I acquired this porthole window from a bungalow in Southampton earlier this week. I’m based in Harrow but as soon as I saw the seller’s photo the “must-have” adrenalin kicked in and I was soon hurtling down the motorway. This blog post explains why it’s so special. Some of its features I was aware of and others are a surprise as is often the case when I buy old glass and is why I enjoy this unusual trade…
Any kind of traditionally made wooden or metal round window is hard to find from salvage, let alone in good condition and regardless of whether it contains stained glass. In my 13 years of dealing, I’ve previously had only two porthole windows featuring an owl…
… now I realise how infrequently these will perch on my website I kick myself for how cheap I probably sold them! While the above two owls were spectacular neither featured hand painted glass. This one does and is kiln fired of course…
I’m uncertain what kind of owl this is. I’ve asked someone I know who has owl expertise and received the following response: ‘Our best guess is a short eared owl but they usually look cross in the wild so think a little artistic licence has been used. It is a nice piece of work. It may well be completely made up from a number of different owls.’ If anyone else thinks otherwise please let me know by writing a comment in the below reply box.
The maker’s mark
You may notice that many of my product listings reference where in Great Britain I got the window from*, possibly the year the house was built and the type of old glass used which was discontinued from production decades ago. But it’s rare that we know who made the piece. A maker’s mark is usually only found on hand painted windows and likely only on one within a whole set that was produced for the building. Therefore if the set is split on the secondhand market, you’re unlikely to know who made it if yours doesn’t have the mark. This round window didn’t have a maker’s mark but upon collecting I discovered it was part of a set of three, one of which has a mark…
I. Irwin A.M.G.P 1980
Unfortunately I’ve found only a fleeting reference, via Google, to Mr Irwin. “A.M.G.P.” stands for Associate Master Glass Painter. I’m reliably informed that means he was very good – not that there’s any doubt from looking at his work! I’ve contacted the British Society of Master Glass Painters but no reply yet. It would be interesting to know a bit about who Irwin was – when did he trade and were owl scenes a specialism, or was this theme entirely the customer’s request?
Not all maker’s marks will have a date. 1980 is the year I was born; I feel as though it’s been waiting for me all this time!
The new owner of the bungalow couldn’t provide me with exact information as to when it was built; I wondered if these were fitted at the same time. I usually rescue windows from houses dating from the late Victorian period to the 1930s. Therefore I would class these as vintage rather than antique, but whatever period the method of this artisan craft is the same.
Day or night?
This is one of only two windows you’ll find on my website photographed with a night time background. Instinct tells me this is how they were meant to be appreciated. Not that my photography does it justice! I’ve taken several photos on different backgrounds.
At the time I published this blog post the window was for sale…
I also acquired the middle window which has the maker’s mark…
There was another porthole but unfortunately that was not available for me to buy; apparently it’s going to be covered up, but perhaps one day it will be discovered like a hidden fireplace – what a time capsule find that would be!
Call to action
Perhaps you’re associated with the traditional window glass trade as a glazier, stained glass artist or leaded light maker, and can tell me a bit about Mr Irwin by writing a comment in the below reply box? But whoever you are, if you ever see a porthole window for sale – please let me know!
Since initially publishing this blog post (and selling both the owl windows!), I have heard back from one of the leads I followed, Andrew Johnston, who trained under Isaac Irwin, (you can have a look at his work on his website Andrew D Johnston – Stained Glass).
I hope some of my readers will be as interested as I am to learn about the creator of the beautiful windows described and pictured above. Isaac Irwin was born in Glasgow in 1915 and died in Southampton in 2007. He studied at the Glasgow School of Art and Andy thinks he served apprenticeships in the Stained Glass Studios in Glasgow. He studied under eminent people in stained glass such as Dr Douglas Strachan, William Wilson, Herbert Hendrie and Alf Webster, who were associated with The Glasgow Boys.
Isaac moved to Southampton in the late 1950s / early 1960s and was head artist, painter and designer of stained glass for E. R. Wright and Son, a family run firm which was founded in the late 1800s. It was here where he did most of his works, acid etching, sand blasting/carving, as well as many stained glass projects.
Andy says: ‘I worked with Isaac at Wright’s for 13 years; he was a truly inspirational artist, person and character, he introduced my to the Glasgow Boys, Jacques Loire, Patrick Reyntiens, to name but a few.
Upon his passing I was gifted his personal collection of glass which has been used in all of my commissions, even the project I am working on today. I use the brushes he used, the paints he made all stored in the apprentice boxes he made whilst a journeyman.’
Reading up a little on some of the people that Andy mentioned in his email to me has highlighted how much I have to learn and explore, despite spending my life immersed in stained glass.
NOTE *I also have an extensive sold archive which references the street name and town of most windows that have been in my dealership. I’ve started to recognise patterns and glass choices which were exclusive to certain English regions. These may not be complex cathedral-like works of art but I believe the brief practice of stained glass being a common feature of British domestic housing is a period of artisan craft that should not be forgotten.
Read about my experience buying and selling leaded stained glass windows and spares parts. Gain from my, and my customers’, knowledge and experience with interior and exterior design and high quality decoration. These posts give you a peek into the workings of my business.
