It was nearly fifty years ago when H. Joseph (Hank) Williams (no, not the country western
musician) spotted an odd-shaped white plaque on the windowsill of Mrs. Sands Antique Shop in Essex, Connecticut. Mrs. Sands explained that it was a lithophane. Mr. Williams knew he “had to have it” and this was the start of his collection. There probably isn’t a collector among us who hasn’t experienced the “had to have it” moment.
Yet he was lucky, because Mrs. Sands responded to his enthusiasm by inviting him into her
home to see a lamp which was clearly not for sale. An impressive 5-panel lithophane shade sat atop the lamp base, all with American scenes such as Niagara Falls.
Mr. Williams was the consummate collector. He collected what he liked. And he lived with his
collection, displaying the pieces in sunny windows, open shelves, or on a hutch in the family’s
This collection has now been generously donated to the Blair Museum of Lithophanes. Some
highlights include a large 4-sided hanging lantern with 3 colored and one white rectangular
lithophane panels (all marked PR (sickle)); two 5-sided lamp shades with trapezoid panels, one with outdoor scenes and the other with children (all PPM); 2 large panels mounted in stained glass (both KPM); 2 metal warming stands with lithophane panels; and miscellaneous sizes of curved and flat panels, mounted and unmounted. Some lithophane panels could be classified with general themes such as romantic, outdoor scenes, children, religious, etc. The collection has a notable variety of lithophane subject matter. Most beautiful might be the approximately 13” x 7” rectangular with curved top KPM 119 lithophane depicting the Ascension of Christ, mounted in a stained glass frame, that was originally produced between 1828-1836 at the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur in Berlin. The stained glass has sustained a little damage, but the lithophane remains in mint condition.
One charming lithophane plaque, PPM 487, Gebet am Morgen (Morning Prayer), depicts a
woman kneeling in prayer in a tranquil domestic scene with a spinning wheel nearby. Another marked PPM 462, Badenden Mädchen (Bathing Girl) features a young woman washing her feet in a stream. There are hand-painted trapezoid plaques depicting a mountain village in Switzerland (PPM 23); as well as a white trapezoid lampshade plaque featuring children being pulled on a sled in the winter (PPM 764). While this collection is modest in size, it is rich in popular 19 th century lithophane subjects.
Over the years Mr. Williams acquired his lithophanes from auctions, private dealers, and
several were purchased from Mr. Laurel Blair, the founder of the Blair Museum of Lithophanes. Mr. Williams saved his membership card sent to him by Mr. Blair in the 1980s, and many copies of the Blair Bulletin, articles about the Blair collection, as well as correspondence over the years. These wonderful archival materials have been donated along with the lithophane collection.
He has retained a couple of favorites from his lithophane collection, including a small PPM
plaque, which when back lit, depicts a man playing a violin while two costumed dogs “dance” on the pavement. It is PPM 584 titled Hunde-Tanz. wish I had a photo to share!
In 1984, Mr. Williams and his family visited Mr. Blair and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes
when it was located his private home in Toledo’s Old West End. He toured the lithophane
collection and Mr. Blair’s other collections, as well as his greenhouse full of orchids. Mr.
Williams is an avid gardener, a woodworker, a skilled cane and rush weaver, and collects
figurines and teapots created by the English manufacturer Wade.
Mr. Williams and Mr. Blair shared a deep appreciation of lithophanes, gardening, and collecting, in general. They also both demonstrated the admirable trait of generosity in sharing their collections with others, and we all are the lucky benefactors.
January 25, 2021