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Old Glass

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



OF all the old-time wares, glass, until recently, has been most rarely collected, and in consequence, whereas specimens of silver and pewter are comparatively abundant, examples of glass are scarce. There are several reasons for this, the principal being its fragility; and then, too, the date of its manufacture is very uncertain. To be sure, the shape and finish of a glass piece determines in a measure the period of its make, but it is not proof positive, any more than are the traditions handed down in families as to the time of purchase of certain specimens. Yet, notwithstanding all this, the price of old glass is constantly increasing, and within the last few years has almost doubled.

The first glass made was of a coarse type, crude in shape, and of greenish coloring, with sand and bubbles showing on its surface, detracting from its finish. Examples of this type are very scarce to-day, bringing prices wholly at variance with their attractiveness. Up to the eighteenth century, all glass was very expensive, making it prohibitive to all but the wealthy classes, but since that time its cost has been greatly reduced, and beautiful specimens, of exquisite design, can now be purchased at prices within the means of almost every one. Of course, these later specimens do not possess the quaintness of old-time pieces, and to the collector they are of no interest whatever. The fad of collecting has brought into favor the old types, and throughout the country the regard for old glassware is constantly increasing, although it will be some time before it comes into prominence here in the same measure that it has in England.

While the origin of glass is not definitely certain, yet specimens are in existence which are known to have been made before the coming of Christ, such as the celebrated Portland Vase, a Roman product, now seen in the British Museum. After the de-cline of glass making in Rome, the craft was gradually taken up in Venice and Bohemia, the output of the former country ranking among the finest made, and including, among other things, the exquisite Venetian drinking cups, which are unrivaled in beauty.

So important was the. craft considered in these early times that manufacturers received great attention from the government, were dubbed "Gentlemen," and were looked upon with awe by the common people. Naturally, great secrecy surrounded the plying of the craft, and this secrecy led to the circulation of mysterious tales. One legend was that the furnace fire created a monster called the salamander, and it was firmly believed that at stated intervals he came out of the furnace, and carried back with him any chance visitor. People who glanced fearfully into the furnace declared that they saw him curled up at one side of his fiery bed, and the absence of any workmen was at once attributed to this monster's having captured him.

The early green glass of the Rhine and Holland, while made by German-speaking people, cannot be considered as characteristic of German glass. These people lived on either side of the mountains which gird Bohemia on three sides, and divide that kingdom from Silesia, Saxony, and Bavaria respectively, and the glass they made was painted in beautiful colors, the finer kind being engraved in the upland countries, where water was abundant. Gilding was also much employed by them, and we learn that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this decoration was fixed by a cold process ; that is, by simply attaching the gold leaf by means of varnish. This form of decoration was only lasting when applied to the sunken parts of the glass.

Very little of this glass was used in the section where it was manufactured, nearly the whole product being exported to Austria, Germany, Italy, the East, and even to America. The industry was popular in Bohemia, for it furnished labor to a part of the population, helping to keep them from want, and it procured for the rich land-owners a revenue from the use of their woods.

The factories, which were rudely built, were located in the center of forest tracts, and they produced, in addition to ordinary glass pieces, articles that were intended to be highly worked or richly engraved, also colored glass, decorated with gilding and painting. Long experience in the manufacture of colored glass had made these workmen expert in this branch, and any advice they needed, they obtained from men of information who made their living by seeking out and selling secrets concerning processes and improvements in glass manufacture. All capital required was advanced by rich lords, who were eager to insure the success of industries established upon their premises.

Glass cutting and luster making were regarded as special trades, being carried on in huts beside small streams ; and engraving, gilding, and painting likewise formed separate branches, all paid by the very lowest wages. Products of all the factories were collected by agents from commercial houses, and by them distributed among the various markets.

Comparison between the Bohemian product and the older glass upon the market resulted strongly in favor of the former. It was clear, white, light, and of agreeable delicacy to the touch, and no other glass as purely colorless was made until the modern discovery of flint glass, made by the use of lead.

Through the invention of one Gasper Lehmann, improved engraving on Bohemian glass became possible, opening a field for decorative art that hitherto had been undreamed of. With his pupil George Schwanhard, he improved designs, and the world went engraved-glass mad. Nothing but this type would sell, and as material became scarce, Venetian pieces, already a hundred years old, were brought into requisition and engraved.

At the commencement of the seventeenth century, some of the Bohemian manufacturers were producing vases of various shapes enriched with engraved ornaments, representing scenes, and frequently portraits. Some of the former type are shown in the wonderful collection owned by Mr. W. J. Mitchell at Manchester, Massachusetts. With the pronounced popularity of the Bohemian engraved vases, artists in other countries began decorating their ware in like fashion, those of France employing interlaced flowers. These were etched on, rather than engraved, however, and cheapened the ware ; in other countries the results obtained were no better, all failing to compare with the Bohemian specimens, for the art of engraving here had been learned from long experience by workmen who were experts in their line.

