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Glass Techniques And History
The difference between cut glass and engraved glass lies in the size of the wheel used for cutting the decoration and in the finishing process. Actually, glass is ground away rather than cut. A rotating cutting wheel (grindstone) is fed with an abrasive and water while the glass is held against it. Stone or metal discs produced what is commonly called cut ware, while small copper wheels produced engraving, which requires the greater skill. Many sizes of copper wheels were used to engrave the finest ware, and this is true today. The cut or engraved surfaces were polished or left unpolished. A combination of techniques was frequently used to afford contrast in the same design. Glass was both shallow and deep cut. The decision was not left to the artist; depth of cutting depended on thickness of glass. Since many articles of early glass had thin walls, shallow cutting was a necessity.
Engraving is shallow grinding. It is used to produce scenes, portraits, and some naturalistic designs. Left unpolished, engraved decoration has a character not attainable by ordinary cutting, which is better adapted to geometric patterns.
Glass in America has been cut and engraved continuously from the times of Stiegel and Amelung. Some of the English and German glassblowers that Stiegel brought to America in 1763 were skilled in this work, and it is probable that much of Stiegel's clear glass was thus decorated. The style of the work and the designs are in the Continental manner, and some of it is rather crude.
At Amelung's glasshouse in Maryland greater skill was used, as is evident in the engraved presentation articles which have been preserved. After the New Bremen Glass Works closed, the workers who took the long journey over the mountains to Pittsburgh helped produce there what probably may be considered America's best early glassware.
Those first Pittsburgh glasshouses were started during the Anglo-Irish period (1780-1825) when cut glass was particularly fine. The earlier shallow cutting had given way to a prismatic type in which appeared fluting, slicing, scalloping, circular and oval concavities, and parallel or intersecting grooves, all deeply cut. The diamonds cut in high relief were crisscrossed to make the so called strawberry-diamond, so often imitated in later pressed glass. A large quantity of AngloIrish cut glass was exported to America.