By: Auther Walter A. Dyer
Originally Published 1910
OLIVER GOLDSMITH said: "I love everything that's old; old friends,
old times, old manners, old books, old wine."
Very good. But did he really? Isn't there danger of overdoing the
Thing? Old World shopkeepers are coming to believe us to be a nation of
wealthy and more or less gullible tourists in search of musty old
relics, and are enriching themselves, often with more shrewdness than
honesty. Perhaps it is time we began to discriminate.
For my part, I hope no one will ever accuse me of advocating the
accumulation of rubbish. I can sympathize with Goldsmith to the utmost,
but I see no excuse for the preservation of things that are merely aged
and that possess neither usefulness, beauty, nor decorative
The whole matter of collecting should be approached with caution,
glassware most of all. Why do you wish to collect, anyway? If it is
because of some mathematical pleasure derived from "complete sets," never
be tempted to dabble in old glassware. A study of the subject reveals
little more than a series of unrelated facts, and accuracy in collecting
is to a large degree impossible.
If, however, you find a few quaint pieces of old glassware among the
family heirlooms, or if you wish to acquire choice specimens for their
decorative value in the home that's different.
Old glassware is not so showy as old furniture; it is not so
valuable or so durable as old silver; it has not the variety of old china,
possibly not the same quaint charm. Furthermore, the art of glass-making
and glass-cutting has improved so much in the last fifty years that the
new is actually more beautiful than the old, which is not the case in
some other lines.Consequently, old glassware is given a lower money
value than old china of the same date.A cutglass decanter of the year1800
may bring less at auction than an old blue platter of much less artistic
Finally, old glassware is less popular among collectors than china
or silver because of the great difficulty in classifying it. Since the
Phoenicians first gave the art of glass-making to the world, drinking
glasses, bottles, etc., have been made in great varieties, and, in
spite of the fragile character of the material, there is much old glassware
of various sorts in existence. But specific data are very scanty. There
are no marks on old glassware, as on china and silver. To take an
unknown piece and determine its age, maker, history, value, or even
nationality, is difficult and often impossible.
In spite of these drawbacks it is nevertheless a fact that old
glassware is in greater demand than formerly, and that market values have
nearly doubled in the last fifteen or twenty years. There is something
about old glass that sometimes appeals when china and silver fail.Perhaps
a wine-glass is a more personal thing than a teacup, and the clear,
fragile delicacy or gem-like brightness of the material has a beauty all
its own, while its chaste simplicity is a lasting delight. A little
experience with old glassware almost always results in enthusiasm,
notwithstanding the drawbacks.
As in other lines of collecting, a positive knowledge of the
life-history of each individual piece would be ideal. Lacking this, there are
a few facts that may be cited and a line of investigation indicated
that will at least make the collector's quest not an entirely blind one,
and will furnish the possessor of old pieces of glassware with the basis
for determining something of their age, kind, and value.
There are nearly as many styles and kinds of glassware as there are
civilized nationalities and historical periods. A visit to a great
museum like the Metropolitan in New York gives a slight idea of the immense
scope of the subject. But even here the surface of the subject is
hardly disturbed. The individual collector cannot hope to learn much about
the general subject; he had best begin with a process of
Nearest to the average American collector's heart are the half-dozen
different styles of glassware that were in common use in this country a
hundred years ago, more or less. This included French and Venetian
ware, much of which was very beautiful, and the best of which is now very
rare.The German and Bohemian glassware is far more common, especially
the colored Bohemian ware, while not a little Dutch glassware was used in
this country a hundred years ago.
The home-grown product was crude in every way up to sixty years or
so ago, but is none the less interesting to American collectors. The old
bottles are quaint, if nothing more, while the pressed-glass salt
cellars and goblets possess a certain puritanical
solidity that makes them seem in keeping with pewter plates and
On the whole, as in the case of furniture and china, we drew most
heavily on the mother country, and the greater proportion of the pieces
in the possession of our old families are of English make. This English
ware includes pressed and molded pieces, cut glass, and blown
glass-largely decanters, bot tles,drinking-glasses,salt-cellars, and covered
dishes for various purposes. Glass candlesticks and lamps were touched upon
in Chapter VIII.
The American, English, and Bohemian ware, therefore, most naturally
command our attention, and in this article I shall deal chiefly with
the English and American glass.
The decorative periods are fairly well marked in old furniture and
old silver, and chronological demarcations are comparatively distinct in
old china. In glassware, however, it takes minute study to learn the
gradual changes of fashions and so be able to trace the age of a piece
from its style. Even then it is seldom possible to be exact. A study of
styles, however, is a first requisite to a knowledge of the subject.The best way to learn the facts about a piece of old glassware in
your possession is to find a piece like it in some authoritative book or
authentic collection. If this is impossible, a brief view of the
history of styles in this country and England in the eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries will prove helpful, though I have seen pieces of
glassware that simply would not fit in anywhere historically. We have to do
the best we can with the material at hand.
In general, the English table glassware of the eighteenth century
lacks the delicacy and variety of treatment found in the Venetian ware,
and it is not as elaborately ornamented as the Dutch and German ware.
But with all its simplicity there is enough variety in it to bewilder the
novice, and while it is far less beautiful and artistic than many other
kinds of glassware, it is naturally dearer to the American collector
and is not without a beauty of its own which is found nowhere else.