Many Bohemian pieces showed an original decoration in the way of ornamentations in relief on the outside, while the art of cameo incrustation was also first used by Bohemian workers, who sometimes varied it to obtain odd and pleasing effects by engraving through an outer casing of colored glass into an interior of white, transparent, or enameled glass. One such specimen, a salt cellar, is shown in the Mitchell collection.

Ruby coloring was a characteristic of many fine Bohemian pieces, and its acquirement was a source of despair to any number of workers, it being hard to hit on just the right combination to produce the desired shade. So important did this feature become that we learn of one Kunckel, an artist, being given sixteen hundred ducats by the elector of Brandenburg to assist in attaining perfection in this shade of coloring. The ware of this type was made in the last half of the seventeenth century, and specimens were the admiration of all beholders.

It is a ware that possesses a strange attraction. No other type of glass is more a favorite with collectors than this, and no other encourages the amateur to greater endeavor in its pursuit, no matter how discouraging it may be at first. Then, too, no matter how large the collection may be, it is never monotonous, for the various specimens show a great diversity of form and ornamentation.

The collection of Bohemian glass shown at the Mitchell house at Manchester, contains some wonderful examples of the art, including decanters with long and slender stems, odd salt cellars in frames of silver, bonbon dishes, and numerous other pieces, some in the rare ruby coloring, and others in white and gilt.

Other fine pieces are found at the Nichols house on Federal Street, Salem, and in the Atkinson collection, also at Salem, while at Andover, at the old Kittredge house, many rare bits are to be seen. All of these specimens are heirlooms, those in the Kittredge house having been in the family since the home was erected, in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

While examples of all types of glass are to be found in America, perhaps the most common specimens are of English make, brought to the new country after business had become firmly established, along with the other fine household equipments. Among these are many fine decanters and tumblers of various designs, particularly interesting from the part they shared in the long accepted belief that glass drinking vessels of every kind, made under certain astronomical influences, would fly to pieces if any poisonous liquid was placed in them; and also that drinking glasses of colored ware added flavor to wine, and detracted materially from its intoxicating quality. Some of these drinking glasses, known in England as toddy glasses, were the forerunners of our present tumblers.

English collections, of course, include much earlier specimens of the ware than do American, for it was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when the seaport towns of New England were at the height of their prosperity, that sea captains brought here from England and other ports all kinds of glass. Some of the finest of this found its way to Salem, and in the Waters house, on Washington Square, are stored some of the rarest of these specimens. These have all been collected by Mr. Fitz Waters, who has devoted years in research of old-time things, and they represent not only the different periods of manufacture, but the output of the different countries as well. Included are many engraved pieces, decanters which cannot be duplicated, and rare and wonderful bits, such as toddy glasses and numberless other glasses of varying kinds, many of them beautifully engraved with delicate tracery and the tulip of Holland.

Many beautiful wine glasses and tumblers can be classified by their name, such as the white twist stem, made between 1745 and 1757, the twisted appearance of the stem being the result of a peculiar process, the baluster stem, and the air twist stem, some of the latter showing domed feet.

Several of the best types of glasses are shown in the West collection in Salem. The cutting of the stems of several of these fix the date of manufacture at about 'Soo, while others of unusual shapes show bird and shield designs, also the wreath and flower. It is by the design more than anything else that the date of manufacture is fixed, determining the choiceness of the piece, and the money it should bring.

While England has furnished most of the pieces shown here to-day, yet in the Northend collection in Salem are several fine Russian specimens. These are deeply cut, and were brought to this country from Russia by one John Harrod about the year 1800. For many years they were stored in the old Harrod house at Newburyport, finding their way to their present abode when the Harrod dwelling was dismantled, the owner being a descendant of this family. One piece, which is most unusual, is a deep punch bowl with a cover.

Curiously enough, the first industrial enter-prise undertaken in America was a factory for the manufacture of glass bottles. It was built very early in the history of the Virginia colony, and stood about a mile from Jamestown, in the midst of a woodland tract. Later, other factories were erected, many of them manufacturing glass beads to be used in trading with the Indians. The oldest glass plant still doing business, which has been continuous since its beginning, is located at Kensington in Philadelphia, having been established in 1711.

To many it may be still unknown that Bohemian glassware has been manufactured in this country, and at a very early period. From Mannheim, in Germany, in the year 1750, came a certain Baron Stiegel, whose parents had dubbed him William Henry. He laid out, in Pennsylvania, the village which bears the name of his native place, and there he established ironworks and glassworks, and deeded a plot of ground to the Lutheran congregation, in consideration of their annual payment, forever, of one red rose. The glasshouse was dome-shaped, and so large that a coach-and-six could enter at the doorway, turn around inside, and drive out again. He brought skilled workmen from the best factories in Europe, and made richly colored bowls and goblets, which have the true Bohemian ring, and which are now in the possession of local collectors.

His works did not continue for any length of time, as he failed in business about five years after he started, but the old Stiegel house is still standing in the heart of the town, distinguished by the red and black bricks of which it is built. And there still, in the month of June, is often celebrated the Feast of Roses, one feature of which is the payment of a great red rose by a church officer to the baron's descendants.

