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Cut And Engraved Glass
There are many erroneous ideas about cut glass. Some people think of it in terms of the heavy ware made at the beginning of the twentieth century, others as that made in Ireland during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Few realize that the art of cutting and engraving glass is almost as old as glass itself. The first cutters were lapidarists who saw in the new material a substitute for precious and semiprecious stones.
The Romans cut shallow geometric patterns on clear glass. By the fourth century A.D. they were cutting pictorial scenes such as chariot races and gladiatorial combats with the names of the participants and of the cutters included.
Rock crystal was cut in considerable quantities in medieval Egypt, Persia, and later in Europe. Since glass resembled it but lacked its clarity, a formula was sought for making glass with the transparency of rock crystal. Although a decolorizing agent, manganese, was used by secondcentury Romans, it was not until the middle of the sixteenth century that a nearly colorless glass was made by the Venetians. They called it "cristallo." Since then any very clear glass has been called crystal.
In 1676 an Englishman, George Ravenscroft, invented a lead formula which eventually brought about the great popularity of cut glass. The new formula produced glass which surpassed rock crystal and approached the diamond in brilliance of refraction. From that time on, cut glass grew in beauty and popularity. Consequently, in late eighteenth-century America, the most desirable glass tableware was the cut "crystal" from Ireland.