I have asked my wife, Alice, to write another guest post . This post discusses: Being the wife of a small business owner Richard regularly describes himself as a one-man business – often when having a bit of a moan about having too much to do, and really wanting to focus on using the knowledge…
Regular visitors to my website may have noticed that for part of May I was unable to ship any orders. That’s because I was in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I had a brilliant time meeting existing customers and showing samples topotential customers. Two Brits in America Not only does the British accent tend to open…
I recently put this bullion pane on top of my bookshelf so that it was out of the way as they don’t stack easily! I thought it would look good as an ornament due to the distinctive “bulge”. But in the evening I noticed the reflection of the glass ripples on the wall! One of…
Here’s a crate that safely arrived this week in Edmonton, AB (Canada). Sometimes when I’ve finished packaging an order for shipment I think to myself, this packaging is as much a work of art as the stained glass! But here’s some of the treasure Natasha received: Natasha says “The windows have arrived and are in…
Here’s what Kathy did with a pair she received from me yesterday. I sent them to her home in Philadelphia. These were only despatched with DHL on 28th November* Kathy says “Wow!! I can’t believe they are here already! This set fits even more perfectly in our space than I had pictured. Wish I had…
I admit maintaining traditional windows and other wooden features on even a modest 1920s three-bed semi is hard work. Ideally a new layer of paint should be applied every 5 – 10 years. But I think it’s worth it. Each time I’ve done this some passer-by feels it necessary to make the useful suggestion that…
I cherish my Led-mobile. When on tour collecting treasure, I sometimes work from my vehicle measuring and cleaning the stock. This saves me time so I don’t have to process when I return to headquarters. My 25 year old Toyota Estima import is just as reliable today as it was when I bought it in…
Sometimes when I’ve finished packaging an order for shipment I think to myself, this packaging is as much a work of art as the stained glass! This one I packaged for shipping to Ireland. I did have four of these multicoloured windows, there are two remaining. To view these please click here. For more examples…
Once a year I try to find time to do something related to the windows in my own house. This year I rejuvenated my front door and side window. It was not just new paint. Look closely at the glass in the “before” photo. Three of the panes in the door and one in the…
This is what Jody did with a pair of sunbursts I sent to her in Lake Bruin, Louisiana. What I like about her photo is the “round” theme. Jody has changed the orientation from their original horizontal in situ… It never ceases to amaze me what ideas customers will come up with and is one…
Mimi recently bought some leaded lights from me, and sent me photos of their new location. This is my favourite customer photo of those I’ve received so far this year. While I like all the photos people send me demonstrating how they use my glass in their homes (click here for the gallery), I appreciate…
In the first week of December 2021 I went to Los Angeles. For the last two years there has never seemed like a good time so I thought what the hell! For the last 6 years I have felt a stronger connection to the USA as about half of my sales are to that country.…
Last month I sent another large consignment to a trade dealer in the USA. Here’s what was in the above crates: These were chosen from my trade category but you can also select individually listed items and ask me for a combined crate shipping price. For a detailed commentary of how I go about packaging…
I have never acquired so many large cuts of hammered from one set before! While hammered glass was commonly used, finding it in a “decent cut size” is another matter. It’s finds like this which remind me why I get a buzz out of this trade. Most people would look at old windows like these…
One of my regular trade customers from the USA recently confirmed safe delivery of another big shipment. It was for 57 framed leaded lights and 24 frameless. I will always give a discount if someone is buying in this sort of quantity. On this occasion the treasure was sent in three crates. Here I will…
Many people assume that I have an abundance of space. That is understandable given the quantity of stock listed on my website – some even ask if they can visit a “yard” which I don’t have. I thought here I would explain the realities of dealing architectural salvage in one of the world’s most expensive…
Last month I dismantled this leaded light. I know it looked fantastic. You might ask why, especially if you know how passionate I am about retaining old leaded lights. Several of the panes were cracked and the lead structure was wobbly which is not unusual for such large frameless pieces. Sometimes I have to make…
Many times I acquire a set of salvaged stained glass windows and think to myself – they look so good as window sill ornaments there’s no way I could sell! This particular set (two of which would have been part of a Victorian pulley sash system) sit snug within the main section of my 1920s…
Today I cancelled my subscription to QuickBooks. There are several big brand accountancy products being aimed at the self-employed and small business. They all seem to have condescending advertisements* claiming to offer a simple solution for saving time. This post shares my experience should you be contemplating QuickBooks but I suspect some of my issues…
The great thing about dealing in old stained glass windows is that I can change the view from my lounge window anytime I like. That said, these things tend to hold value so if you get bored with one just sell it on! I have several of this design, with worldwide shipping or collection welcome.…
I can still ship to the EU! At the moment when you add an item to my checkout you will find that there is no shipping option for you. This is temporary. If there is an item you are interested in please ask me for a shipping price. This photo is of shipments despatched today! As…
I was recently interviewed by an American podcast, True Tales from Old Houses, where I tell the story of how I got into this business of dealing in old window glass. I also explain the difference between British and American stained glass. If you have been thinking of buying from me you might be interested…
I have a desire to “flag” this design this weekend! It has sold but I can supply it made new to your required size using my bespoke service. This was made in size of 12″ x 15 3/4″ (303mm x 401mm). The following photos demonstrate the craft involved in making such a piece. Stage 1…
Regular visitors to my website may notice some changes. For the past month I have been relisting all of my stock onto a new eCommerce platform (as well as adding lots of newly acquired stock which had been backlogged!) The aim as always is to make it easier to find what you want within my…
