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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

English And American Glassware
(Part 1 Of 2)

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 significance.

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 merit.

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 elimination.

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 spinning wheels.

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 bell-shaped.

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 question.

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 nearly 1800.

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 not durable.

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 or later.

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.

[Continue To Part 2 Of Article]

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