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Gray-Stan: Luxury Modern Glass 1926 - 1936

Gray-Stan objects displayed in a temporary exhibition

The Exhibition

Gray-Stan was a small London-based factory operating during the interwar period.  This exhibition features Gray-Stan glass from the collection of Broadfield House Glass Museum and the private collection of Sheila Sharman, granddaughter of James Manning, the master glassblower for Gray-Stan.  It includes a pattern-book which is the only known example in existence and some other rare archival material.  Most of these items are on public display for the first time.

The exhibition was organised to coincide with the publication of the Glass Association’s Glass Journal X, which features new research on Gray-Stan by Charles Hajdamach and Judith Vincent along with comprehensive illustrations of the pattern-book.  

A collection of Gray-Stan items inc. red candlestick
Gray-Stan footed vases, collection of Broadfield House Glass Museum

The Beginnings of Gray-Stan

The name Gray-Stan is derived from its founder, Mrs Elizabeth Graydon-Stannus, an Irish antique glass dealer who moved to London in 1908.  By 1920 she had published her first book and established a reputation as an expert in Irish glass.  In 1922 she set up a glassmaking studio to reproduce Irish designs.  This surprising venture into glassmaking attracted criticism for her focus on reproductions, to which she replied “My endeavour is to create not copy”.  However, thanks to more recent research, we know that some items produced by the factory were being sold as genuine antiques.  In 1925 the workshop moved to Battersea.

A bowl made by Gray-Stan, 1926-1936
Gray-Stan bowl, collection of Broadfield House Glass Museum

Luxury Modern Glass

The company evolved a wide range of designs with a choice of colours, textures and patterns, but it is the cloudy colour ranges which are the most distinctive and original of all.  The high skill levels involved in creating these products meant that they were quite expensive – ‘The Modern Luxury Glass’ was the phrase used on promotional material.  Mrs Graydon-Stannus was an astute business woman and realised that the biggest profits would not come from the home market, but overseas, in particular the USA.  Work was sold through exclusive galleries in New York and glass exported as far afield as Toronto and Buenos Aires.

Footed Gray-Stan bowl made 1926-1936
Gray-Stan footed bowl, collection of Broadfield House Glass Museum

Battersea factory

At Battersea the focus changed from reproduction glass to coloured art glass. The workforce consisted of approximately a dozen men, including James Manning, a brilliant glassmaker and artist, who was responsible for many of the striking colour effects seen in Gray-Stan glass.  Mrs Graydon-Stannus said she was interested in using colour because she felt it was underused in British design.  She liked to stress the individuality and handmade nature of the glass from her ‘little factory’. She encouraged a democratic style of management and experimentation with designs. In this way, she not only created modern products but modern work practices too.

Image of table service from Gray-Stan catalogue
A table service illustrated in a page from the Gray-Stan catalogue, collection of Sheila Sharman

The End of Gray-Stan

It is not known exactly why the company closed in 1936 but the successful export market dried up following the 1929 Wall Street crash.  The firm was probably experiencing financial difficulties, but Mrs Graydon-Stannus may also have simply lost interest.  She had no further involvement in glass production and died in 1961.  

Gray-Stan is an unusual story in history of British glass-making – the contrasting products of antique reproductions and modern art glass, the small team of skilled workmen with a woman at the helm, the small scale production that was still commercially viable.  During this period very few factories produced art glass that has stood the test of time but Gray-Stan is one of those few.

If you would be interested in exhibiting at Broadfield Glass Museum, use these contact details.