This week I unwrapped this pair: I had received as part of a job lot. When I purchased I thought the background (non coloured) glass was plain having seen poor quality photos from the seller. I thought at most I would be able to extract some nice coloured centre parts. I was delighted to find…
In 2010 something amazing came into my life. Something so beautiful and precious. The above photo shows the first set of leaded light window sashes I ever acquired. One day I was at the local dump when I saw some fool throwing them away. I rescued as many as I could out of sentimentality not…
Having always traded as an internet order business there is little difference to how I am operating in the current circumstances. To demonstrate this thought I would show everything I have packaged and despatched this week. Unless stated otherwise all packages were sent to the USA, using FedEx. R1058b to Cookeville, TN S1012e classic Victorian…
Relatively recently PayPal implemented a policy change. It will continue not to charge sellers a fee when they refund a customer (how generous). But it will not refund the original transaction fees to the seller. I might agree that is PayPal’s prerogative but consider that in the context of the coronavirus hundreds of thousands (millions?)…
While the parcel courier companies are still collecting I am still shipping! Here’s one I packaged today. It is going to Washington State. And continuing the shipping theme. Here’s a sturdy ship! I already have a wooden box made for it so ready to set sail! R849b – click here for more info including payment…
Please would you follow me on Instagram and share at least one of my posts? https://www.instagram.com/cannglass/ #cannglass This blog post will continue to show the “latest view from window” and other articles with direct links to stock. The trouble with Instagram is it does not allow links within its posts so not great for direct…
There was nothing wrong with these leaded lights from the side of a house in Northwood Hills, Middlesex. For whatever reason the homeowner decided it necessary to remove the lead edging became disjointed in the process. I have had someone relead the edging of each:
I have some leaded suncatchers for sale which make ideal gifts. The idea is to hang by string or a chain behind a window but some people use as stand alone ornaments in picture frames or as wall art. Prices start from £24 each including UK delivery but cost effective to buy several. For more…
Today I am celebrating my 1000th listing! R1000. For more info please click here. But since I started dealing nearly ten years ago I have sold a lot more than 1000. Typically my salvaged items come in subsets. For instance a typical British 1920s three bed semi-detached house had two big bay windows at the…
Here is a small leaded light I had made for Ulrike and sent to her in Germany: The design was entirely Ulrike’s idea. I could have another made or the following photos I hope demonstrate how easy it is to express what you want. Ulrike was inspired by this Edwardian cut glass glory star which…
Should you be concerned about collecting a standard sized 1920s front door in your Audi TT, Hayley recently proved it possible. It fitted with suprising ease. To view all my front doors please go to: https://leadedstainedglass.com/doors/external/
Taken from my window I think this photo is poingant because the mutilated house in the background is the one which this little top light was ripped from. If you look carefully you can see a house with scaffolding. Its Apex is being “upgraded” with plastic fascias, there’s the obligatory loft extension and though you…
Every year I announce the best customer idea. This year’s winner is Mike from Norfolk. Not because he has a “parlour house” dated to 1480 (last year’s winner was from a maisonette in North London) but due to his idea of mixing old with new. Mike had fallen in love with these two Vicotorian/Edwardian panels…
Every two years I sort levers I have removed from sash window frames. Sub sets from the below mess have now been listed on my Ebay account. Please click here to view. I don’t make much money out of these (in fact I don’t make much money selling the glass either!) but I can’t stand…
After 2 years of helping people to source windows I am treating myself. These were delivered yesterday to replace my landing and bathroom windows. Hardwood again. Three years ago I had the upstairs front windows changed in the same way. I have waited 7 years for this. The original landing toplight panels are having their…
As August is a quiet time I have been dismantling some broken old panels extracting the centre pieces for anything of value. This makes shipping a lot cheaper for those who only want broken panels for the parts. Here is an example: As you can see I have removed the heart from the panel (top…
I already have a ‘new homes’ page which shows off the creative ideas of customers who have purchased my stock but this one deserves a special mention on my blog. This is because the panel used by Colin from Hitchin is, in my opinion, one of the most appropriately selected for its new setting: “I thought you…
This month I have a number of doors to restore. Here is Pete removing the panels of door set R233. They typically have cracked pieces in the corners from being slammed. When replaced the main door panel will have a supporting rod running across the centre: These plain panel doors will be replaced with something breathtaking:…
Not long to go, next week (29 – 31 March) I am travelling London to Glasgow delivering to customers and buying treasure! So far the plan is London to Gainsborough, Leeds, Glasgow and back via Manchester but that order will no doubt change as new opportunities arise. This is why I love dealing in lead…
In my November post I showed a forest door set I was collecting. Unfortunately after driving to Castleford I found the hire van was too short for the frame. Right insert is what was left behind. Another lesson learnt! However at the same house I found the below doors. The owner has since agreed to remove ready for…
I have this unusual mostly hand-painted piece of what I understand is a ‘laughing cavalier’. I have little idea of its worth and where would be the best place to market. Any advice would be gratefully received. Note there is writing on the back I have had some of the lead work renewed. There is one…
Here is a sneak preview of some glass I am collecting next month from Castleford. It will be the biggest, most extravagant, set I have ever acquired. It has at least four breaks but will be rushed to the emergency room (my kitchen island) where the talented Dr Mandy will operate.Hopefully it will be ready for sale…
Richard regularly describes himself as a one-man business – often when having a bit of a moan about having too much to do, and really wanting to focus on using the knowledge he’s built of the industry to buy nice stock. It is true that his business is run by him on his own, without any employees. He is – to use a technical term – a sole trader.
