more about the Libbey Glass Company

View an online exhibition about the 1904 World Exposition in St. Louis

More to think about

As the speakers note, beautiful hand-crafted objects, like this punch bowl, seem remarkable today when most consumer goods are mass produced using mechanical methods. But while mass-production might affect our appreciation for such objects, it also makes these items more affordable to the wider population. What is lost and what is gained as craftsmanship is replaced by manufacturing? Consider how the wider availability of such luxury objects might affect their function as symbols of social status, wealth, and class. How important is their craftsmanship and production to this role?


Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.