Helen & Phil Rosso

Wholesale Glass Dealers Inc.

A Concern or Celebration for Collectors?

By John Sample

This article appeared in the GLOWING REPORT (March 1999, Vol. 1, #3), the official publication of the Vaseline Glass Collectors, Inc., a non-profit club organized to educate and unify vaseline glass collectors everywhere.  (see link at bottom of page for more information)

    Location may be a key factor in the realty business, but it is a secondary factor in the wholesale mail order world.  This may aid in explaining why Helen and Phil Rosso Wholesale Glass Dealers are located in the residential community of Port Vue, overlooking the decaying steel town of McKeesport, PA.
    The story of Rosso Glass is typical of many small businesses.  They began on a shoe string and have grown and changed over the years.  However, in the process of growing and changing, their glass products have become the focus of collector concerns.  Although the prices of their glass are quite reasonable, the fact that much of the glass is made from the molds of the defunct Westmoreland Glass Company causes aunguish for collectors.  In the minds of many, Rosso Glass is a reproduced glass masquerading as an original.  So it is time to tell the story of Rosso Glass and perhaps complicate the task of making quick and easy judgments about manufacturing and marketing in the world of glass making.

THE EARLY YEARS OF ROSSO GLASS
    Helen and Phil Rosso started their business in the late 1960's.  At that time, Phil worked in the busy stell mills of McKeesport, but an entrepreneurial spirit and a keen eye for antiques led to buying auction items for resale.  Helen did the background research on the items, whild Phil did the buying.  Their success in this 'Ma and Pa' activity led, in 1969, to the opening of an antique shop.  IN the early 1970's, Phil purchased his first glassware for resale.  An ad built on the theme of a "dare" was palced in the Antique Trader: "I dare you to send $50 for a box of glass.  If not satisfied with the contents, get your money back."  The mail order business started from that ad and was followed by additional purchases of glass with periodic mailings to a growing customer base.  Some of the early customers are still customers today.  The mailings have grown in number and frequency and are now a monthly occurrence with a customer base of close to 2000 clients.  The client base is composed of retail dealers, flea market vendors and owners of glass specialty shops.  Collectors represent only about 5% of the current client base.
    In 1976, Phil Rosso began buying items from Westmoreland Glass Co.  Eventually, he bough glass by the 'turn' and became one of their larger buyers.  During that period, he had the bulldog, cameo basket, owl toothpick and candelabra produced in vaseline.  By the early 1980's, antiques were becoming harder and harder to find.  Gradually, the dealing in antiques subsided and the main business activity became mail order glass.  In 1983, Westmoreland suffered hard times and eventually went out of business.  Rosso, as well as others, bought Westmoreland's inventory and many of their molds.
    In 1988, Phil bought the vacant two-story Slovak club in Port Vue and moved his antique and glass business to the new location.  Until that time, the mail order business had been run out of the basement of their home.
    Initially, there were plans to have an antique shop, the mail order business, and a Westmoreland museum in th enew building.  The business and museum did become realities and examples of virtually all the glass items produced by Westmoreland are on display in the museum.  But the antique shop side of the equation never materialized, as the mail order glass inventory now took up the entire second story of the building.

