Sani Onyx — A sort of vintage glass tile actually made from fused rock — 34 page catalog

vintage-bathroom-decorative-marbleLet's-decorate-1926We get inquiries all the time from readers wanting to know more about their large size, pre-war glass wall tiles, so Pam sent me on a hunt through the vintage catalogs of Archive.org to see if I could find some examples. I didn’t find glass tiles, but I uncovered this Sani Onyx vitreous tile — a possibly rare(?) glass tile made from fused rock bu Marietta Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis. Sounds like the pre-war version of solid surface countertops to us. Readers, have you ever heard of this before?

From the catalog:

Sani Onyx is a modern vitreous building material of far greater strength than either marble or tile. This remarkable present-day product is fused from rock ingredients, at 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. It is as enduring as a wall of solid flint, and will actually outserve the building itself.

The natural fire-polished surface of Sani Onyx is absolutely uniform, and as softly smooth as glass. Moreover, Sani Onyx is proof against all of the common enemies of other building materials.It does not stain or discolor; nor is it affected by warmth, moisture or salt air. Unlike marble, tile or plaster, it does not crack or check even under severe strain. Climactic conditions do not alter Sani Onyx in the slightest degree and it is impermeable to water or any liquid, including all acids except hydrofluoric.

Easy to Install

The installation of Sani Onyx is a comparatively simple operation. In order to secure the best results, however, Sani Onyx should be installed over a base which can be water-proofed — that is, over a rough plater, brick, stone, or concrete wall. By referring to the illustration, you will see the method used in installing Sani Onyx. A plastic cement is used, which “gives” with the settling of the building; this cement never becomes dry or hard and, because of this fact, Sani Onyx walls never crack, a feature which should receive the architect’s most careful consideration. In remodeling, Sani Onyx may be readily installed over old plaster walls — Because Sani Onyx comes in large units, it may be installed with amazing speed and ease.

Sani Onyx Finds its Place in Nearly all Types of Buildings

Vitreous marble-installationSani Onyx was marketed for public spaces as well as residential homes and was commonly found in bathrooms, kitchens, stairways, dens, laundry rooms, nurseries, even living and dining areas.

1940s-bathroom1

A vintage American Standard ad, from our story about dental sinks. We believe this is glass tile on the wall.

Pam with her broken arm adds: We are accustomed to seeing glass tile today used in kitchens and bathrooms, but it is usually in small mosaic patterns. In the pre-war era, glass tiles were made in these large sizes — Pam believes they were likely quite expensive…sanitary, streamline moderne in style…used in kitchens, but especially bathrooms. In the post-war era, glass tile faded from view in favor of less expensive ceramic tile.

Sani-Onyx-hospital-gray

Sani Onyx in the popular “hospital gray”

Sani Onyx is rapidly gaining in popularity with the leading hospitals. The new “Hospital Gray” in combination with Ivory, as pictured in this Surgery, makes a unit scientifically correct for perfect lighting. No objectionable glare. The sanitary features of Sani Onyx make it doubly desirable for hospital use.

Another notable tidbit from this vintage catalog — the popularity of “Hospital Gray,” which was promoted, with “no objectionable glare.” So for all of today’s ‘trendsetters’ decorating their homes from top to bottom in gray, they can take comfort in the fact that their decor is the perfect backdrop for conducting surgery.

A huge thanks goes out to the Canadian Centre for Architecture and Archive.org for making this vintage catalog available.

Readers: Does anyone know more about this material?
Is fused rock the same as glass?

 

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge… move forward and backward via the arrows on each photo… you can start or stop at any image:

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Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    “So for all of today’s ‘trendsetters’ decorating their homes from top to bottom in gray, they can take comfort in the fact that their decor is the perfect backdrop for conducting surgery.”

    Hee!

  2. Robin, NV says

    To answer your question, yes technically fused rock is glass. Obsidian is volcanic glass but its cousin, basalt, is not, even though they are chemically identical. The difference between obsidian, a glass, and basalt, a rock, is melting temperature, pressure, and cooling times. All glass is made from silica, which is present in nearly every rock in the world.

