Appearing in Goop’s holiday gift guide is something of a holy grail for retailers, but Mosser Glass’s presence in the 2018 guide passed without much fanfare. “We were in there?” the company’s co-owner Sally Johnson asks bemusedly when I bring it up. She shoots her younger sister a look, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, I think I got a copy of it … somewhere,” Mindy Hartley says, and the two share a conspiratorial laugh. Their brother, Tim Mosser, is the third co-owner and president of the Cambridge, Ohio, company originally started by their father in the ’70s.
Surviving this long is an accomplishment in itself, but in the past few years, Mosser Glass, one of the last holdouts in the region, has achieved a different kind of success: It has garnered the attention of coastal tastemakers and a generation of finicky buyers known as millennials. Unsurprisingly, all sorts of companies have tried to retroactively tap into the kind of narrative Mosser naturally developed over time — that of a historically rooted, small family-run business using traditional methods to manufacture goods they’ve been making for decades. Mosser offers an extensive line of practical and pretty tableware, from mixing bowls to cake stands, in a range of colours and traditional shapes.
Tim Mosser, co-owner and president of Mosser Glass, uses a blowpipe to create an air bubble that will help in shaping the molten glass.
The presser cuts the amount of molten glass he’ll need to fill a mould.
With easy access to coal, natural gas, the silica-rich sandstone used for glass production and transport lines, southeastern Ohio experienced a glassmaking boom in the 19th century — huge factories sprouted up along the Ohio River — but by the mid-20th century, they began to shutter. When the Cambridge Glass Company closed in 1954, Thomas Mosser, a second-generation employee, lost his job.
Taking work wherever he could find it, Mosser also started buying up cast-iron moulds and used equipment from the behemoths closing around him. In 1959, he and a few fellow laid-off glassworkers opened a small operation producing pharmaceutical glass in an abandoned chicken coop. The coop burned down, but the business held steady. In 1971, Mosser opened a second glassmaking company on his own to manufacture decorative items and tableware.
Fishs Eddy began carrying Mosser back in the mid-80s, and a deal with Bloomingdale’s followed. The company has since cycled in and out of favour, garnering deals with major retailers like Anthropologie and Sur La Table and picking up the requisite Martha Stewart nod of approval (Cher is also a fan). Today, Mosser’s glassware is for sale everywhere from the hyper-curated design store Coming Soon on Orchard Street in New York to the Instagram-worthy Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“It’s very labour intensive because it is all handmade, it’s not automated in any way,” Mindy Hartley says. “People think we’re making thousands of cake plates in an hour; if we make five hundred in a day, that’s a good day.”
Hartley keeps tabs on colour trends; after she noticed the popularity of grey in interiors and accessories, Mosser introduced a slightly marbled gray glass in 2015. It still repeatedly sells out at the online retailer Food52. But Mosser’s convergence with one of this decade’s biggest colours happened by coincidence. When I visited their factory last December, Johnson and Hartley had never heard of millennial pink, although they were feeling the effect of its popularity. The Cambridge Glass Company, their father and grandfather’s old employer, originally introduced a pale pink glass called Crown Tuscan in 1932. Crown Tuscan is more expensive to produce than other pastels and consequently retails for a higher price, so the sisters behind Mosser were surprised to see an uptick in orders over the past few years. (These days, Goop only sells Mosser in Crown Tuscan, and Coming Soon reports it’s their most purchased colour.)
While recent publicity and placement have translated into increased business, Mosser isn’t trying to scale up the way a newer company might. Trends are fickle, and their loyalty is to their employees. “Our dad always had the sense to keep it small, keep everybody working,” Hartley explains. They haven’t had a layoff since the ’80s, and they’d like to keep it that way.
But Mosser does adjust to the times, and the collectible figurines that were once a mainstay have given way to a larger selection of functional pieces. Johnson says they’ve introduced more “plain and simple” tableware in the past few years, after sales reps channeled feedback from retailers. With a customer base of “young adults starting to invest in meaningful pieces for their homes,” as Coming Soon’s co-founder Fabiana Faria explains, the shop had been carrying Mosser’s more minimal, modern pieces, as opposed to those that seem destined for placement atop a doily. Faria, along with her co-founder Helena Barquet, had been carrying Mosser for a few years when Mosser’s regional sales rep sent a photo of a new release made from a historic mould. “I was like, ‘You must think we’re crazy. It looks literally like it came out of a grandma’s house,’” Faria says. Still, they placed a small order and quickly learned their customers appreciate Mosser’s old-fashioned designs, too.
The Bathing Lady soap dish originated in the ’60s at a major Ohio glass manufacturer that closed in the ’80s after nearly a century in the industry. Nowadays, customers routinely walk into Coming Soon asking after it. The Bathing Lady is their No. 1 seller from Mosser. “It’s like the hen dish,” Barquet says, referring to another Mosser piece, a retro-looking bird sitting atop a nest that acts as a small container. “They talk us into carrying it, and we’re thinking, ‘Who is going to buy this?’ and then it sells out.”
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