ROSSO TODAY
    The Rosso's were not only blessed with hard-earned success in business, but also with eight daughters and one son.  Philip Joseph, Jr., known as PJ, graduated from high school in the early 1980's and entered into, not the family business, but the plumbing trade.  The lure of dealing in glass and the death of Helen in 1990, brought him into the business full time.  He had been going on glass buying trips with his father since the early 1970's, so the transition wasn't difficult.  Today, he and one sister own the business and two other family members with them.  When Westmoreland went out of business, 75 molds were purchased by Phil Rosso.  Approximately half of them have been used to reissue glass.  The remainder, in PJ's opinion, are too difficult to use, given the level of glassmaking skill available in today's industry and the cost involved in making pieces.  (In addition to the Westmoreland molds, Rosso has acquired, or has had made, a few additional molds.)  In response to the question of whether more skilled glass workers might be found among art glass makers, PJ said, "The price would be too high and artists don't want to be restricted to mold work."  Since PJ is resistant to sending the molds overseas, the probability is that many of the molds will not be used for glassmaking in the foreseeable future.
    There is a fairly standard procedure for turning a mold into a run of glass.  An agreement is made between a glassmaker and the mold owner on the color, cost, and number of pieces to be produced.  Early on, Rosso ordered 'half-turns' (or about 2 hours of production), but this meant that their molds were being used to produce glass which would be sold to other wholesalers.  Today, the standard is to buy a 'turn' and to market all the glass produced themselves.
    Most of Rosso's glass is currently being made by Mosser.  Over the years, however, Summit, Smith, and Fenton have made runs for Rosso.  Glass makers may also wholesale runs from their molds through Rosso, with the result that Rosso's inventory is a mixture of glass produced stricly for them or for general marketing.
    Although Rosso purchased many Westmoreland molds, they were not the only company which acquired these molds.  So, as always has been the case, molds from all the defunct glass companies are out there in the world, awaiting their time to come again.
    According to PJ, an attempt has been made to protect collectors by not making glass from Westmoreland molds in the same colors that the company originally used.  Teh problem is that collectors are not sufficiently informed and the result is the purchase of new glass with the belief that it is old glass.  The Westmoreland mark on the molds is another controversial and more serious matter.  Rosso does have a trademark: the letter 'R' within a keystone (see logo at top of page).  This logo is found on the top of their monthly newsletter, but the logo has appeared on their glass only once.  This mark was used on a run from Viking which included the miniature punch bowl in vaseline, and cranberry ice, and also a vaseline eyecup.  Those items didn't sell.  People mistook the "R" for meaning 'reproduced'.  If that wasn't a depressing development, there was a little problem with a logo being a registered trademark of the Reed Company of Philadelphia. The prospect of a lawsuit was not a happy thought and belatedly, (but successfully), lawyers were brought in.  Since the Reed company is in the leather goods industry and not the glass business, the attorneys now assure PJ that the mark is properly registered in Rosso's name.  Although registered, the logo is not being used, but plans now call for marking the glass in the future.  Right now, however, the miniature punchbowls with the 'R' mark, as well as the eyecup, are pretty scarce items.
    Although the choice of colors used in making a run of glass is not entirely in PJ's hands, he makes an effort not to produce repeat runs of a color.  Some items in a particular color, therefore, have been made in very limited numbers.  Collectors, of course, are the ones who value this information, but as indicated, they represent only a small fraction of his buyers.
    Vaseline glass has been a 'hot' item for several years.  Since the suply of uranium dioxide was limited by government regulation, few items in vaseline were produced in the years following WWII.  It is unknown whether the current popularity of this glass is, in part, a response to the scarcity of the color or whether collectors have simply developed a new interest.  However, from PJ's perspective, demand determines the direction of his business.  Consequently, vaseline glass will continue to be a highly promoted item in his monthly advertisement.  As to what items might be popular in the future, PJ claimed no prescience abilities, but does think a new color by Mosser called carnival tangerine appears to have promise.  Unfortunately, items in this color are being made in a small furnace and therefore are only small items.  Add to this manufacturing restriction, the variables of color availability, color failure, and customer interest, it is easy to understand how uncertainty develops and surrounds glassmaking and marketing.  A wholesaler/dealer such as Rosso is far more at the mercy of manufacturers and the market than is generally realized.
    Glass is now the mainstay of their business.  PJ has explored other avenues in an attempt to broaden the base of his business.  Cookie jars and other clay works have been added to his offerings, but these additions are almost on a trial basis.  If they sell, they will be continued.  Since the major advertising effort of Rosso is the monthly newsletter, the marketplace will determine the fate of these non-glass items.
    Do PJ or his sisters (Patty and Colleen) collect?  The answer is yes, but not in a systematic manner.  Burmese and vaseline items seem to be their favored choices.  Perhaps being surrounded by glass on a daily basis makes one discerning, or with the case of the glass in the museum, intimidated.  Finding glass for the museum has been a strong interest and over time, items besides Westmoreland products have been added.  The Westmoreland rooms display nearly 5000 pieces of glassware, dating from the turn of the century until 1984.  There are one-of-a-kind pieces, color mistakes, photos of employees, and extremely rare wheel-cut pieces by G.W. Racinger.  There is also a 'Fenton' room, where pieces from the Fenton Art Glass Company are displayed.  As for visitors to the museum, it may be a blessing in disguise to be so hard to find.  A steady stream of visitors would only be disruptive to their mail order livelihood.  The thought of opening a retail store has been discussed, but location and staffing, even with a lot of siters around, is a formidable task.  PJ says he enjoys doing what he does now and getting bigger or more complicated has a price (and at the moment), he is not ready to pay.
    While collectors and lovers of glass are concerned, and rightly so, of their world being stressed and stretched in new ways by the seemingly random dispersion of molds and their use in manufacturing new glass, it might also be argued that these events have resulted in glass not disappearing from the scene, but being available for people to buy and enjoy.  A call for celebration may be just as appropriate as cries of concern among collectors in today's re-issuing of yesterday's glass.
 
