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Blenko collectors camp ahead of annual WV Day sale

June 16, 2018 GMT

MILTON - Since 1893, Blenko Glass Co. has provided hand-made glass masterpieces now sprinkled throughout the community and region.

Ahead of Blenko’s annual West Virginia Day Celebration sale, the business is drawing attention from well beyond its local reach, making the parking lot look a little more like a campground.

This year’s birthday piece will go on sale Saturday, June 16, in Blenko’s Visitor Center Gift Shop. The doors will open at 8 a.m. While each of the 155 limited edition decanters were being carefully wrapped and packaged in preparation of Saturday’s sale, several customers set up camp in the parking lot to make certain they get their hands on the special piece.

Carolyn Shaver was first in line, arriving Wednesday morning, placing a double canopy on the portion of the yard closest to the gift shop. Shaver has missed only one sale since 2007 and after this year will have collected 11 birthday pieces.

“I don’t need to get the first piece, but it’s fun just to get together,” Shaver said of the chance to reunite with other returning customers. “I’m glad that Blenko still does this.”

Shaver’s daughter, Crystal Shaver, takes three vacation days to camp out with her mom and is first on the list to purchase the 2018 birthday piece. Shaver echoed her mother and said the time with other campers was enjoyable and relaxing.

While the Shavers are local, a handful of camping customers came from hundreds of miles away to secure their West Virginia Day piece. Jilles Bertolino traveled from his home in Windsor, Ontario, to buy the birthday piece - the first one he will have purchased directly from Blenko.

“We did buy a 2016 birthday piece at an estate sale, but it wasn’t signed,” Bertolino said. “Actually, we have so many Blenko pieces that we may actually have a birthday piece and not know about it, but this is our official first time here.”

Bertolino retreats to Florida in the winter months, which he said is where his Blenko glass collection began.

“Most of our pieces are from Florida. People retire and they must bring all of their stuff because there is a lot of Blenko in Florida,” Bertolino said. “Most of our pieces are from there or estate sales or thrift shops in Florida. We have never bought anything off eBay or anything like that.”

Bertolino brought a piece of his collection - a 1959 decanter - in hopes of finding a stopper to complete the piece. The Blenko staff was happy to fulfill his request.

“We brought it to the back and the guy recognized the stamp that was only used for one or two years, and he was able to find us a stopper,” Bertolino said.

On Friday morning, Bertolino was enjoying his morning coffee with his parking lot neighbor, Debbie DeWeese, who is attending her 10th consecutive Blenko Glass West Virginia Day celebration. DeWeese is the proud owner of the complete 37-piece birthday collection.

Her first Blenko experience came in 2008 while passing through on her way to a family reunion. Blenko had several birthday pieces on display that day, thus leading to the start of DeWeese’s collection.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna get any of these other pieces.’ The only one I really wanted was the moonshine jug, because that was a really cool piece,” DeWeese said, “but I ended up getting many other pieces in the collection.”

She completed the 37-piece collection in 2016, bought the piece in 2017 and will have her 38th piece of the collection in hand Saturday morning. DeWeese said camping out ahead of the sale with friends she has made over the years has become something she looks forward to each year.

“I’ve been camping out with these people for 10 years, and now we’re family. We look forward to it,” DeWeese said.

The Emma Walters and Andrew Shaffer design features a spire-like bottle form reflecting the strength of West Virginia’s mountains and people. The piece proclaims and celebrates the efforts of many to bring to reality the creation of a single object.

Follow reporter Luke Creasy on Twitter @lewk_creasy.