Don Draper’s favorite designer: Dorothy C. Thorpe

This post comes from Alaina McNeal, the Public Services Outreach intern at the Rakow Research Library.

Poster for Season 3 of Mad Men featuring Dorothy Thorpe’s glass design.

Poster for Season 3 of Mad Men featuring
Dorothy Thorpe’s glass design. (source)

You might recognize Dorothy C. Thorpe’s work if you watched the TV show, Mad Men. Rounded with a silver band at the top, the glasses she designed appear countless times throughout the series. The advertising men of the silver screen drama are well-known for their drinking habits, and this design is perfect for them. Referred to as “roly poly glasses,” they’re meant to stand upright again when tipped onto their sides. Thorpe designed these glasses for her company Dorothy C. Thorpe Inc., as well as many other lines of tableware, accessories, and linens that incorporated the same silver band or decorations of oversize floral patterns.

Dorothy Thorpe started her design in drinkware in a very DIY manner – by cutting the necks off beer bottles and fashioning them into tumblers using decorations and handles. When her brother took one of the first tumblers Thorpe created to work at MGM Studios, Clark Gable saw them and ordered six dozen of the design. This was her foot in the door, allowing her to sell her work out of a small gift shop in Hollywood. Eventually, her client list included Princess Grace of Monaco and other Hollywood stars. This paved the way for her to become a successful contributor to the world of glassware.

Dorothy and some of her glassware.

Dorothy Thorpe and some of her glassware, Autry, Max Munn, circa 1938. (source)

Vase featuring some of her iconic floral
designs, Dorothy Thorpe, 1951. 51.4.657,
gift of Dorothy C. Thorpe.

Despite her lack of formal training, Thorpe would go on to design iconic pieces, develop glass design techniques, and have pieces added to several museum collections. Thorpe used many techniques to realize her design, among them etching, hand-painting, frosted silver-plating, and silver banded glassware. Work produced by Thorpe is often signed with a backwards “D,” a large “T,” and a second “D.” One of her most popular designs was “Ivy Leaves.” She hand-carved the floral design from life. Many of her designs incorporated natural elements, such as her Hydrangea stemware line, with elaborate, floral-inspired stems. She listed some of the flora she used a letter to J. Stanley Brothers in 1945, including ferns, sugar cane, bird-of-paradise, and palm aria.

Dorothy Thorpe passed away in 1989. Her skill in glass and design are still recognized today by curators, collectors, and even in pop culture.

See glass made by Dorothy Thorpe in the Museum’s collection.

The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9 am to 5 pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.

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