There are three well-known, authentic examples in existence of
Elizabethan glassware of the sixteenth century in England, but not even that
of the seventeenth century is particularly interesting to the American.
It is really the glassware of the period from 1725 to 182s, or perhaps
from 1700 to 1850, that concerns us most.
The eighteenth century in England was notoriously an age of
ale-drinkers and wine-bibbers,and your English squires were topers all. Hence a
large proportion of the English glassware of the eighteenth century was
in the form of drinkingglasses, mugs, and decanters. Frown as we may
upon the pictures of midnight wassail and boisterous conviviality, with
brave toasts and frothing bumpers, making the Christmas holidays one
grand, sweet "booze," we cannot deny that we owe these merry roisterers
much for the tall ale-glasses, the graceful decanters, and the slender
wine-glasses which they have bequeathed to us.
English drinking-glasses appear to be better understood than any
other class of glassware. This fact is largely due to the enthusiastic
study made of the subject by Albert Hartshorne. If you wish to know all
there is to be known about English drinking-glasses up to 1800, consult
Hartshorne's "Old English Glasses," if you can find a copy. It was
published in London in 1897, contains 490 pages, and is as big as a family
Bible.Much light is also thrown on the subject by Percy Bate, in his
"English Table Glass."
Bate divides wine-glasses into two classes thin, delicate ones for
the home, and coarse, heavy ones for taverns. In these glasses a gradual
change in the shape of the bowls is to be noted, but the changes in the
stems form the best division of the period. While it is not possible to
fix dates with any certainty, the period beginning 1680 and ending 1820
may be roughly divided as follows: first, baluster stems; second, plain
stems; third, air-twist stems; fourth, white-twist stems; fifth, cut
stems. This does not mean that plain stems were found only in the early
part of the eighteenth century, but they predominated then. All these
periods overlapped, but this is about the best we can do in the way of
classification. Plain stems have been made from the first; so have
baluster stems, becoming especially popular again in the molded ware of the
early nineteenth century. Cut glass, however, can be pretty safely
placed in a period beginning about 1780. It was not common until 1800, and
not very elaborate until after that.
The feet of the wine-glasses are also some indication of their age.
Bate divides the period into three parts.In the first stage the under
edge of the wineglass feet folded back on itself a quarter of an inch,
and there was a rough pontil-mark on the under side. In the second stage
there was a pontil-mark, but no fold in the foot. In the third stage,
beginning late in the century, the pontil-maik was ground off, leaving a
depression. This last was also the period of cut glass, so that if the
pontil-mark is found ground off any but cut-stemmed glasses, the piece
is likely to be spurious.
The feet were nearly always higher than in later glasses, appearing
usually in the form of a shallow cone, and sometimes being dome- or
The term pontil-mark perhaps needs explanation. Like the stilt or
cockspur marks on old china, it is a defect of manufacture. It is a
rough, circular scar, found on the bottoms of glasses and other blown
pieces, formed by the breaking of the glass from the pontil or punty-rod
which holds it while the workman finishes the piece.
To sum up, it is practically impossible for the novice to
distinguish a genuine from a spurious eighteenth-century wine-glass, but certain
features should be looked for. The foot should be as large in diameter
as the bowl, or larger. It should have a "high instep." There should
usually be a pontil-mark, or at least a rim or depression showing where
it has been polished off.
Another feature to be frequently noted in these old glasses is the
tear-drop in the stem a little bubble of air in the glass, that was
probably left there purposely for ornament.
It should be mentioned in passing that some of these
drinking-glasses were undoubtedly manufactured in the Low Countries, but it is not
necessary to confuse the average collector by going into that
Glass-cutting began in the latter part of the eighteenth century,
first on bowls, jugs, and other standing pieces of quality glass, as well
as on salt-cellars, and later on wine-glass stems. The earliest known
date for a cut wine-glass is 1758. They did not become common until
By the latter part of the eighteenth century a fine, hard quality of
glass was being produced in England, suitable for cutting, polishing,
engraving, and etching. More elaborate ornamentation consequently began
to appear. On glasses and other thin ware this was chiefly engraving
done by a wheel. Sometimes deep intaglio effects were cut; the best
examples of this are now rare because so fragile.A very few pieces were
etched with fluoric acid, and occasionally oil gilt was used in the
engraving, though few examples of this are now in existence, as the gilt was
For the most. part, the fine glassware of the latter part of the
century was of a more or less elaborate surface design, engraved with a
wheel after the polishing, giving a rough, opaque effect in contrast to
the transparent polish. Various patterns were used, including flowers,
conventional festoons, and emblems, crests, initials, etc. Jacobite
mottos and emblems were common at one time, while hop, barley, and
grape-vine patterns were popular.
There were also ale-glasses and other tall glasses, somewhat rarer
than the wine-glasses, but of the same general type. Other
drinking-glasses of the period included goblets, rummers, cider, dram, and
spiritglasses, as well as mugs and glass tankards. The glass candlesticks to
some extent followed the contemporaneous styles of the wine-glass stems in
their general form. Cut-glass candlesticks are usually placed at 1800
The English decanters and bottles of the eighteenth century, while
less graceful in form than the wine-glasses, and less decorative, are
still very interesting. Early in the century the wine was brought on the
table in big black bottles. These gave place to simple bottles of clear
glass, which later were engraved. Gradually they became more slender,
then more globular, and finally the heavy, cumbersome cut-glass
decanters came into vogue.