Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Story of a Toothpick Holder

It was nestled in a box with many of its kind--ruby button, blue hobnail, a luscious pink, a pristine milk glass. I thought it looked interesting with its swirling colors of purple and white. As the auctioneer began calling for bids I decided to jump in. I was sure the pink one would sell on eBay, and I knew that slag glass, the name for the opaque swirled colors sometimes found in art glass, was also popular with collectors. And who doesn't like ruby red?

I almost dropped out as the bidding zoomed quickly to ten dollars, but I raised my hand one more time and the box of brightly colored glass was mine.

"I paid too much for it," I muttered to my husband. 

"You'll do all right with it," he said.

"Well, I figure I'll at least get my money back," I replied.

The box got shoved on a shelf and waited until I had time to get around to it. This week it was time. I pulled the box out and began taking pictures so I could list the best of the lot on eBay. I noticed a piece of dark yellow paper sticking out of the swirled one, and pulled it out.

"Congratulations," it read. "You're in the gold business." Really? How could that be? This was glass, not gold. I read on, and the rest of the story fascinate me enough to send me online looking for more information. Here is the story I found, one straight from tales of lost treasure, schemes of riches, and western ingenuity.

At the turn of the 20th century, Colorado was home to a gold rush of sorts. There were mines, particularly in the Cripple Creek region, that were producing enough ore to attract big-time players. The problem was that this gold, probably unlike the nuggets found in streams and rivers, was embedded in the rocks in which the veins were found. Various methods were tried to free the gold from the other minerals, most without success. Several large gold mills, as they were called, were built to process the ore using different techniques. None was very successful until the Golden Cycle Mill was built. The plant had another advantage over the other mills--it had better railroads running into the hills to transport the ore to be processed.

Golden Cycle eventually bought out or drove the other plants out and became the largest processor of gold ore in the region. At one time it employed over 1000 workers, but then World War II came along and took most of the work force. The mill closed down during the war and tried to re-open when the war was over, but only 300 workers returned. Labor issues arose, there were strikes and finally the mill shut down for good in the 1950's. 

That sounds like the end of the story, doesn't it? But the thing was, there was thousands, and some thought millions, of dollars worth of gold left in the old tailings dump, gold that could not be removed by the old processes. However time had brought along improvements in the extraction process and there were some who thought they could make their fortunes from the old dump. Funds were raised, the town of Colorado Springs got behind the project, and in the mid-1970's the Gold Hill Recycle Project was born.

What does this have to do with a little toothpick holder found at a West Virginia auction, you might wonder. The project was a far-reaching one--it intended to not only recover the gold from the dump, but also to develop a tourist attraction at the site of the old mill. Artisans were recruited to come to a crafts center and make things from the mill leavings. There was a lot of sand in that pile, and that sand, they found, could be made into glass. The selling point was to be that each piece of glass was to be crafted with sand that contained a certain percentage of gold dust. Indeed, the tag on my toothpick holder went on to say that it had been crafted from the gold-bearing sands of the old Golden Cycle Mill.

Two of the artisans who worked at Gold Hill Recycle, I've been told, were Don Jones and Joe Hamon. Don and Joe were good friends and both used the same mark on the bottom of their glass made at Gold Hill Recycle, according to one of my source- the letters GHM under what looks like a mine entrance. Joe Hamon was raised on Oklahoma and later moved to Colorado, where he owned and operated his own glass studio. He was one of the glassmakers for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian so if you bought pieces at either of these places, you may own a bit of Joe Hamon's work.

I have not yet discovered when (or even if) he worked at GHM, but I did learn that he was the son of O.C. Hamon, and according to this website: "The Hamon family has a number of paperweight artists in its lineage. The more prolific branch when it comes to paperweights was the West Virginia bunch, most notably Robert Hamon. Robert’s uncle O. C. Hamon of Fort Smith, Arkansas was the first Hamon to get involved with glass. O. C. began working with glass in 1916 and spent his career at various glass companies, including his own. O.C.’s son Joe was raised in the glass business and started his own company in Durango, Colorado in 1964. Joe retired in 2000 and passed away a few years later." 

Robert Hamon, I learned, was one of West Virginia's most respected glassmakers, and his work truly is amazing. You can see samples of it on this website. His studio was located in Scott Depot, WV, not far far from where I live, but he passed away, unfortunately, in 2003. 

About Don Jones, the internet is remarkably quiet. I found one glass artist of that name, living in Florida. Is it the same man, doubtful since he would be quite elderly by now, or is it one of his offspring? The end of this story has yet to be written. Some of what I've written here is sketchy, based on messages to me from buyers on eBay. These toothpick holders are quite collectible these days, it seems. 

I knew only a little of all this when I listed the little beauty on eBay. As I went to bed, though, I thought perhaps I should just keep this interesting link to history. But when I opened my eBay account in the morning, I found it was already sold. So it is on its way to its next step in the world, to Oklahoma where some of the Hamon family once lived. It seems a fitting place for it, don't you think? I made a copy of the worn tag before I mailed it, though, and maybe one day I will stumble on another piece of Hamon glass.

And then, it seems that perhaps the Hamon Glass Studio may still be in operation in Scott Depot, at least according to Yahoo! Travel.

About Don Jones I have come up dry. Should you know anything about him, or about any of this story, I'd love to hear it. And I'd also be happy to hear any corrections to the information I've included in this story, as I seem to have followed some winding trails to this story. 

You can see a slide show with more information about the Golden Cycle Mill, and about the subdivision that now rests on what could potentially be millions of dollars in gold, at this website. Oh, and if you search eBay for Hamon glass, you will find that are actually a few reasonably priced pieces available for bidding. Just in case you've become as fascinated with this story as I am!

Linking today to A Vintage Green, Treasure Hunt Thursday, Show and Tell Friday and Open House Party. Have fun visiting these great sites to see what's going on in the world of country living, vintage, crafts, and cooking. All good things!

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Enjoyed you history search tonight Susanne. Thanks for the link too.

Connie@shabbyforsure said...

Very interesting story. Thanks for sharing...Connie

Sue said...

How cool is that??

VERY cool, if I might answer my own question...


Kelly Payton said...

I have a pure white one and was thrilled, after much searching, to find your information about this toothpick holder. I have a little booth and was wondering what would be a fair price to ask for this item. Thank you so much!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...