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( Originally Published 1963 )
The lead in producing and introducing art glass was taken by New England and other East Coast glasshouses. Their reasoning was sound, for art glass was their answer to the threatening competition of midwestern glasshouses, which were well established and producing in quantity by the 1870's. Eventually, of course, Ohio, West Virginia, and other midwestern glasshouses joined in the production of art glass.
With its fancy names, high coloring, and unusual finishes, art glass appealed to late-Victorians with their love of ornament and bric-a-brac. New interest has arisen recently in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century art glass. A few kinds are lovely enough to impress the most modern homeowners, but even the gaudier and less attractive sorts find buyers. The almost two-dozen kinds of art glass can be subdivided into four groups-those that based their appeal on cased or overlay glass, metallic glass, painted glass, and iridescent glass.
Several kinds of art glass are basically a cased or overlay glass. This is an old European type which consists of a core of glass encased within a thin layer of glass of another color or several layers in different colors. Cased glass can be decorated in many ways. Best known of the European cased or overlay is Bohemian glass, usually with a color layer on top, which is engraved in a design. Cased or overlay glass had been made in the United States to some extent before 1876. It was particularly common on whale oil lamps, and many fine examples are still to be found.
Cameo glass, a form of overlay, was made to a greater extent in England than in this country. Here it was sometimes used to make lamps. Frederick Carder, later to become noted for his iridescent Aurene glass, also made excellent cameo glass. True cameo glass consisted of layers of glass carved through to expose colors underneath and presented almost a sculptured effect. A combination of etching and cutting techniques was used in this country during the 1880's and 1890's, chiefly for vases, plaques, scent and cologne bottles, and brooches.
Satin glass is the most coveted of cased glasses nowadays. It is sometimes called mother-of-pearl glass. The white core usually has a pastel overlay in solid color or shaded. The texture of satin glass is as appealing as its color. The outer surface has a mat finish with a satiny texture. One test of good satin glass is holding it up to sunlight or other bright light to see "fire"-a sort of opal sparkle at the base.
Satin glass is said to have been perfected by glasshouses in eastern and western Pennsylvania but by 1885 was being made by many scattered factories, in some cases achieving similar products by different methods. There are differences in the quality of satin glass, for some pieces have a better and more typical mat finish than others. Colors are clearer and more attractive in some pieces too, and decoration varies from excellent to poor. A piece of satin glass of exquisite coloring and good finish sells at many times its original price nowadays, and those of indifferent quality never fail to sell.
Best known of all pieces of satin glass are the round bowls with crimped edges called rose bowls. These were made from about 2 inches in diameter to 6 inches or more, each size increasing by 1 inch. The colors were chiefly pastel-rose, pink, blue, turquoise, yellow, mauve, and occasionally chartreuse. In other ornamental pieces, a beige shading into brown was sometimes seen. Colors shaded from top to bottom, were striped or perhaps multicolored.
Unornamented rose bowls were most common: However, some had applied decoration such as a garland of leaves and flowers in clear and colored glass. Occasionally, a piece of satin glass would have enameled or painted decoration, but this was more rare.
Vases of all sizes and shapes, lamps, ewers, mustard pots, footed bowls, were made in quantity, but that does not mean that a piece in good condition is not well priced today. Tumblers are not rare nowadays but they are expensive, and a person is lucky to stumble on one or two tumblers out of the full water set of tumblers and pitcher made in the 1880's. Lamps, especially miniature ones, and lamp shades of satin glass are charming.
Tumblers and unembellished vases frequently displayed a swirl, diamond, rib, herringbone, quilted, moire, or polka dot pattern that was molded into the core and shone faintly through the outer layer of soft satiny glass. Flecks of mica are said to enhance some pieces.
One kind of satin glass was so distinctive that it was given its own name Coralene. The satin glass piece was more often shaded than solid color. Tiny glass beads were the applied decoration on the outer surface. A favorite design for the beads was the natural branching of coral, hence the name. On some pieces, the beads were applied in a seaweed, leaf, or wheat pattern. The beads had a decided sparkle that contrasted strongly with the mat finish of the satin glass. Coralene vases from 4 to 10 or 11 inches high are most likely to be found (the satin glass may have gathered so much dust that it is hardly recognizable in spite of the delicate beading). Bottles and some other pieces, chiefly ornamental, also were made.
