Thrifting & Vintage

Industrial Designer Eva Zeisel: Prestige Barware Line

May 22, 2017

Industrial Designer Eva Zeisel

Eva Zeisel was an industrial designer with a woven past in the arts. She was a Hungarian-born American who was renowned for her ceramics, mainly from the period after she migrated to the United States in 1937. However, ceramics was not all she was acclaimed for, not by a long shot. Among her many pursuits Eva also played a role in the Federal Glass Company as a key designer behind a number of their glass barware lines.

Vintage Whiskey Glass, Amber Yellow, Audrey Would Vintage Home

This glass originates from the ‘Prestige’ barware line, a sleek, simple line designed in 1954. The line consisted of four different glass styles: juice (small tumbler), iced tea (highball), cocktail (small stemless) and the Old Fashioned (whiskey) glass.

In or around 1959 Federal Glass introduced four colours to the ‘Prestige’ line: Ice Blue, Pink, Smoke, and Amber. They also added a ‘swirl’ variation to the glass – diagonal lines with a wavy optic effect that wrapped the body of the glass. It’s hard to capture in a photograph, but this bird’s-eye shot will give you the idea.

Without going too far into the details of these specific glasses, suffice to know that they were intended, per Eva’s stipulation, to be produced only in the colour ‘Crystal’ – a brilliant clear glass with sheer rims – in other words, colourless. Who knew behind the innocence of a fiery Old Fashioned glass was a slightly sketchy past?

Amber Yellow Whiskey Glasses, Mid Century Barware, Audrey Would Vintage Home

Both the expansion to the Prestige line for coloured glass and the added swirl detail was, from all appearances, a decision made by Federal Glass without consultation or approval by Eva. As so often happens in the world of design, the designer gets lost in the process, and evidently Eva was no exception.

But not all was lost. Solid, dramatic glass bottoms were a signature of Eva’s style, and one of the distinct design features that managed to remain intact was the dramatic bulbous base. Commonly referred to as the ‘doorknob’ style, this distinct glass bottom became a signature of the Prestige line.

Vintage Whiskey Glass, Solid Base, Audrey Would Vintage Home

In design we constantly witness objects transcending the normal and stretching beyond the average. This is where the creative in the designer has a chance to shine, and is what sets great designers apart. And it’s this attention to detail that also separates the designer from the assembly line!

Despite Eva’s designer touch, Prestige glassware was intended to be an economical line, and as a result was mass produced for worldwide distribution.

The glasses could be bulk purchased in sets of 12, or as prepackaged ‘tumbler sets’ which included four of each glass style. This distribution approach proved to be an astonishing success, and Prestige glassware became one of the best-selling lines in the United States!

But this was not all the change in store for the classic barware line. No, with its blanket popularity, the Prestige line also became available for special-orders of custom monogramming, logos and ornamentation!

One can only ponder, how far did this popular line ultimately stray from the designer’s vision?

It’s a question we will never have the full answer to, but what we do know is Eva Zeisel designed a bar glass style that knocked it out of the park! To this day glasses from the Prestige barware line are always a treat to find!

Mid Century Old Fashioned Whiskey Glass, Audrey Would Vintage Home

What are your thoughts? Should Federal Glass have strayed from designer Eva Zeisel’s vision, or did they take the Prestige line to places it never would have been? We would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Thank you for stopping by,

Audrey Would Vintage Home blog



Photographs © Audrey Would! Vintage Home

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