  3. Jacki says

    I would love to see a surviving bathroom done in this. Some of those designs are so Art Deco and some even Art Nouveau. I wish I could find some of this NOS.

    • says

      I owned a condo in a prewar building in Philadelphia in original condition. All the bathrooms and maids quarters were done in a half walls of vitro lite. I actually own a ceiling tile from the lobby of the Hadley Dean glassworks company, it’s framed on my dining room wall. Very cool piece

  4. says

    Thanks guys, for the Toronto Eglinton subway tile mention, I’m thrilled when Toronto gets a shoutout. I never knew this tile was vitreous glass. There’s even a station with minty Jadeite green tile. The Toronto subway also has a cool Art Deco font that’s been around since the fifties. We moan a lot here about the service interruptions, but it’s so convenient and safe, it’s not even worth it to have a car if you live in the city.

  5. Cynthia says

    This story reminded me of a similar material called “Vitrolite” vitreous panels manufactured in the 30s and 40s, used interior and exterior, in residential applications (baths, kitchens, etc.) and commercial (even as store fronts). I inquired about it years ago, and some is still available, and very, very expensive. Check out this website: http://modreco.com/index.php. This is a company which sells it, restores it, the whole nine yards.

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks Tracy, this is Pam with the broken arm so I’m using Siri so I apologize for the typos. I’ll be sure to check out that site – no question I can bet that this sort of tile today made either new or as this company seems to salad, restored, he’s going to be very expending indeed

      Ha ha I’m reading the typos now and I think I’ll just leave them as is it’s fun sometimes to see what Siri does dictation thanks

  6. Nan says

    If you want an really nice look, we did a bathroom for my boss using a technique our architect remembered from visits with her grandmother in her 1930s house.

    The shower stall is large pieces of glass that are painted on the side that goes against the wall. Each wall is a single piece of painted glass epoxied to the wall and a slate floor. Clear grout/pointing. We did it exactly the same color as the walls, so when you look in it looks as if there is nothing there, but you could pretty much do anything you wanted. It’s incredibly clean and modern looking….but fits a retro bath. Squeegee off after a shower and you’re fine.

  7. Kristina says

    I’d sure love to find some beautiful Sani Onyx for my new home’s bathroom. I love this site. It’s giving me great ideas to make my 1990s era adobe look home more like an inviting home from another era. Get well soon Pam and take good care.

  8. emily says

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    if only this were still available for use in my [impending] remodel of our 1921 bathroom!!! i’m in love with the decorative caps and the japanese mural. thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  9. Deb says

    We are lucky enough to have bought a 1957 home with this in the upstairs bath. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet been able to find anyone locally to restore it. The rest of the bathroom was updated sometime in the 80’s. Any recommendations for an appropriate flooring to compliment this material? The tiles are light gray with black borders top and bottom. The grout is blue.

    • pam kueber says

      Can you send photos via our Retro Design Dilemma instructions? It should come right up in Search. Lucky you!

  10. Kathy says

    The National Park Service has a great document about preserving and restoring Structural Glass panels, such as Vitrolite, which was often used in the 30s-50s to update store facades. Unfortunately, the best way to adhere it to exterior walls is with an hot asphalt based mastic, as it was done originally. Silicone and other materials fail quickly. Enameled panels became a less expensive option.

    Gradually even preservationists are realizing the mid-mod exteriors are worth preserving, even when applied to older buildings. Here are some good links about commercial use of this material.

    http://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs.htm #12
    (lots of good info for owners in the other preservation briefs too)

    https://www.illinois.gov/ihpa/Preserve/mid-century/Documents/modern-storefront-glossary.pdf

    This “architectural wallflowers” presentation of overlooked mid-century commercial architecture of Philadelphia is interesting:

    https://fieldnotesphilly.wordpress.com/tag/mid-century/ and https://deeperview.wordpress.com/

  11. Daryl says

    My grandfather was a salesman for this product back in the late 1920’s. The company let him move into one of their new model homes, down payment free. It apparently had the Sani-Onyx throughout, and my grandmother described it as “very modern”. I have a 1929 Good Homes magazine featuring the house on the cover. Marietta Manufacturing Company had been making Sani-Onyx in some form since the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s it became very popular as they began adding more colors and designs.

