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Blenko again offers WV birthday piece

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

In 1980, the Blenko Glass Co. began a tradition when it produced a limited-edition bowl commemorating the state’s 117th birthday. Only 117 birthday bowls were made. Each year since, the company has continued the tradition, offering a unique glass collectable to mark West Virginia Day. This year will be no exception.

West Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863 — 151 years ago. Accordingly, this year Blenko has produced 151 specially designed pieces, titled “Sunrise Over Appalachia.”

The 151 fan-shaped bowls will be sold at the Blenko Visitor Center beginning at 8 a.m. June 21. Sales will strictly be on a first-come, first-serve basis, with a limit of one per person. No advance orders and no phone orders will be taken. In recent years, the company’s West Virginia Day pieces have sold out in a matter of hours.

Each numbered piece, rendered in topaz, green and turquoise, will be signed by Walter Blenko Jr., the company’s president, and Arlon Bayliss, the piece’s designer. The pieces will sell for $130.

In addition to its annual West Virginia Day Celebration, Blenko is once again having a special event Friday, June 20, called “Happy After Hours with Blenko Glass.” The Visitor Center will close at 4 p.m. that day and reopen from 7-9 p.m. During this time, a special edition vase will go on sale. It complements the WV Day Bowl and is available in Crystal/Topaz “Sunsplash” and Crystal/Clover “Rainsplash.” Each vase will be etched with “WV Day” and “Blenko 2014” on the bottom. They will be $54 each.

Blenko’s tradition of producing a limited edition piece each West Virginia Day began as a joint venture with The Diamond, the former Charleston department store. The pieces later were sold at the Stone & Thomas store in Charleston. In 2005, the birthday pieces were sold at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston. Collectors began to line up shortly after midnight the night before. The pieces went on sale at 10 a.m. and were sold out within an hour.

According to the Blenko Project blog, only five complete sets of Blenko WV birthday pieces are known to exist. The blog reports early pieces in the series have sold for as much as $2,000.

Blenko is one of the few survivors from West Virginia’s once-thriving glass industry. A family owned and operated company since 1893, it moved to Milton in 1921, attracted by the region’s cheap natural gas and the presence of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

Originally Blenko made only sheet glass, but with the coming of the Great Depression and the resultant decline in demand for new or replacement windows, the company began making the colorful hand-blown vases, pitchers and other glassware for which it has become internationally known.