But of all the old glass made here, perhaps the bottles form the most interesting portion. For the first seventy years of the nineteenth century, fancy pocket flasks and bottles were manufactured in the United States. The idea of the decorations probably came, in the first place, from the fact that English potters were decorating crockery with lo-cal subjects, in order to catch the American trade. This glassware, however, was wholly the result of our own enterprise. The objects here shown were blown in engraved metal molds, which had been prepared by professional mold cutters.

Colors and sizes vary too much to be a test of age. The scarred base and the sheared neck are the surest sign of age. In all the older forms, the neck was sheared with scissors, leaving it irregular and without finishing band; also, the base always showed a rough, circular scar, left by breaking the bottle away from the rod which held it while the workman was finishing the neck..

Smooth and hollow bases were made between 1850 and 1860 by means of an improvement called a "snap" or case, which held the bottle. At the same time, a rim was added to the mouth. The designs were worked out in transparent white, pale blue, sapphire blue, light green, emerald green, olive, brown, opalescent, or claret color. Twenty-nine of these historic flasks bear for ornament some form of the American eagle ; nineteen different designs display the head of Washington, and twelve the head of Taylor.

Their shapes varied with the passing of time. The very earliest were slender and arched in form, with edges horizontally corrugated ; then came in vogue oval shapes, with edges ribbed vertically. The next pattern was almost circular in form, with plain, rounded edges ; and at this time some specimens show a color at the mouth. Then appeared the calabash, or decanter form, no longer flattened and shallow, as the others had been, but almost spherical, with edges that showed vertical corrugation, ribbing, or fluting ; with long, slender neck, finished with a cap at the top ; with smoothly hollowed or hollowed and scarred base.

These were superseded by bottles arched in form, deep and flattened, having vertically corrugated edges, a short and broad neck, finished with a round and narrow heading, and a base either scarred or flat. Last of all appeared the modern flask shape, also arched in form, with a broad shoulder, a narrow base, plainly rounded edges, and a return to the flattened and shallow type of the earliest manufactures. The neck had a single or double beading at the top, and the base was either flat or smoothly hollowed.

All the Kossuth and Jenny Lind bottles were made about 1850. The Taylor or Taylor and Bragg bottles belong to the period of the Mexican War, and were probably blown in 1848. One of these bears Taylor's historic command, "A little more grape, Captain Bragg," as delivered at the battle of Buena Vista. Another has a portrait of Washington upon one side, and that of Taylor upon the other, with the motto, "Gen. Taylor never surrenders." This shows the circular, canteen shape.

One of the very oldest forms known to have been decorated in this country is the one which bears in relief a design of the first railroad, represented by a horse drawing along rails a four-wheeled car heaped with cotton bales and lumps of coal. This picture runs lengthwise of the bottle and bears the legend "Success to the Railroads" about the margin of the panel. This could not have been produced earlier than 1825. Some of the Washington designs belong to earlier periods, as do the eagle and United States flag. Most of the Masonic decorations belong between 1840 and 1850.

The log cabin designs are connected with the notable Harrison "hard cider" campaign of 1840, as are the inkstands made in the form of log cabins, cider barrels, and beehives. The dark brown whisky bottles in the shape of a log cabin are souvenirs of the same period of political excitement, and were made by a New Jersey glass firm for a certain liquor merchant in Philadelphia.

The Jackson bottles belong to the period of the stormy thirties. The "Hero of New Orleans" is represented in uniform, wearing a throat-cutting collar which entirely obscures his ear.

A Connecticut firm, in the late sixties, sent out a bottle of modern shape, decorated with a double-headed sheaf of wheat, with rake and pitchfork, having a star below. At about the same time a firm in Pittsburg put upon the market a highly decorated flask, similarly modern in outline, having upon one side an eagle, monument, and flag; upon the reverse, an Indian with bow and arrow, shooting a bird in the foreground, with a dog and a tree in the background.

Some bottles of unknown origin were decorated with horns of plenty, vases of flowers, panels of fruit, sheaves of wheat, a Masonic arch and emblems, ship and eight-pointed star, and a bold Pikes Peak pilgrim with staff and bundle to celebrate the passage of the Rocky Mountains.

Among the early curio bottles shown are numerous fancy designs in the form of animals, fishes, eggs, pickles, canteens, cigars, shells, pistols, violins, lanterns, and the like. To this class belongs the Moses bottle, which also goes by the name of Santa Claus. It is of clear and colorless glass, with a string fastened about the neck and attached to each end of a stick which crosses the top.

Should the collector enlarge his fad so as to take in bottles from foreign lands, he would find that his collection would gain much in beauty. In the Metropolitan Museum of New York there is a very comprehensive exhibit of rare Venetian glass bottles and vials, which was the gift of James Jackson Jarves.. These are the most brilliant and elegant types of their kind, graceful and refined, dainty and ethereal.



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