Behind the Glass: Henry Ferdinand Helf

When you think of the Helf family, you automatically think of Stained Glass – you could say it’s in their blood. Through the decades, the Helf family has kept the art of Stained Glass alive to be appreciated by future generations. The Helfs’ legacy in Stained Glass Started with Henry Ferdinand Helf, who paved the way for the founding of Franklin Art Glass Studios.

Henry Ferdinand Helf was born in 1865 in Cincinnati, Ohio to German immigrant parents. His father, Henry Helf, was born in Darmstadt, Germany, just south of Frankfurt, and immigrated to the United States in 1850.

Henry Ferdinand’s career in stained glass started in 1883 at the age of eighteen, when he began work as a stenciler for William Coulter & Son in Cincinnati, Ohio. William Coulter was an Irish immigrant who started his business as a glass cutting establishment in 1838. His son joined the business in 1868 and the name was changed to William Coulter & Son. By this time, the business had gone from simply glass cutting to manufacturing stained glass pieces for homes and churches.

Henry Ferdinand rose through the ranks, becoming a stainer in 1885 and draftsman in 1891. It was in the midst of all this in 1886 that he married Antonia Richter, with whom he would go on to have seven children: William, Henry “Elmore”, Clara, Otto, Harold, Arthur and Antonia.

Henry Ferdinand left William Coulter & Son in 1894, right after it was bought by manager Gerald Collins Rioardan and the name changed to G.C. Rioardan and Co. The business is still around to this day, now going by the name BeauVerre-Rioardan Stained Glass Studios.

Henry Ferdinand went on to have several different jobs over the ensuing years, including manager at H. Harper & Co. in 1895, manager at Harper & Helf Co. from 1899-1900, junior designer at Helf & Thompson from 1901-1902 and junior designer at Erkins Glass Co. in 1903.

The site of Helf & Thompson at 633 Main Street in Cincinnati.
It’s around the year 1904 that Henry Ferdinand is believed to have started working for the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company in Columbus. This is based off the fact that he was living in Columbus at the time and a sketch that he did received an award at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. This is significant because the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company was present at that World’s Fair and took home a number of awards. The list of exhibitors at the 1904 World’s Fair doesn’t include Henry Ferdinand’s name specifically, so it’s a good guess that in order for his sketch to have received the award, he must have been employed by Von Gerichten.

Henry Ferdinand’s Columbus home on Beech Street
Henry Ferdinand stayed with Von Gerichten until 1907, where he was employed as a draftsman. He went on to be the manager of the Creative Arts Company in 1909 and then manager of Helf Art Glass from 1909-1912, where his sons William and Henry “Elmore” worked as glazer and bookkeeper respectively. From 1913-1914 he worked as a traveling salesman.

Von Gerichten Art Glass Company at 428 South High Street
Franklin Art Glass Studios, Inc.
Some of Von Gerichten’s employees in 1906.
Henry Ferdinand is the man standing on the far right
After his stay in Columbus, Henry Ferdinand moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He worked as a designer from 1915-1921, possibly as a freelancer. From 1923-1926 he was a designer for the C. Day Rudy Company, a stained glass studio in Harrisburg. He then worked as a salesman for Pittsburgh Stained Glass Studios from 1927-1929. It was during this time that Henry Ferdinand’s wife, Antonia, passed away in 1927. He returned to the C. Day Rudy Company as a designer from 1930-1932, after which it seems he retired.

Henry Ferdinand moved several times while living in Harrisburg.
His last known residence was this house on N. 4th Street
Henry Ferdinand passed his love for stained glass down to his son Henry “Elmore” who founded Franklin Art Glass in 1924.

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