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Irish Cut Glass

The art of glass cutting came to England from the Continent about 1720. However, it did not flourish as an Act of Parliament of 1746 taxed glass according to weight of metal. This duty did not hold in Ireland but the Act forbade exportation of glass from there. Consequently, glass heavy enough to stand cutting was not made extensively in either country. The Act was partially tax for English glass but none for that made in repealed in 1780, leaving a Ireland.

The advantage of the latter was such that glass houses producing cut glass were soon erected in Waterford, Cork, Dublin, and Belfast. Workmen, tools, and materials were imported from England. From then until the middle of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of cut glass was a lively Irish industry with quantities exported to the United States, particularly from the cutting shops of Waterford and Cork.

Since the workmen there were English-trained, designs, forms, and other features differed practically not at all from those produced in English factories. The first workmen at Waterford came from Stourbridge and the glass made was naturally Stourbridge but of Waterford provenance. Furthermore, this factory used a design book, entitled English, Irish, and Scotch Patterns, from about 1820 to 1830. Also the habit the glass workers had of moving from one shop to another makes it almost impossible to tell whether old cut glass originated in Ireland, England, or America. Quantities of fine cut glass were produced in the latter during these years by Bakewell, Pears of Pittsburgh, the New England Glass Company at Cambridge, and by many others.

On the body of the decanters made were pointed ovals alternating with lozenges, both finely crosscut, were a favorite Waterford motif. The fans and arched fringe elements were used on both Cork and Waterford pieces. But the variety of patterns using one or more of these motifs was so great and access to them so universal that, unless one's forebears were considerate enough to have preserved an identifying bill of sale, the provenance of a piece is very difficult to ascertain.

The original owners of these decanters always referred to them as "Irish decanters." Since such glass was imported and sold in America in quantity from 1786 to about 1830, the origin of these four pieces is probably Waterford, or possibly Cork.

As for the technique of glass cutting, it is and always has been done in four successive stages, whwther carried out by the individual Irish cutter in his cottage or by four different specialists in a large factory. First, the design to be cut is marked on the plain piece, or blank. Then iron wheels, kept moist with a mixture of fine sand and water, cut the deeper elements of the design. Stone disks refine the major cuttings and add the smaller lines and motifs. Lastly comes the polishing with rapidly revolving wooden disks onto which is fed a fine stream of moist powdered rotten-stone and pumice.

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