    Now, a tale to be told:  A number of years ago, my wife and I went ot a class reunion in Pittsburgh.  As everyone knows, reunions are entertaining for an evening, but we were there for the weekend.  We decided to see if we could locate Rosso's, which we had seen advertised in the Glass Digest.  We recruited my brother-in-law, since he worked in McKeesport.  My wife also had a relative who lived in Port Vue, so we felt that finding the place would be an easy task.  Armed with all this territorial knowledge, we searched for Trimble Avenue mostly by driving up and down the hilly streets in the town.  When we finally found the place, it was closed.  As we were standing on the street, Phil Rosso, who lived about a block from the building, saw us and shouted that he would be right down.  Down the hill he came, opend up the building, and we had a chance to see the tables filled with glass and the museum with its array of Westmoreland glass.  It was a treat-and-a-half and definitely the best reunion we ever attended.
    Since then, we have been to Rosso's many times.  Phil is frequently there, but PJ is now the chief.  The same friendly manner is shown by all the family members and the tables of glass seem to have grown even larger over the years.  The museum is still a delight and we find new treasures each time we wander through the rooms.  Yes, Rosso is hard to find, but well worth the search.  And to that end, we include the pathway from several directions.

ADDRESS:
Helen and Phil Rosso Wholesale Glass Dealers, Inc.
1725 Trimble Ave.
Port Vue, PA 15133
412-672-0774

Directions for Rosso:  Port Vue is located in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Southeast of Pittsburgh, across the river from McKeesport.
    From Exit 8 PA Turnpike-New Stanton: Take 70 West to 51 North to 48 North to 148 North (Walnut Street).  Go through six traffic lights, and at the sixth traffic light, make a left to go across the McKeesport-Port Vue bridge.  As you start up the grade, make a right at the fork in the road.  Go 25 ft. and make a right 'U' turn and go up th ehill to the Port Vue fire station.  Make a left along the side of the fire station (Bruston).  Go one block and Rosso's is located in a multi-level brick building.
    From Exit 6 PA Turnpike-Monroeville: Take 48 South to 148 North (Walnut Street).  Go through six traffic lights, and at the sixth traffic light, make a left and go across the McKeesport-Port Vue Bridge.  Then follow the above directions.
    From Wheeling, WV: Take 70 West to 51 North to 48 North to 148 (Walnut Street).  Then follow the above directions.

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The following is a list of the items Rosso's have made in vaseline glass from their molds:
0006         Standing Rooster
1875TS    Ring & Petal Table Set
0031        John Bull Style Eyecup
0331        Raised Ribbed Style Eyecup
0008        5" Covered Open Neck Swan with Woven Base
0010        5" Covered Chicken with Split Tail on Woven Nest
0018        5" Covered Cat on Ribbed Base
0019        5" Covered Pintailed Duck on Woven Base
0141        Cherry & Cable Cracker Jar
0141-7     Cherry & Cable Plantation Sugar Bowl (Cracker Jar with Pedestal)
0073        Large Orange Juice Reamer
0055        Dry measure
0001        5" Standing Rooster
0028        Frog pulling Seashell
0076        Solid Glass Bulldog
0303        Fan & File Pattern Miniature Punch Set (7 pieces)
0030C      Bottoms Up Whiskey Glass with Coaster
0030        Bottoms Up Whiskey Glass without Coaster

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Article by: JA & MM Sample.  JA is a soon-to-be retired college teacher and MM is a realtor.  Although they seem to collect without rhyme or reason (vaseline, old and new carnival and hammered aluminum), the world of collecting and collectors is a keen academic interest.  They may be reached at <JASAMPLE@pathway.net>

This article was reprinted from the GLOWING REPORT, the official newsletter of the Vaseline Glass Collectors Inc.  To visit our webpage, please click HERE.