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Roswell Gleason Exhibit, February-April, 2009
Roswell Gleason portrait
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 Made in Dorchester: Roswell Gleason, Pewter and Silverplate Manufacturer

Exhibit at UMass Boston, Healey Library, Special Collections Department and Gallery, February-April, 2009


Plan to visit the library between 9 am and 5 pm when the Special Collections Department is open, so you can see the cases inside the department as well as in the main gallery.


The Gleason Pewter and Silver-Plating Company was located on Washington Street, Dorchester

Born in 1799, Roswell Gleason spent his early years on a farm in Putney, Vermont. In 1818 he arrived in Dorchester and found employment with Mr. Wilcox, a maker of tinware. After Wilcox retired, Gleason went into business for himself about the year 1830, beginning with the manufacture of block tin and pewter.

By 1837, when the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association awarded Gleason a medal for his tinware, he had also branched out into the production of britannia ware (fine pewter work) with considerable recognition. In the 1850s with the encouragement of Daniel Webster, Gleason and one of his sons opened the first silver-plating establishment in America. At one time he employed 125 men at his factory on Washington Street. By 1851 Gleason had become wealthy enough to be included in a book entitled Rich Men of Massachusetts. Indeed, Lilacs, his home on Washington Street, built in 1837, had become one of the show places in the neighborhood of Boston. He owned a property of 25 acres with a 1,000 foot frontage on Washington Street encompassing his house and 15 other structures including stables, outbuildings and factory buildings. Park Street was installed on the southern border of his land.

In the 1890s after Gleason's death and the subdivision of the property, Claybourne Street (originally Ridge Road) was constructed, and the Gleason House was turned around to face east, later becoming 101 Claybourne Street. The house was one of the area's finest examples of the transition from Greek to Gothic Revival domestic architecture. The form of the house was characteristic of Greek Revival standards, but the decorative elements were part of the late Gothic style. The two-bay entrance contained a portico of gothic spirelets and floor-length lancet-shaped sidelight windows. There was a two-story, three-bay porch composed of arcaded, pointed arches supported by clustered columns with annulets below the capitals and scroll-carved decoration in the spandrels. The interior of the house was decorated in Empire style. Many of the features of the house were taken by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for its collection prior to demolition of the building in the 1980s.

When Gleason began the production of silver-plate, the style of his work began to change from the simple, traditionally inspired design of his early work to a more heavily ornamented and opulent style which better suited the tastes of his Victorian clientele. Largely due to this ability to adapt to changing tastes and to keep abreast of technical advances in manufacturing, Gleason's operation continued to prosper. In his later years, business suffered when the Civil War interrupted sales in the southern states. After both his sons died, and an explosion occurred in one of his factories, he retired in 1871 at the age of 72. He died in Dorchester in 1887.






Lighting
Gleason Pewter candlestick
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 From the depths of unrecorded history up to and through the mid-nineteenth century, lighting was provided mostly by the use of candles. When Gleason began his career in the first half of the century, candles were still the predominant means of lighting.

The substance for candles was tallow rendered from fat of sheep or cattle. Although beeswax was sometimes used, it was usually too expensive for everyday use. Due to their com-position, candles were likely to be eaten by mice, so candles were kept in a protective container. Late in the eighteenth century, spermaceti was introduced?the waxy fat from the head of the sperm whale. Candles made from spermaceti produced a bright steady flame with no odor or running, but were too expensive for ordinary people. In 1831 stearine candles came to market?these were made from animal and vegetable fat converted into soap that was then treated.


Candlesticks
Gleason Pewter Candlesticks
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Pair of Roswell Gleason candlesticks.

Candlesticks
Gleason Pewter Candlesticks
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Pair of Roswell Gleason candlesticks.

Whale Oil Lamps
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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 The great demand for whale oil in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a result of its use as a lamp fuel. In 1830 the American whaling fleet brought in 106,800 barrels of sperm oil and 15,000 barrels of common whale oil (sperm oil from the heads of sperm whales; common whale oil from the rendered fat of many types of whales). By 1830 whale-oil burners had evolved into a threaded form. The base of the burner is a brass or tin disc, pressed into a saucer shape. The vertical part of the rim is threaded on the outside to screw into the collar of the font. There might be one or two wick tubes, depending on the model, ? to 3/8 inch in diameter. Usually they taper from bottom to top. The length of the wick tube projecting above the base is much less than that below. The upper part of the tube has a vertical slot, through which the wick can be raised or lowered by means of a little metal spike, the wick-pick, and the lower part is perforated to increase the area of contact between oil and wick [two flames close together produce more light than if widely spaced as a result of an increase in air draft when they are near].


Whale oil lamp
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Whale Oil Lamp

Whale Oil Lamp
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Double bull's eye lens whale oil lamp.