I’m reminded though, at this point of the proverb “Behind every great man is a great woman”. I’m being somewhat facetious here, as I worry that quote could come across as sexist, suggesting that the work that men are known for is always based on hidden work done by women. This might have been true in the past, and has truth today on a macro level, but on an individual level I don’t want to diminish the huge amount of work Richard has put into building up this very unique business. Having said that… I mentioned a few of the ways I help out in my previous guest post, A librarian on a glass trip and Richard has now got me working on another task, trying to improve the reach of his website through Search Engine Optimisation (with better use of Instagram coming up too). While I do have my own job to do, as an academic librarian (documented to an extent on my own Researcher Librarian blog), I am interested in this topic, and as a business librarian it is theoretically within my territory.
Deciding to try some marketing
The impetus to work on marketing came from the awareness that Richard’s website has lots of people coming to it (unsurprising, considering all the pretty pictures of stained glass!), but not as many of the the views turn into sales as we would like.
While the business started as what could be described as a side hustle, it has for many years been Richard’s job, and a key source of our family income. There are probably things Richard (we) can consider doing to improve the rate of views leading to people pressing purchase at the checkout, but it is understandable really that people think and look for quite a while before investing in glass for their home. It’s also understandable that people want to check out the authenticity of a person who offers to ship stained glass all over the world.
Increasing the number of website visitors
A potential solution, to the fact that not enough of the people browsing are actually buying, is to expand the number of potential customers browsing the website. Even if there are lots of people already browsing there are surely more who don’t know of the business already, or don’t even know yet that an old stained glass window would be the perfect addition to their home – even if used as wall art rather than as a functional window!
I am quite active on LinkedIn these days, as I’m doing a lot professionally, and a post written by someone who works in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) came up in my feed. I liked the post, and she followed me, and I followed back (usually how things work on LinkedIn!). This now means that I’ve had lots of SEO posts appearing in my LinkedIn feed, and I’m regularly discovering ideas for how to increase the potential for Richard’s website coming up when people search on Google. What I’ve been doing is a work in progress, and I’m not an expert at it yet, but I (we) thought it might be interesting to share.
through email that he sends out to different groups of people (he has four identified customer groups: home owners wanting salvage, home owners wanting bespoke, trade buyers and people working in the stained glass industry needing spare pieces of old glass which is not made anymore)
He gets me to read through all his email mailouts and blog posts before sending them out, checking for typos and tone (I don’t always agree with his tone – he can get a bit rude for my liking at times…!). Anyway, I have an interest in the blog posts, so this is where I decided to start with my ‘marketing campaign’ (when I write marketing campaign, I’m very aware of the various marketing professionals, researchers and students who I know – if any of them read this at any point, I know there is a lot more to the whole thing than the pulling together of ideas and trying things out that I am doing!).
Why the focus on blog posts?
Blog posts have value beyond being an opportunity to reflect and document and self-congratulate(!) on what you’ve been doing. They are a method of building a relationship with your potential customers without directly marketing products…
…they allow people to get to know you (and your family business). People might find a blog post on a topic they’re researching which isn’t directly related to your business (such as his QuickBooks post) and then become aware of your business, using or recommending it at a later date. Richard tells me these ideas come from my LinkedIn SEO contact, Emma Dow – I’ve been reading lots of things aloud to him, but forget where it comes from!
There’s such a lot of work that goes into the blog posts (some of them at least) and, while they get lots of views when they are first published, this is less common a few months down the line. I think there’s valuable content – that could help people in their glass purchase decision making – which gets lost as time passes and they disappear from the homepage menu. An example is Steptoe – the reality of architectural salvage dealing in modern London (it surprises me that it’s well over two years ago that this post was published – I remember it well, including doing quite a bit of research into how to attribute the Creative Commons copyright for several images).
Identifying and integrating keywords for Search Engine Optimisation
My reading about SEO – and my experience as a librarian from the search side (teaching people to search for academic literature and secondary data is a major part of my job) – tell me that the keywords you allocate to a blog post or webpage are vital for new people to be able to find your content. There are tools that can be used to identify the words that people coming to a webpage via a search engine are using, and possibly even words that people are using that don’t get to your website (maybe that go to competitors…). These tools can help with thinking about what words to include in your posts. This kind of software has a cost though, so is probably used more by marketing professionals who can invest in a subscription when working on campaigns for multiple businesses (if anyone does have a recommendation of a free keyword analysis tool, then please do let us know!).