    After almost 30 successful years on the market, in 1931 this product became subject to the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 for using the trademark “Sani-Onyx” a Vitreous Marble. Natalie referenced this above. https://casetext.com/case/marietta-mfg-co-v-federal-trade-commission/. The suit claimed the vitreous composition was neither onyx nor marble; therefore they were attempting to mislead consumers. This was I believe, initiated by a disgruntled competitor not consumers, as everyone was extremely pleased with the product.

    The fines imposed by the Federal Trade Commission put the company out of business and many people out of work. With several orders on the books and more coming in daily, they were forced to close their doors. Even in the midst of the depression, their business was booming. My grandfather lost his job; consequently they could no longer afford the mortgage and had to move.

    Although we have several photographs of the outside of the house, as far as I know there were none ever taken of the inside. We do have a couple samples of the Sani-Onyx in our family. One is a 3”x 5” tile with the company logo; my grandmother always used it as a paperweight. The other is a large Egyptian tile, exactly like the one that adorned the elevator door in the lobby at the old Hadley Dean Glass Company. http://preservationresearch.com/2005/09/hadley-dean-building-lobby-lost/

    I was told the difference between the Sani-Onyx, Vitrolite, and Carrara Glass was the pattern on the back. Our pieces have small horizontal grooves across the back. Apparently other companies used their own unique designs on the panels. Some type of groove was required on the back for the mastic adhesive to adhere.

    • pam kueber says

      Wow, Daryl, thank you for sharing. What a sad story! I’m glad, though, that you have these memories and mementos, still.

    • Larry Hill says

      Hi Daryl, My name is Larry Hill. I grew up in the 1950″s at 17th & Gladstone St. That was the first street east of Marietta Mfg. Co. The abandoned factory was a world of mystery and discovery for Me and the neighbor kids, without our parents knowing. We were always intrigued by the story that the factory met its demise by a massive explosion or fire. I researched this story for years and never came up with any proof. Daryl I will send another reply because I can’t get all what I have to say in this limited space.

    • Larry Hill says

      Daryl, from L. Hill continued, I was fascinated by your story that Marietta met its end by a law suit by the Federal Trade Commission. I did not know that there were model homes that displayed Sani-Onyx like your Grandparents. I would love to know the address to see if it still exist. Marietta had a show room building at 16th and Sherman Dr. That exhibited several rooms of Sani-Onyx. Daryl I don’t know how to contact you, but would love to, to swap stories about Marietta.

      • Daryl H. Johnson says

        Hi Larry,

        Thank you! I would love to swap stories. Just a few days ago, I was able to acquire an original 120 page Marietta Manufacturing Company catalog. It has wonderful pictures of showrooms that may be the same you mention.

        If I cannot list my email here, please try looking for me under Daryl Harvey Johnson. Besides FaceBook and LinkedIn, there are several way of contacting me through my genealogy research at Rootsweb, Find-A-Grave, and Genealogy.com

        Thanks again, Daryl

        • Heart says

          Hello Daryl/Larry,

          Thanks for sharing new research with us & adding to this article. If your recently acquired catalog is different than the one posted above, please talk with Pam about uploading it. Would love to see more pictures/information.

  12. Shellee Hoover says

    I am the recent proud owner of a 1941 ranch home that has luckily not been subjected to much renovation or updating throughout her lifetime. I have 3 bathrooms that have this large glass tile. I unfortunately need to find ONE- yes only ONE pink tile for the half bath. I will attach a photo of the bath and note the missing tile. I am not sure if this is “sani-onyx” or something else.
    Any information on where I can purchase this tile would be super. The link to Modreco indicates they are out of business.
    As a side note, the original owner of the home was a surgeon—sani-onyx—-I see a connection…
    Here are my bathroom pics,

    https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=CDE476853DDB668A!42996&authkey=!APHNedHzaVmEWAk&v=3&ithint=photo%2cjpg

    https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=CDE476853DDB668A!42996&authkey=!APHNedHzaVmEWAk&v=3&ithint=photo%2cjpg

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