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Mt. Washington Glass Company's Napoli Glassware

Author: Albert Christian Revi

( Article orginally From August 1963 )

On May 22, 1894, Albert Steffin, head of the Mt. Washington Glass Company's decorating department, patented a new means for decorating glassware which the firm named "Napoli."

"The invention," states Mr. Steffin in his patent specifications, "consists in forming upon one side or face of the glass article to be decorated an outline of the figure or design to be produced, and forming upon the opposite side or face of such article the complete figure or design, whereby the outline thus formed upon one side will, by reason of the transparency of the glass, combine with the main body of the decoration upon the opposite side, and produce a novel and peculiar effect."

Mr. Steffin stated also in his patent papers that the decoration should first be outlined on one side of the article to serve as a guide for producing the main body of the design upon the opposite side. This method was especially recommended in decorating hollow glassware - vases, bowls, jars, etc. Owing to the shape of such articles of hollow glassware, access to the interior is more or less difficult, and in many cases it is almost impossible to produce decorations upon the interior with any degree of accuracy. The outline of the designs on the exterior served as a guide in forming the main body of the decoration in colored enamels on the interior of the hollow vessel. In all cases, the effect of depth or solidity in the decoration produced by this method was due to the fact that the outline is upon one side of the glass and the main body of the design upon the opposite side. The result was a striking and novel effect, one that could not be produced by applying the entire decoration upon one side only of the glass.

A great practical advantage resulted from Mr. Steffin's new method for decorating glassware, since by it both the colored and the metallic gold or silver decoration could be fired at one firing. Heretofore, when both metallic and colored decorations had been employed in the production of a given design, both being applied to the same side of the glass and in contact with each other, it had been impossible to fire the article at a single firing, for either the metallic decorations would be absorbed by the colors, or would be so affected by the fumes arising from the colored enamel decoration in the process of fusing as to lose their proper color and brightness, and thus be practically spoiled. Consequently it was necessary to subject the article to two firings, applying the colored designs first and fixing them in the kiln before the gold or silver outline decorations could be added and fired at a much lower temperature. Readers familiar with the techniques of firing hand painted china will well understand the difficulties.

The covered jar shown in our illustrations is a fine example of Napoli glass. The design upon it portrays three Brownie figures, then at the zenith of their popularity. All of these figures are painted on the inside of the jar with colored enamels and in an exaggerated style. The costumes are in bright shades of blue, brown, green, red, and black; the stockings are a bright orange. On the outside of the jar, the outline of the figures has been done in gold tracery. In addition there is a network of interlacing gold lines decorating the entire surface of the jar. The silverplated cover has a turtle finial and is marked on the under side "M.W." (for Mt. Washington). The name "Napoli" is painted on the base of the jar in black enamel lettering.

Mr. Steffin's patented technique for decorating glassware with enamels and gold does have an ancient origin in the so-called "reverse paintings on glass." Perhaps the most famous piece of ancient reverse picture painting on glass is the Paris plate, attributed to Antioch or Syria about 200 A.D. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the technique reappeared in China where a brisk business in such wares was done with American and European merchants in the China Trade. Manifestations of the art can be found in European and American decorated mirrors and clock cases of the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It should be pointed out, however, that Steffin's added innovation (the outlining of the figures on the opposite face of the glass) does change the whole character of the decoration, making Napoli glass ware different from its predecessors.





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