I have done what I can with Google Analytics, which is included with Richard’s WordPress website subscription (WordPress is the platform where his website is hosted). To be honest, while the information available is very interesting, and gets me wanting to learn to use Google Analytics properly, it didn’t bring up any big surprises!
Following SEO people on LinkedIn, and seeing lots of posts on the topic, means that I am constantly developing in my learning, and not long before publishing this post I discovered a really useful post which includes advice on how to use Google Search Console. You can use this tool to identify potentially relevant words that people use when searching which don’t include your website high up on the first page of Google results.
This has been very enlightening, and even made Richard, when I showed him, tempted to change the strapline on his homepage (which is currently “British Leaded Lights and Stained Glass…”) on the spot. I managed to stop him before he did this – we need to explore the data more before making big decisions! Richard encourages me to say here what words we have concluded on, but this really is a work in progress.
When I write posts on my own blog, I always include tags – keywords that the blog post is about – and which can be included as a link to refer people to other blog posts on a similar topic. I also add Alt Text (a description) to images – this is mainly to ensure that my images are accessible for people using screen readers (for example people who are blind or partially sighted), but I have also read that use of Alt Text affects the order search engines might put you in on a results page.
Record keeping to keep track of the effects of SEO
Tags and Alt Text are two things I was aware Richard hadn’t been doing, so I have been on the case – sometime with the help of our daughter. There are currently over 70 posts published on the blog, so there’s a lot to do, but we have made a good start. I’ve treated it as a proper project, and have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what changes have been made to each blog post, and when (librarians love a good spreadsheet!). I then hope to be able to refer back to this in a few weeks (months?) time to see whether the search engine optimisation efforts have had any success – I know that you do have to be patient in waiting for these things to work!)
Richard assures me that he will take on some of these things himself when writing blog posts in the future. I’ve done it for this post myself though!
I wrote earlier that I’m constantly discovering new things to do to improve SEO. Another one, which I should really have cottoned on to sooner, is including headings in your blog post, actually formatting these as headings, and perhaps even including them as a linked list of contents at the beginning of your post. I think this advice also came initially from the LinkedIn post I referred to earlier. Doing this should help readers to get a clear idea of what the post is about, and give search tools accessible information to better trawl and promote your website. Richard’s previous blog posts only have headings in bold, rather than formatted as a heading – if they have headings at all. So I have lots of work to go back and make changes, including all the record keeping that I described earlier. The first blog posts that I included headings in – the latest post on my own blog – resulted in my highest ever number of impressions on LinkedIn.
There are many projects still to do to improve the reach of the website:
Richard is working on an Instagram strategy – something I was originally going to write about now, but which we have decided to leave to another post.
There is a frustrating oddity on the website in that the search box only searches stock, not all pages, meaning the content on the blog is hidden, and not easily searchable.
We don’t have an obvious link to view all blog posts – they’re just displayed on the left hand side of pages when using a computer, and hidden away at the bottom of the page on a mobile device.
Educating people to use the website product filters which again only appear on the left hand side of pages if using a computer.
There are other things that should be considered when writing blog posts, some of which Richard and/or I are already doing – use of images, bulleted lists, and others which we’re not doing enough of, such as thinking about the placement of your post’s keywords within the post, and ending each post with a Call to Action (CTA).
Finally, I have a feeling there are pages with stock on, or business information, which would benefit from have links to relevant blog posts, which might not have been published at the time.
Call to action
To finish with one of these plans for the future, here is a Call to Action: if you’re a regular reader of this blog, please would you let us know (via a comment, or an email), of a previous post that you’ve found useful or interesting and that you perhaps think we should highlight more. If you’ve found this post by chance, via a search engine, please let us know as well – it would be fascinating to learn how you found us!
Alice doesn’t know I’ve written the following: she wrote the above so all I have to do is press “publish”. The bottom line is no matter how sophisticated my marketing strategies are, there’s no way I can operate my business without Alice’s unpaid support. She really does have a life of her own and a professional job! But she drops whatever she’s doing to help me. Other examples are IT trouble-shooting, the endless stream of window holding for photography (all the windows you see in pairs are held by her!) and being a devoted mother to my children while I obsess over my business. THANK YOU ALICE!
Regular visitors to my website may have noticed that for part of May I was unable to ship any orders. That’s because I was in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I had a brilliant time meeting existing customers and showing samples to potential customers.
Two Brits in America
Not only does the British accent tend to open doors (or windows!) but when you walk into a USA antique store with my product, people tend to be very surprised – usually in a nice way. I always say to Americans that British stained glass is not better, but it is distinctive*
I needed an assistant. The successful applicant, my mum, was appointed on the basis that she was happy to do what I want and follow me anywhere: box ticked! We arrived in Philadelphia, where we spent the first four days.