Burmese, another opaque shaded glass, was made with either dull or glossy finish. The shading ranged from a tint of yellow or orange to pink or rose. Pieces often were painted or enameled. Both tableware and ornamental ware were turned out, some of it highly decorated.
Three different kinds of art glass that imitated something else were Peachblow, Crown Milano, and Tortoiseshell. Crown Milano with its satin finish resembled porcelain. Beautiful lamps and vases, cracker jars, and bowls were made in white and pastel colors, often embellished with flower garlands and perhaps scrolls of gold. Tortoiseshell, never made in any quantity, looked like its name, for it was an amber glass with darker areas.
Peachblow, copied from Chinese porcelain of that name, was opaque glass that shaded from white or ivory to rose, red, or yellow. The Peachblow that was made by Hobbs, Brockunier and Company in Wheeling, West Virginia, had a white lining and outer finish of dull satin. The pieces made by the Nev., England Glass Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, did not have the white lining but did have the same sort of finish. Some of the New England Peachblow was called Wild Rose, a name fully as appropriate. The West Virginia firm really capitalized on the popularity of the name Peachblow by making a wide range of useful and ornamental pieces-salt and pepper shakers, mustard pots, custard cups, butter dishes, celery vases, pitchers, tumblers, water bottles and decanters, vases, and shades for lamps. Fewer pieces-and those chiefly ornanental-were made in New England.
Pomona a delicate-looking glass, was is lovely as it was expensive. Its overall appearance was dainty, both because of its coloring and decoration. Pomona, which was either blown or pattern-molded, was clear glass but always had a border about an inch wide of pale amber around the top. The background was etched in such a manner that it looked finely stippled. Usually a simple and graceful design of flowers, berries, or leaves was etched and colored against the background. Exquisite coloring and contrasting textures gave the pieces a more fragile appearance than that of most art glass.
The strikingly shaded Amberina, introduced by the New England Glass Company, was one of the first kinds of art glass. It was a transparent glass that shaded always from a yellow or amber or straw to rose or red, either from top to bottom or vice versa, and was vivid in comparison to satin glass and Peachblow. Pattern-molding in diamond, quilting, and the like was common, and both serving and ornamental pieces were made. Pressed glass in the Inverted Thumbprint pattern also was made in Amberina.
Agata, also from the New England Glass Company, was made for a much briefer period than Peachblow and satin glass. It was really a variation of Peachblow. After the glass had been blown, it was treated to produce a mottled effect in shades of rose with white. Agata ware was glossy.
Incidentally, Amberina, Agata, and Pomona glass are said to have been developed and introduced by one workman, Joseph Locke, at the New England Glass Company. Even though all three kinds proved popular and were copied by other companies, the New England Glass Company operated with a deficit. In 1888 the owner, E. D. Libbey, whose father had bought the New England Glass Company in 1878, moved the firm to Toledo, Ohio, in order to make use of cheaper fuel. Libbey is still a well-known name in the production of various kinds of glass.
Rubena, another transparent, shaded ware is not as well known. Rubena Crystal was clear glass at the base shading into red toward the upper part. Rubena Verde was yellow below and started at the center to shade into a good red above. George Duncan and Sons in Pittsburgh made a good deal of Rubena in pressed glass in a pattern they listed as Polka Dot. Rubena vases, pitchers, and cruets also were made.
Silver or mercury blown glass revived another long-known technique. It's said that Deming Jarves, founder of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, had doorknobs using real silver made for the home of his son. However, silver was too precious to be used for making art glass, so mercury (quicksilver) or nitrate of silver solution usually was placed between two layers of blown glass and sealed tightly. Nitrate of silver did not tarnish unless the seal was broken and it became exposed to air. An old piece in which mercury was placed may have been jarred or knocked so that the material no longer spreads evenly throughout the piece. Knobs for doors, furniture, and curtains, paperweights, candlesticks, lamps and reflectors, vases, and ornamental pieces were and still are to be cherished. Vases, candlesticks, and doorknobs probably are the most plentiful pieces today.