West Virginia was the 35th State in the Union and was established June 20, 1863.
In 1980 William H. Blenko, a marketing genius, entered into an agreement with the Diamond Department Store to produce a signed and numbered vase for June’s celebration of statehood. The number raises each year to equal the age of the state. In 1980 only 117 pieces were produced. All pieces are signed and numbered.
Each year the Birthday Pieces are sold out within 3 hours of the store opening. Birthday Pieces are highly sought after. Our Blenko Project advisors say this will become the most highly collectible Blenko series as it is produced yearly, by different designers, and in very limited numbers. It is the longest-running annual signed/numbered item that Blenko produces.
The Series began with Diamond executives asking Mr. Blenko to produce a bowl that could be used on the table, for fruit or flowers, and that was very versatile for the homemaker. Mr. Blenko knew the cost of making a design and mold for such a limited series would be expensive and thus not profitable for Blenko, yet he entered into the contract and asked Don Shepherd, Blenko Designer, to design the piece.
Mr. William Blenko came to the Diamond, and later Stone and Thomas, Department Stores to sign each piece of glass and meet and greet the ladies who bought his Birthday Pieces and many other Blenko pieces for their homes.
The Birthday Piece grew in popularity and by 1987 the lines to purchase them were outside the Diamond Department Store doors before 7 am. This tradition continued. In 2005 the Birthday Piece was sold at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston, WV. The Birthday collectors began to arrive shortly after midnight the night before, and by 11 am (an hour after the store opened) the Birthday Pieces were sold out.
It is the perfect union – West Virginia’s Birthday Celebration, a West Virginia Business, and West Virginia Hand Crafted Glass. Bill Blenko, while always trying to be supportive of his home state, started a yearly tradition for many families. He succeeded in his goal of producing an annual piece to celebrate the birthdays of our state. My own family has collected this particular piece for over 20 years, each year they see friends they know only from Birthday Piece collecting.
The Blenko Project has knowledge of five complete sets of birthday pieces. Mrs. John (Eppie) Boles of South Charleston, Mrs. Ken Ellis of Campbells Creek, and her daughter Renita Williams have complete West Virginia birthday sets.
Before his passing, John Homburg donated his complete collection to the WV Culture Center. The Blenko company has continued to provide the newest piece yearly so that the entire Blenko Birthday collection is now on display to the public yearly at the WV Culture Center corresponding with the state birthday celebrations.
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