We’re not really into tourist attractions. I appreciated Independence Hall** but what we really enjoyed in Philadelphia was visiting an architectural salvage dealer at a church. He invited us to see all the items of value his crew were removing. This is my idea of sightseeing!
It was in North West Philadelphia, in one of the “less desirable” neighbourhoods. It’s my opinion that this is where the good stuff can be found. Once an area has been “upgraded” or “gentrified” there’s less treasure about and of what remains the new owners may be less willing to part with.
It was an ordinary church for that area and dates to 1927 by the architect George Lovett. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the stained glass as whole windows but there were fragments that stood out. Increasingly with church glass I’m finding it’s more practical to sell as spare parts if one has the time and space to dismantle***. The salvager had already removed several intricately carved stone pieces such as those highlighted below:
What interested me is the large size of the building given it was a relatively ordinary church. Just like in England, these old churches are gutted to be turned into condominiums.
From another church, the dealer gave me this clump of glass which was also from an ecclesiastical window. In his store he had baskets full of these. I guess paper weights are just one ornamental reuse idea. It’s incredible how something this thick could be used in a window; it reminds me of kryptonite from the Superman movies. He gave us each a piece which we treasure as mementos of the trip – you can’t get this from a museum gift shop!
Our accommodation was in Northern Liberties (NoLibs as the locals call it) which was easy access to Old City. I don’t often drink Coke but felt a desire as I was in the USA. However gentrification meant it wasn’t on the menu at the local cafe so I had to make do with a lavender lemonade!
We rented a rowhouse. These charming little buildings are what defines Philadelphia for me. There’s a bedroom on each level. These date to the 1800s – a Philly resident told me those with dormer windows are early 1800s.
A rowhouse on our street.
Shop buildings in Philadelphia, and I imagine many other areas of the USA, have the ceilings decorated with pressed tin. While old British buildings might have ornate plaster moulds it’s not feasible to fill the whole ceiling with that method. I liked how these ceilings haven’t been repainted in a long time. It contributed to the rustic character the cafes wanted to convey.
Many Americans tell me they admire Britain because we have “history” and “old buildings”. How old is “old”? The majority of old houses that most British people live in are late Victorian – 1930s. Philadelphia is a relatively small city but I can’t think of anywhere in London where there are so many clusters of 19th century housing that middle-income people live in. Yes we have castles and stately homes but they are either owned by luxury hotel chains or the aristocracy or have been donated to the National Trust. No doubt you can find quaint British Bed and Breakfast accommodation which claim to date hundreds of years but most likely those buildings have been significantly developed in order to be habitable. If you change the head of a broom and later its handle, is it the same broom?
After Philadelphia we drove to Sullivan County in north eastern Pennsylvania which has a small village on a mountain top called Eagles Mere. We were fortunate to stay in one of its houses built by my Great Great Grandfather. It opened as an Inn in 1890.
In the colour photo my mother sits in the same place as her Great Grandmother from the older photo.
For me there’s a lot of history in the USA! Eagles Mere has gone through several changes. In the first half of the 19th century its lake was used to make glass, due to the sand it produced. The glass factory at Eagles Mere failed partly because it was cheaper for the USA to import glass from England. While in Britain we don’t make new glass for export any more (we don’t make much!) I like that, in a way, I am carrying on the tradition of exporting British made window glass.
I won’t go into detail about where else we stayed in Pennsylvania but it was very nice. We made some planned stops to antique vendors and some impromptu. You can’t miss some of these places on main routes which have huge signs saying “ANTIQUES”. Just like in England, people have varied ideas of what defines antique but half the fun is finding out!
The final two days were spent in New Jersey. Here’s me at one of my customer’s shops.
I get such pleasure from seeing this in person – to know I have rescued what many British people would regard as junk and sent it across the world to people who care. I took with me some samples to show potential customers and on the last day sold everything – needless to say my suitcase for the return flight was a lot lighter.
We spent some time in Cape May which is on the southern most tip of New Jersey and claims to be the country’s first seaside holiday resort. In the UK the “plain” glass in our old houses was never completely plain. If you can still find any, look carefully and you can see the ripples created from the handblown formation but this doesn’t capture on camera. In Cape May this feature is more noticeable…
The Victorian architecture, intricately carved wooden detail and bright colours are worth a visit for.
Nothing felt more American than sitting on the porch and watching the world go by! My theory for this phenomenon is that traditionally there isn’t much space in the “back yard” or as we would say, the garden.
I know some Americans reading this will think I’m a bit eccentric to be so enthusiastic about their country but “the grass is greener always on the other side”. Thank goodness at least half of my sales are to the USA which is partly what stirs my interest. (Since Britain left the world’s biggest free trade market, which was on our doorstep, surprisingly few people in the European Union want to pay 20% import VAT to receive my goods but the USA has a reasonable import policy.)
I have to say a big thank you to Devyn who showed us around Philadelphia including the Happy Birthday Bar (a great place to talk to people or just watch Jeopardy!). He is an artist who knows everything about Philadelphia and more! The visit wouldn’t have been as fun without him. He knows where there are only two establishments that serve genuine philly cheesesteaks which are certainly not on the tourist trail. Devyn was one of the co-hosts who interviewed me for the American podcast, True Tales from Old Houses*.
