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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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RUBA ROMBIC IS CRAZY-LOOKING BUT VALUABLE GLASSWARE

RUBA ROMBIC IS CRAZY-LOOKING BUT VALUABLE GLASSWARE
Ruba Rombic liquor bottle, whiskey glasses and glass tray, designer: Reuben Haley, 1920s. Photo courtesy of Corning Glass Museum
On the one hand, you have a cubistic-style glassware produced in Pittsburgh during the mid-1920s that collectors describe as "a poem in glass...America's contribution to the Art Deco movement."

On the other hand, there was a school of thought that called the design the craziest thing ever produced in glassware.

The controversy over Ruba Rombic (thought to be named after its designer Reuben Haley) continues today among glass enthusiasts who collect and appreciate this unusual glassware.

You'll have more success finding pieces of Ruba Rombic in your grandmother's attic trunk than in any Pittsburgh antique store. It is rare, and simple pieces can fetch as much as $5,000.

By 1929, Pittsburghers were immersed in Depression-era survival. The company that made Ruba Rombic, Consolidated Glass of Coraopolis, was cutting back on production and would eventually close its doors. The combination of short supply and big demand would later have a significant impact on Ruba Rombic values.

Mostly, Consolidated Glass produced everyday items like glass shades, globes and table lamps. Along with it they introduced a line of high quality art glass of which Ruba Rombic was one example.

Haley was influenced by the leading glass designer of the era, Rene Lalique. In 1925 the International Exposition in Paris took place and Lalique introduced a whole new range of glass designs. These Art Moderne styles, later to be called Art Deco, radicalized Haley’s design ideas.

Three years later the modest glass architect from Beaver, Pa., provided 30 different examples of Ruba Rombic that spotlighted the Pittsburgh Glass Show.

Displayed in a room of their own, the glistening Ruba Rombic pieces included vases, tumblers, cocktail glasses, pitchers, serving plates, and a complete dining service. All the pieces were blown into a mold and hand finished. Immediately, reviewers praised Ruba Rombic for being original and capturing the essence of geometric form in glass. "True specimens of Cubist art," one critic reported.

A commercial success Ruba Rombic was not. From a practical standpoint, the glassware chipped easily, plates didn't stack well, and it was difficult to get the last few drops of anything out of the corners.

It was only produced for three years, yet, the design impact this Pittsburgh glassware made in the industry 60-years ago still echoes in museums across the country.

The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., recently featured this Ruba Rombic liquor bottle, 6 whiskey glasses, and tray, designed by Reuben Haley in a special exhibition "Liquid Refreshment: 2,000 Years of Drinks and Drinking Glasses."


Q. I have a very ornate majolica pitcher given to me by my 88-year-old uncle. The piece belonged to his grandmother. Any information you could provide on majolica would be appreciated. D.C. Pittsburgh.

A. Majolica is brightly colored glazed earthenware. Much of this popular Victorian pottery was produced near Phoenixville, Pa., by the firm of Griffen, Smith and Hill.

The firm’s logo: GSH stood for the partners of the firm as well as for: good, strong and handsome. Known as "Etruscan," many pieces were marked with a seal that includes the above initials and can be found throughout Pennsylvania.

The name majolica comes from an Italian pronunciation of Majorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. During the Renaissance, the Italians imported tin-glazed earthenware from this island. Later they would produce their own version of majolica. French potters copied the idea and labeled their earthenware faience. The Dutch followed suit and used the name Delft.

The value of majolica is based on condition, design and workmanship. Collectors appreciate examples that look like they have been carefully painted. When majolica became the rage in the 1880's pieces were hurriedly made and the painting on the pottery occasionally looked messy and splashy. Chips and cracks also reduce the value.

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