Science Apparatus

Fake, When modernism goes bad
Nationality of Designer
Powells Whitefriars Glass Ltd
Manufacturers Location
Middlesex, London, England (UK)
Soda Lime Glass


Science Apparatus


Bought from eBay by Adam Sutherland


None, perfect condition

Why it's in the Collection

This piece is interesting to the collection as it illustrates the then Director, Harry James Powell's academic background as a Chemistry student at Oxford. Powell was a devotee to Ruskin and conscribed to his ideas surrounding free form naturalism, which is echoed in this piece of scientific apparatus.

Whitefriars collapsed when the technical glass end of the business was outmoded - it had remained though high end and technically exacting - a hand-made product, true to the Ruskinian edict unto the end. Harry Powell obviously took to heart Ruskin's pronouncement that 'all cut glass is barbarous' (I love that Ruskin had time to pronounce so forcibly on what seems a rather minor issue, Ed.). There is very little cut glass in the output of Whitefriars up till the later period.

When the functional failed, so then did the more decorative end of the business - let's face it no one really 'needs' a paperweight or a decorative ash tray. Whitefriars are really much more interesting than any of their designers, having a fascinating history that takes them from the Georgian period through Ruskin and arts and crafts and modernist movements to their final destiny as a paperweight brand.

About the Designer/Maker

Whitefriars Glass was reputedly first established in 1680, during the reign of Charles II, in an abandoned monastry in London, that was once inhabited by Carmelite Fathers who were known as 'White Friars'.

Whitefriars 'modern' history starts in 1830 with the glass works on Fleet Street in London. Established by the Powell family (related to Scout leader Baden-Powell). In the early years the focus was on stained glass but by the later part of the century Harry Powell, an Oxford graduate and Ruskin devotee, associated the company with the Arts and Crafts movement, quickly becoming the foremost glass manufacture of the period and retaining that position through the 20th century. In 1919, the company re located to a purpose built factory and planned workers village, following Ruskinian ideals of work and life (sadly his vision for a 'Garden suburb' never materialised).

In the mid 19th century, the mainstay of their production was arts and crafts glass, mainly designed by Harry Powell but also Burne-Jones and Morris and co. The company also innovated many technical uses of glass from light bulbs to colour. The company is commonly associated with Deco style and the bubble ware of the 1920's - 40's a somewhat banal interpretation and a low point in terms of design. The company represented glass at the Festival of Britain and was given a new lease of life following the Festival with the designs of Geoffrey Baxter sustaining the factory throughout the 60's and 70's. Whitefriars closed in 1980. The Whitefriars 'brand' was sold to the glass making travesty that is Caithness glass - the paperweight company

Bibliography & Further information

Whitefriars Glass: The Art of James Powell & Sons, Ed. Lesley Jackson, Richard Dennis Publications, 1996, ISBN-10: 090368540X

Whitefriars Glass: James Powell and Sons of London, Ed. Wendy Evans, Catherine Ross and Alex Werner, Museum of London, 1995, ISBN-10: 090481856X