Already I’m thinking about the next trip somewhere else in the USA! Let me know if you’re interested in a meeting? Perhaps you have already bought from me but are thinking of buying in bulk or perhaps you have not bought anything (yet!). Whatever you are looking for, sometimes its good to meet in person, as I appreciate ordering valuable glass from across the Atlantic is not something you consider lightly!
*I explain the difference between American and British stained glass when I was interviewed by the podcast True Tales From Old Houses, I appear 13 minutes in to the episode.
** As it was out of season the queues for both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were short, otherwise I would only recommend Independence Hall.
When Richard has been on his many trips around the country over the years, collecting and delivering, and meeting with fellow stained glass enthusiasts, he has occasionally been asked whether his wife ever comes with him on these trips (or at least that’s what he tells me – maybe to keep me involved!). There is good reason why I haven’t taken up this opportunity:
We have two children who, while they’re getting older, do need a parent to cook them meals and keep them company
Though I support Richard in his business, especially with holding windows for photography, and creating Excel formulas, I do have my own job to be getting on with, as an academic librarian (and emerging researcher – which is the theme of my own blog)
But at long last, in early April this year, I have been with my husband on a business trip, one which took us from London to Edinburgh and back again, with many places in between. He’s taken one or other of our children on some of these trips in the past, but only for a night or two – I had a whole five nights away! We are very lucky to have wonderful parents to look after our children while we took this ‘Busman’s holiday’.
My ‘work’ during the trip
I wasn’t only along for the ride – Richard did find me things to do:
I did some deliveries (from van to door!) and took some part in carrying the windows we collected to our van.
I sent all the text messages letting people know that we’d be with them in half an hour – a very important task this, as they’ve usually been given a wider time slot, and occasionally we’ve been delayed due to traffic.
I researched alternative accommodation when our planned hotel fell through (a broken boiler!) Richard spends a huge amount of time planning all the logistics in advance of a trip. My usual research is using the likes of Bloomberg, and academic journal databases, but I can switch to hotels.com on request!
I offered my opinion on whether we (and it does feel like we) should buy certain pieces, sometimes during a ‘board meeting’ over dinner! Though as a business librarian, I must make clear this is a joke – there is no board of directors as the business is a small concern that doesn’t require them…
I guarded purchased stock (with book in hand), from the wind and from interested passers by, while Richard rearranged glass in the van. Working out where to safely put all the treasure acquired – which will gradually be added to the website in the coming weeks and months – was a regular issue throughout the trip.
I got to visit some interesting businesses, and unique and beautiful houses. I regularly get to see what some of Richard’s customers do with the glass they purchase from him, in the images he posts on his Customer reuse ideas page, but have only now had the opportunity to be shown round a customer’s home – one of the aspects of these trips that I always enjoy hearing about. [Note – I distracted myself for a good ten minutes looking again through the reuse ideas page, when I had intended to just get the URL to provide a link!]
Travelling around the country in a van is very tiring, both for the driver (Richard) and for the person along for the ride (me). We did manage a bit of exploring in the cities and towns we stayed in (and even had a night staying and socialising with family – we brought a stained glass suncatcher as a gift, as well as a bottle of wine!), but on several evenings were too tired for tourism beyond a meal.
Where we did venture out to our surroundings, we spotted glass in all sorts of places – in a fascinating grade 2 listed pub in Liverpool, and in the Adelphi hotel in the same city. Our history and research interests led to us reading up about the background of this hotel. My librarian tendency to read critically and look at multiple sources meant that I got the more positive perspective from the hotel’s website, and some more shocking details from Wikipedia (I won’t go off on more of a tangent by listing my further research on this topic!)
There are many skilled people who work with stained glass. Seeing some locations where the ‘magic’ happens was fascinating.
There’s only so much you can fit in a medium-sized van. And quite a bit of this will need to be stored in near vicinity to me, until it can be photographed and eventually sold. As Richard has been unpacking the van and putting glass in temporary locations before photography and proper storage, I’ve enjoyed surprises seeing them displayed around the house. But I must not get too attached!
The Vines (The Big House, Lime Street, Liverpool – Grade 2 listed
The Grand Lounge of the Adelphi hotel, Liverpool – the ceiling consists of Victorian rolled glass panes!
We have stacks of small framed windows (toplights) waiting to be listed in the trade category.
Most people prioritise putting washing in the machine when they get back from a holiday…
This scenic pattern is from a set of doubleglazed units which will soon be listed in the scenic category.
Merging a glass trip with a holiday
While this was a business trip for Richard, it was definitely also a holiday for us both. It may not surprise you to learn that my husband finds it hard to stop working at times, and it is the same for me. Turning off from work is very hard when you’re running your own business from home, and it’s almost as challenging as a subject librarian who’s the library liaison for thousands of people (to say nothing of my current research obsession!). Therefore days off work when at home are never fully days off – work is always on your mind. For me, being on this trip, getting more involved in sourcing salvaged window glass, I was able to properly take a break from my usual preoccupations. Though I admit that I have referred to my job multiple times in this post!
