Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Eight years after it dazzled visitors to the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago, a magnificent torchere created by L. Straus and Sons, New York, was purchased by Pennsylvania candymaker Milton S. Hershey (1857-1945). The electric torch – with nearly fourteen hundred separate pieces – was the largest composite article in cut glass produced to that time.

Crafted by some of the finest artisans in the world, the torchere stands nearly twelve feet high. Its base and stalk are composed of thir­ty-nine intricately carved and highly polished pieces of brilliant cut glass in the “Americus” pattern. The base is made up of two interlocking lay­ers of solid glass set into a notch on a brass ring. At the top of the stalk, a silver collar supports thirty electrifier arms, twelve ornamental arms, the towering finial pieces, and the electrical wiring harness. More than thirteen hundred pieces of cut glass in many sizes and shapes, such as multi-faceted chains, pendants, and rosettes, connect to and dangle from the gracefully upturned arms. Twelve glasscutters each worked more than forty-five days to complete the task.

Upon its purchase, the torchere was removed from the showroom of L. Straus and Sons and taken to Philadelphia, where it was reassem­bled as the centerpiece of the new Hershey Chocolate Company Soda Fountain and Candy Store on Chestnut Street. It remained in Philadelphia until Hershey closed his opulent candy showroom in 1904. Four years later, the light made its Central Pennsylvania debut at High Point, the stately neoclas­sical house he and his wife Catherine (Sweeney) Hershey (1871-1915) built in the Dauphin County community bearing their name.

The torchere graced the entrance rotunda of High Point, which had been specifically designed by Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban to showcase the shimmering glass marvel. The Hersheys maintained High Point as their home until Catherine’s death. Fifteen years later, in 1930, Milton S. Hershey organized the Hershey Country Club, and offered High Point as its clubhouse. He maintained a private two-room suite on the second floor of the clubhouse until his death fifteen years later.

Realizing that the torchere had sustained damage in the years since the mansion had been turned over to the country club, Hershey decided that a more appropriate and a much safer place was needed. In 1938, it was once again disassembled and moved to the Hershey Museum, which had just been relocated to its present-day location adjacent to the Hershey Park Arena. Placed high atop a hexagonal display case of cut glass and crystal tableware the Hersheys used dur­ing their days at High Point, the torchere had found yet another home. Upon Her­shey’s death, ownership of the torchere passed to the Hershey Industrial School (now the Milton Hershey School) and remained on exhibit at the museum. Today, it is an integral part of the museum’s long­term exhibition Built on Chocolate.

Once seen primarily as a glittering example of late Victorian era excess and exuberance, the torchere is now considered, thanks to intensive research, an important object in the field of glassmaking and decorative arts, as well as a significant object linking the study of the myriad stories of Hershey – the confec­tioner, the company, the community – to one another.

For more information about the torchere or the museum’s collec­tions, write: Hershey Museum, 170 West HersheyPark Dr., Hershey, PA 17033; telephone (717) 534-3439; or visit the Hershey Museum website.

 

The editor thanks James D. McMahon Jr., curator of collections and exhibitions at the Hershey Museum, for researching the history of this object especially for readers of Pennsylvania Heritage.