Whale Oil Lamp
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Whale Oil Lamp

Burning Fuel Lamps
Lamp burner types
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 As the price of whale oil rose in the mid-nineteenth century, other fuels were developed. Burning fluid was a mixture of high-proof alcohol and redistilled turpentine, a mixture produced a white, smokeless flame. Burning fluid, sometimes called camphene, was patented in 1830, and as production increased, prices fell, increasing its popularity. But it was the most dangerous lighting fuel ever to gain wide use due to its volatility. A news item from Brooklyn, May 23, 1853, read: LAMP.--BRIDGET McGINNISS, 13 years of age, a servant in the family of Randolph Lexon, Esq., No. 257 Bridge-street, died on Friday night about 10 o'clock, from the effects of burns received about 7 o'clock on the same evening, by the bursting of a camphene lamp, which she held in her hand at the time.

The most distinctive feature of the burning fuel lamp is the shape of the wick tubes. They extend about an inch and a half above the base plate and not at all below it, so as to keep the flame away from the font. The tubes are narrower than those of whale-oil burners, and have a distinct taper from bottom to top. This gives a tight fit, with less chance for vapor to escape and ignite. If there are two or more tubes, they diverge from base to top, because separate flames create less heat. Each tube has a deep metal cap, usually attached to the base plate by a fine chain. This served as an extinguisher and prevented evaporation of the volatile fluid when the lamp was not in use. Two-wick burners are the most common, but burners with single, triple, quadruple and quintuple tubes are known. The burner base plate screws into a threaded collar on the font, and there is no vapor vent.

When kerosene became popular in the second half of the century, other lamp designs were introduced, but by then Gleason had retired.




Reader's Comment

From: Name Charles Leib


Camphene and burning fluid are two distinct fuels. As you correctly stated, camphene is distilled spirits of turpentine only. The term was patented by A.V.H. Webb on February 19, 1839, #1082. Burning fluid is a mixture of distilled spirits of turpentine and alcohol. While Isaiah Jennings is credited with the introduction of the fuel in 1829-1830, the term was patented by Henry Porter on April 8, 1835. Camphene, while inflammable, was not explosive as in the case of burning fluid vapor (high in hygrogen), which caused most of the terrible accidents, when the vapor mixed with oxygen in the household atmosphere and was ignited by a flame.. The burning fluid burner, with the two tapering wicks and caps is the typical style, and was used without a chimney. Camphene, on the other hand was burned in Argand style lamps, with chimneys and draft systems to facilitate combustion of the camphene which was high in carbon, and, which would smoke without such draft.


Burning Fluid Lamp
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Burning fuel lamp

Burning Fuel Lamp
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Burning fuel lamp

lamps
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Whale oil lamp

Lamps
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Whale Oil Lamp

Lamps
Gleason Pewter Lamp
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Whale oil lamp

Tableware
Gleason Pewter Mug
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Much of Gleason's work was for the table. This mug is one of the simpler designs.

Tumbler
Gleason Pewter Tumbler
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Pewter tumbler

Porringers
Porringer designs used by Roswell Gleason
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 Porringers were popular traditional bowls for the table. Two designs used by Gleason are the coronet and the heart-and-crescent.

Porringers
Gleason Pewter Porringer
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Porringer

Porringer
Gleason Pewter Porringer
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Porringer

Other Tableware
Gleason Silverplate Bell
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Silverplated bell

Pewter bowl
Gleason Pewter Bowl
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Pewter bowl

Communion Cups
Gleason Pewter Communion Cups
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Communion Cups or Chalices

Small pitcher
Gleason Pewter Pitcher
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Small syrup pitcher

Creamer
Gleason Pewter Pitcher
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Creamer

Silverplated Creamer
Gleason Silverplate Creamer
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Silverplated creamer

Creamer
Gleason Pewter Creamer
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Creamer

Creamer
Gleason Silverplate Creamer
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Ceamer

Teapots and Coffee Pots
Gleason Pewter Teapot
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Panel sided teapot. These panel sided pots could be made with the wide end at the top or at the bottom.

Panel sided teapot
Gleason Pewter Teapot
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This panel sided teapot is an inverted form of the one above.

Coffee Pot
Gleason Pewter Coffee Pot
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Pear shaped coffee pot

Coffee Pot
Gleason Pewter Coffee Pot
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Lighthouse shaped coffee pot

Teapot
Gleason Pewter Teapot
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Pigeon breasted teapot

Teapopt
Gleason Pewter Teapot
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Pear shaped Queen Anne Revival teapot with foot

Silverplated Teapot
Gleason Silverplate Teapot
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Squash shaped silverplated teapot

Castor Stand
Gleason Pewter Castor
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Castor Stand

Flagon
Gleason Pewter Flagon
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Flagon

Water pitcher
Gleason Pewter Pitcher
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Lidded water pitcher

Related Images: showing 8 of 21 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 21 images.
R. Gleason house and factory, Washington St.Roswell Gleason House main entranceRoswell Gleason House south facadeHuebener Brick 112 Roswell Gleason House
Roswell Gleason worker housingRoswell Gleason maker's markRooms from Roswell Gleason House at Museum of Fine ArtsGleason Family
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Created: February 4, 2009   Modified: March 27, 2009