It is our opinion that the history of this glass plate or plaque goes back to the founding of a glass factory build in South Boston in 1837 by a man named Deming Jarves, who was an agent for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The factory was constructed near a small hill the locals called “Mount Washington.”
The company was first called the Mount Washington Glass Works in 1852. In 1870, William Libbey bought both this company and the New Bedford Glass Works, and he moved the business to this coastal whaling town. In 1876, the company was reorganized and named the Mount Washington Manufacturing Glass Company.
Five years later at Mount Washington, Frederick Stacey Shirley was making white glass with a surface that had been roughened with exposure to hydrofluoric acid and made to look something like alabaster. This was Mount Washington’s first art glass and it was called “white lusterless.” Many pieces — such as lamps, vases, rose bowls, pickle and biscuit jars, plates, platters and chargers — were hand-decorated with images of maidenhair ferns or flowers, but they were also sold as undecorated blanks to the public who added their own decorations.
Most of the painting by non-Mount Washington artists tends to be rather clumsy and amateurish. The images are generally floral, or perhaps birds in nests, ships at sea and other romantic subjects in the Victorian style. There was a lot of terrible work done on white lusterless and modern collectors are (for the most part) not interested in owning the floral designs and the poorly executed pieces, which constitute the vast majority.
But, the example in today’s question is perhaps the best we have ever seen. It is indeed a depiction of a Norman fisherwoman on the beach at Etretat, Normandy, and the artistry is a very fine example of Victorian work circa-1885.
As for who the artist might have been, we do not think it was done by a Mount Washington artist, but was probably executed by a very talented painter who did not work in the factory. Unfortunately, without being able to read the name, the identity of the artist might never be known for certain, and the scene is probably a copy of a known painting.
Since there are so many less-than-wonderful examples, white lusterless chargers are not terribly valuable as a general rule. This one would probably retail in the $400 to $600 range if its diameter is greater than 12 inches.
One last thought: L. D. should have the metal plate holder removed and find another way to display the piece. Plate holders such as this can damage the glass or porcelain item they hold.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.