When not eating or socialising, as described above, I got lots of opportunity to read (I collect books at the rate Richard collects windows, though am less keen to let go of them than Richard is willing to part from the glass – necessary when running a business!). For a librarian, I’m not very strong at ‘weeding’ (aka withdrawing books from) my collection, and have many shelves of books waiting to be read.
We listened, while driving, to multiple podcasts. So the time on the road didn’t feel wasted, and was enjoyable. While our listening was more of the comedy and true crime variety, I’ll take this moment to highlight the time Richard was on a podcast, True Tales from Old Houses, talking about his glass business…
We even played a game, despite being away without our children! Proper evidence that my husband did take me on a holiday, not just a business trip!
I recently put this bullion pane on top of my bookshelf so that it was out of the way as they don’t stack easily! I thought it would look good as an ornament due to the distinctive “bulge”. But in the evening I noticed the reflection of the glass ripples on the wall!
One of the reasons I like working with old glass is that I’m still surprised by the distortions, and by other features resulting from the light.
It’s not just the centre “bulge” that makes these panes interesting. It’s rare that old “plain” glass is completely plain. The ripples can be very subtle and not caught on camera. Unfortunately when I go to collect my purchases of toplight windows, the home owners have long since thrown away the lower larger windows which they thought were worthless “plain” glass. (Old British houses typically have bay windows divided into several sections.)
You don’t get this look with mass produced, modern, machine made glass. To view my full collection of bullion panes please click here.
Here’s a crate that safely arrived this week in Edmonton, AB (Canada).
Sometimes when I’ve finished packaging an order for shipment I think to myself, this packaging is as much a work of art as the stained glass! But here’s some of the treasure Natasha received:
Natasha says “The windows have arrived and are in perfect shape! I think the deliveryman thinks I’m nuts! I’m just as excited about the crate with all the activities I can do with it! Thank you so much …You made this little Canadian girl very happy!
The tracking for this is a typical example of how long delivery to North America takes via air freight. It doesn’t seem to make any difference how large the package is.
From receiving a customer’s payment it takes me a few days to package before the crate will be collected.
Combined shipping Please always ask me for a combined shipping price, regardless of what total the cart shows. This is because the cart:
is not capable of computing a discount for combined shipping
has a quirk where if you select a listing that offers shipping but also select another which does not, it will still process your order, not making it clear that one is not eligible for shipping!
Here’s what Kathy did with a pair she received from me yesterday. I sent them to her home in Philadelphia. These were only despatched with DHL on 28th November*
Kathy says “Wow!! I can’t believe they are here already! This set fits even more perfectly in our space than I had pictured. Wish I had gotten home before the sun went behind the trees but I couldn’t wait to send these pics. My husband and I can’t stop smiling at them.” Actually, I think Kathy took these photos at a perfect time as she has caught the “glow” of the room which complements the surrounding seasonal decorations.
I rescued these from a house in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear (North East England)…
There are only three remaining for sale which are larger…
Click here to view the remaining A1226 windows for sale.
*For international orders I can’t guarantee a five-day arrival from despatch(!) and sometimes my packaging process takes up to three days.
I admit maintaining traditional windows and other wooden features on even a modest 1920s three-bed semi is hard work.
Ideally a new layer of paint should be applied every 5 – 10 years.
But I think it’s worth it.
Each time I’ve done this some passer-by feels it necessary to make the useful suggestion that they would do it just using a ladder. I’m of the old-fashioned opinion that if a job’s not going to be done properly then there’s no point doing it at all!
The front exterior of my house is available for film/photo shoot location hire. It is now very difficult to find ordinary 1920s properties like this, complete with original features which have been maintained. I suggest it could be used for any period from 1920s – 1990s. Please contact me for further information.
When on tour collecting treasure, I sometimes work from my vehicle measuring and cleaning the stock. This saves me time so I don’t have to process when I return to headquarters. My 25 year old Toyota Estima import is just as reliable today as it was when I bought it in 2015. It’s true that “they don’t make ’em like they used to”. The seat configurations of this MPV allows me to use it as a workbench, fill the whole car with windows or accommodate children.
Incidentally the window featured in the above photo is for sale as a pair:
Past adventures in the Led Mobile
Getting around London
Like all London based wheeler-dealers one must have an iconic form of transport. I think mine is starting to look sufficiently dated and scruffy.
Please support small business and promote the reuse of materials by sharing my Instagram posts!
Read about my experience buying and selling leaded stained glass windows and spares parts. Gain from my, and my customers', knowledge and experience with interior and exterior design and high quality decoration. These posts give you a peek into the workings of my business.
I have asked my wife, Alice, to write another guest post . This post discusses: Being the wife of a small business owner Richard regularly describes himself as a one-man business – often when having a bit of a moan about having too much to do, and really wanting to focus on using the knowledge… Read more: Marketing a stained glass business – Search Engine Optimisation
Regular visitors to my website may have noticed that for part of May I was unable to ship any orders. That’s because I was in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I had a brilliant time meeting existing customers and showing samples topotential customers. Two Brits in America Not only does the British accent tend to open… Read more: My 2023 USA visit and kryptonite