U.S. Glass Frolicking Bears Olive Green Tumbler

U.S. Glass Frolicking Bears Olive Green Tumbler


There has been so much written about this famous carnival glass tumbler, which for years there was only one known. Exciting information can be found going back to the 1970's when it was so well documented by O. Joe Olson's Society of Carnival Glass Collectors and his wonderful tumbler newsletters.

The Frolicking Bears tumbler was always in competition with the Big Butterfly tumbler as to its place on the Ten Top Tumblers list.

First, here is the Frolicking Bears pattern as described very well by David Doty and some of the prices realized through the years.

Also, to further our education, here is a very detailed ICGA article, written by Lee Markley, about the Frolicking Bears pattern. Far be it for me rewrite all this detailed researched information when these good people have already tackled the task. I am a firm believer that articles about Carnival Glass should be used over and over again whenever we have the opportunity.

As you can see, it is a very well loved and documented pattern and for the most part, is virtually non-existent.

This is the first of the late Bob Smith Collection that I am presenting because it was one of his favorite tumblers. For all of you who have never seen one in person, chances are slim to none that you ever will. You don't need all ten fingers to count the ones reported. My goal is to bring you the next best thing, a virtual hands-on experience right here on Showcase and also a rare chance to see it in person, yes, a live showing at one of five conventions to be scheduled over five years time (2018 thru 2022) where Bob's collection of about 1700 carnival tumblers will be shown, in full, at a convention coming, hopefully near you. Once you hold it, I'm sure It will be your favorite tumbler too!

There are not many patterns in Carnival Glass that have multiple scenes on them. The Millersburg People's Vase and the Millersburg Cleveland Memorial Ashtray are two patterns I know of that do. Who knew it would take six photos to completely capture all the scenes on this one fantastic tumbler?

These whimsical bears are more like kooky clowns and definitely just like children. In photographing and keeping them straight, I had to give each one a name according to what kooky pose they were in. At one point, it occurred to me that this could quite possibly be only one bear telling a story in six scenes and not six separate bears. Usually bears are territorial and really don't hang out together, but in this fantasy tumbler, who knows!?

I will start in order of scenes beginning with probably the most popular one, the "Dancing Bear".

Then to the right is the bear who appears to be sleep walking because his arms are up doing the "Monster Mash" or maybe the iconic "Land of the Living Dead Zombie Walk".

Then to the right of him is the funniest bear of all. He's giving his own stomach a "bear hug", during a good old "Belly Laugh". He could be laughing at the next bear over to the right, who appears to be attempting a "Headstand" and in the next scene after him is a bear who fell on his bum. Now this little guy puts the "tumble" in tumbler doesn't he?

Last, but not least, is the "Hunchback of Showcase", who's running at breakneck speed. But what is he running on? Is it leaves, water, or ice & snow? We will never know what climate they're in, even with those mountains in the background. They could be polar ice caps and these could be Polar Bears! Nothing in this tumbler is definitive and is highly speculative. It is all up to the imagination of the beholder....you.

This tumbler is described as Olive Green in most articles that talk about this pattern. It is short and sturdy, standing only 3 5/8" tall, 2 7/8" wide, and has a base diameter of 2 5/8" wide. It sits on a bottom that has nine scallops going around. I have never seen a tumbler shaped quite like this one ever before. Bob Smith documented and neatly labeled each of his tumblers in his labor of love.

In reading an article, in O. Joe Olson's first volume published of the Carnival Glass Tumbler & Mug News dated January 25, 1979, there is a mention that Frolicking Bears was a pre-carnival pattern. The article went on to say that "at the ICGA convention on July 13, 1978, a Texas collector (Floyd & Cecil Whitley) "sought to buy the Frolicking Bears tumbler from a North Carolinian grocery man, Sam Roebuck, who had paid $3,500 for it at the Collier auction in 1976. Sam countered with an offer of three rarities for $35,000 which was later negotiated down to $30,000. This total was a record for a private sale of three pieces."

Then, in a later article in the Carnival Glass News & Views Vol. 19, No. 6 Dated December 10, 1981, the provenance comes together neatly of the first known tumbler. O. Joe Olson, editor and publisher, states, " The first Bears tumbler turned up at an Ohio market about 1959. It was sold to the Rev. Leslie C. Wolfe, now of Villa Grove, Illinois. Wolfe advertised the tumbler for $900 when he broke up his collection. An Illinois woman dealer bought the tumbler and sold it to Mary Elizabeth Collier of Memphis, Tennessee. She sold it at an auction in St. Louis, Missouri, in February, 1976, for $3500. The buyer, an East coast grocery man (Sam Roebuck) later sold three carnival rarities in a package deal for $35,000, the Bears tumbler was included. The present owner, Floyd Whitley of Houston, Texas, figures he paid about $12,000 for the tumbler." 

Those three pieces were the peach opal marigold ruffled Farmyard bowl (last sold for $9,600 at a Woody auction), the only green People's vase (last sold for $7,300), and the green Frolicking Bears tumbler (last sold for $3,500). The experts at the time figured the Frolicking Bears tumbler amounted to $6,700 of that negotiated package total. This exceeded the Big Butterfly's former "top sale price for a single tumbler" of $5,500. It was like sibling rivalry with those two tumblers!

So, we have two separate accounts of the first tumbler known, written through the years and all the information jives as to its provenance. I love it when that happens! That tumbler was purchased by Gary Heavin at the Whitley sale for a friend who could not attend.

Don't forget to click on each photo and then once again to supersize them so you can see all the whimsical details. This tumbler will always make you smile.

The late Bob Smith Tumbler Collection

Passed on and continued by Christina Katsikas

Written & Photographed by Christina Katsikas

For more information, here are the resources Lee Markley sited for his research for his article:

Britt. HOACGA Educational Series II – Tumblers.

Doty. A Field Guide to Carnival Glass. 2nd ed.

Hartung. Carnival Glass Book 3.

Heacock. The Glass Collector. Spring 1982 pp 3-5.

Mordini. Auction Price Reports 1986 – 2002.

Owens. Carnival Glass Tumblers.

Thistlewood. Carnival Glass: The Magic and the Mystery.

Thistlewood. Network No. 22 / 1999.