Dorothy Thorpe’s glassware first found appreciation in the world of film and television in the 1930s when her brother took her early designs to MGM Studios; Clark Gable liked them so much he ordered several dozen pieces. Seventy years later, Dorothy’s work gained a new appreciation in the celluloid world when Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and other characters in AMC’s Mad Men were seen sipping out of Dorothy Thorpe Roly Poly silver band tumblers, squarely positioning them as icons of mid-century design.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and later based in Glendale, California, Dorothy (1901–1998) was a pioneer of decorating glass using sand and tape and became famous for her floral-etched glassware. Dorothy did not actually manufacture glassware; rather she purchased large lots of plain glassware and embellished them with her own personal designs. With no formal art training she started her design experiments during the Depression when she and her husband struggled to make ends meet.
After Clark Gable discovered her work, Dorothy established Dorothy Thorpe Originals and quickly became known for her delicate creations. She sold them first in a small Hollywood gift shop and later in big-name retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Gumps, attracting the attention of the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco and the Shah of Iran.
Dorothy Thorpe Originals included floral-decorated sand-etched glassware, tableware, and other decorative items made using wax and layers of tape. Dorothy sectioned off areas to be sandblasted and areas to remain untouched to create stunning floral motifs. Eucalyptus, irises, roses, and narcissus flowers were common motifs inspired by Dorothy’s trips to Hawaii. Other imagery included poppies, calla lilies, and azaleas, and less-commonly seen hibiscus and pine.
Dorothy also used silver overlay to decorate glasses and the style has seen a resurgence in popularity due to Mad Men. Silver Band and Allegro featured a thick sterling-silver band around the rim of a large variety of glasses, cocktail pitchers, and decanters.
Other designs featured a silver band with a polka dot pattern or a delicate silver fade descending down the lip of the glass.
During the postwar era Dorothy produced a range of glassware appropriately titled Atomic Splash. She decorated crystal serving pieces, such as platters and appetizer plates, with a silver-sterling overlay to appear like a nuclear explosion.
Dorothy started using Lucite in the early-1940s, if not before, designing pieces that combined Lucite with glass, chrome, and brass. She formed bent and twisted acrylic glass into sculptural lamps, pretzel-shaped candlestick holders, spiral-shaped umbrella stands, and looped-rod magazine racks.
She also added decorated tableware to her repertoire with several of her own lines, plus commissions for ceramic producers. Dorothy’s orange Persimmon and blue Periwinkle tableware were named for their vibrant colors, while Spring Harvest had a transferware decoration of spring flowers in a wreath. For Crown Lynn Pottery in New Zealand, Dorothy designed the Santa Barbara and Monterrey coffee sets with ball-handles, released in the United States in 1965.
Whether it was decorating glassware with floral imagery, silver tape, or explosive pattern, Dorothy was renowned for her attention to detail and quality. Take a look at the selection on The HighBoy for more of Dorothy’s iconic and thoroughly mid-century modern pieces.