|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
Glass has been known and valued in all of the great civilizations that have dominated the world. However, few if any other countries besides the United States can claim that glassmaking was the first established industry. Two glasshouses existed in the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, one started in 1608 and the second in 1621. Both attempts failed, probably because even skilled glassmakers who emigrated to America found there were more essential tasks for survival than making so fragile a product as glass-even for such everyday purposes as windowpanes for new dwellings and beads to trade with the Indians.
Many other glasshouses were started in other colonies along the East Coast, but the industry had its ups and downs until firms turned to making pressed glass shortly after 1825. Yet even after pressed glass became popular, other, more ancient techniques of glassmaking were pursued. As a result, the United States has an interesting and individual heritage in spite of all the glass that was imported during the 1700's, 1800's, and even most of the 1900's.
Although so many who attempted to establish a glass business during Colonial days failed, the names of three men of that time are still essential to any knowledge of glass: Caspar Wistar, who started the glass industry in southern New Jersey in 1738; Henry William Stiegel, often called Baron Stiegel, who established his glasshouses in Manheim, Pennsylvania, in 1763; and John Frederick Amelung, in New Bremen, Maryland, in 1784. All three came to this country from Germany.
Any pieces of Wistar or other Colonial "South Jersey" glass, Stiegel, or Amelung glass that are known unquestionably to have been produced in these eighteenth-century glasshouses are almost certainly in museums now. Often a piece of glass is identified tentatively as "probably Stiegel" or "South Jersey type," but that is as close as anyone who comes across a piece of undocumented glass today can be expected to go. The fact that a small wineglass has a clear bell-like ring is no more proof that it was made at the Stiegel works in Manheim, Pennsylvania, than that a pressed glass plate is Sandwich glass.
The products of these early glassmakers were hand-blown or blown-molded. Their techniques, colors, and styles were copied and used throughout the nineteenth century, even after the advent of pressed glass, by glasshouses that flourished throughout the East and Midwest. Since most of this nineteenth-century glass was for household use, a considerable amount can be found even at the present time. Of course, there is more pressed glass (Chapter IX) and cut glass than blownmolded or blown-three-mold still to be discovered. First, however, you must know what to look for.
Caspar Wistar's glasshouses flourished for forty years or so in the eighteenth century, but, more important, led to other men's producing glass in southern New Jersey. "South Jersey" is a term for glass made not only in that state but also in Pennsylvania, New York, New England, and, later, Ohio. The pieces are free-blown yet sturdy and usually quite thick glass. Whether it was a pitcher or a vase, Wistar's pieces and other South Jersey glass, too, were likely to be broad at the base, with curving sides. Ornament was applied as trails or threads of glass that often formed a leaflike pattern (lily pad), loops, waves, ribbons, or a crumpled ribbon effect known as crimping. Colored or opaque glass was often worked into the clear glass.
Baron Stiegel was the first to produce cut glass on this continent, but he is better remembered for his pieces decorated with colored enamels. Stiegel's glasshouses in their comparatively few years of operation turned out not only free-blown but also blown-molded glass.
John Frederick Amelung was noted chiefly for the marvelous engraving on his blown glass. Although his factory in New Bremen was sold in 1795 after only eleven years of production, many of his workmen drifted to other glasshouses in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where they continued to do the sort of work they had done under Amelung himself.
Glassmaking moved westward as settlers did. First western Pennsylvania, later Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, and Oklahoma became busy centers. There was always a demand for window glass, bottles and flasks, and bowls. Actually Wistar, if not Stiegel and Amelung, produced more window glass and bottles than anything else, although it is their decorative glass which has made their names famous.
Glass can be made anywhere that sand and an alkali are available. These two classes of ingredients have to be melted together. In its liquid form glass is referred to as "metal." A distinction must be made between metal to which chemicals have been added to color it a rich blue, amethyst, green, red, or some shade of yellow, and glass which just naturally turns out to have a slight tinge of color because of its formula. Green glass, incidentally, is still made for soft-drink bottles and the like. Much of the early window and bottle glass made in this country had a green tint or looked almost brown or yellow. 'The famous purple windowpanes in houses on Beacon Street in Boston are very old; they became tinted through the action of sun on the glass, which probably came from a batch of metal that contained an excess amount of some chemical.
Master glassmakers in Europe, England, and America experimented to produce a clear-that is, a colorlessglass. The first clear glass was lead glass, also known as English flint, which had lead as an essential ingredient. Crystal is used sometimes as a synonym for glass of high lead content, but the designation white or clear glass is technically correct. It refers to a clear or transparent glass in which no coloring agent has been used. It is as different from milk-white glass as it is from ordinary bottle glass.
The oldest method of making articles from glass was blowing. A blob of metal was blown and manipulated by a workman using a blowpipe, a pontil or punty, and such shaping tools as tongs and shears. The pontil or .punty rod was used to hold the object while it was still hot, and when it was broken off it left a sear, which is known as the pontil mark, on the bottom of the article. Lack of a pontil mark does not necessarily discredit old blown glass, for the rough mark was sometimes polished off. Glass made by blowing and manipulation is known as offhand or free-blown glass.
Blown-molded glass is an inheritance from Stiegel. The technique was widely used during the nineteenth century. The workman blew the glass slightly into a small mold of wood or iron, which gave it a pattern, and then removed it, and continued to blow and rotate the glass until the article achieved the desired shape and size. The finished piece had sparkle as well as a pattern of swirls, ribbing, quilting, or the like, which appeared to be within the glass. Blown-molded pieces are often referred to as expanded glass. Handles, feet, and other added portions on the blown-molded pieces usually were hand-blown.
After 1812, blown-three-mold glass was made in this country by adapting an ancient technique. Glass was blown into full-sized molds consisting of two, three, or more parts hinged together. One way of detecting blown-three-mold glass is the seam marks left where the sections of the mold met. Blown-threemold glass, which really was an attempt to imitate expensive cut glass at modest price, had an all-over pattern. However, the motifs were more limited than those of cut glass, which were made entirely by hand. Patterns were based on one of three general types - swirls and scrolls known as baroque, combinations of geometric lines, and arches.
Most of the various kinds of decoration brought here from England and European countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continued to be used during the nineteenth, although not always in such detail or with such skill as in the Wistar, Stiegel, and Amelung factories. Threads or trails of glass applied to blown glass can be traced back to Caspar Wistar. Sometimes the thread was wound spirally, then again to outline lily pads or other leaves or flowers, or drawn around the outside to form a wave. Crimping was a ribbon design. Applied rings around the body and threads or finer rings around the neck of a bottle or jar were used everywhere for more than a century after Wistar's glasshouse closed.
The use of colorful painted decoration stemmed from Stiegel. Enamels in color were applied to the outer surface and fused with the glass by heat. Gilding was used with colored enamels as well as on engraved pieces.
Engraved decoration was common on Stiegel glass and brought to a high degree of skill on Amelung glass. Whether the design was a simple or intricate floral, or was based on classic motifs or an elaborate fantasy, the engraving was done on the outer surface of the glass by means of a series of small copper wheels. Engraving is a very old type of decoration and rarely was polished.
Etching, a somewhat similar type of applied decoration that was done by the application of acid, is newer. It was much used during the nineteenth century. The result is more frosty-looking than engraving, which of course is deeper.
Sometimes engraving was combined with the cutting of glass. Cutting a pattern also was done by a moving wheel, and when completed the piece was polished. Glass has been ornamented by cutting for hundreds of years; in the United States, since about 1770.