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ANTIQUES: Beginner’s Class on Glass

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Antique glassware is such a labyrinthine world all its own that I could practically do an entire blog on just that. Marks and makers and patterns and periods can all seem to run together when talking about antiques that, at a distance, all looks essentially the same.

For our purposes, I’m going to talk about basic cut glass or, as is sometimes used, “Brilliant” glass.

Cut glass has been produced for thousands of years, but it reached a fevered pitch of popularity in the latter part of the 19th century – or, the “Brilliant Period,” which persisted unabated until the early 1900’s.

Cut glass was desirable during this particular period because of its ability to catch and refract light on candle- or gas-lit dining tables. Its heavy leaded glass forms (be they platters, bowls, decanters, pitchers, plates, glasses, vases, candle sticks or other culinary accouterments) were finely cut with geometric patterns, creating prisms. Its common name at the time was “rich cut glass,” owing to its considerable price tag and, thus, less-than-tacitly underscored the wealth of the owner. It became a popular wedding gift of the elite during this period, and these pieces are highly-sought-after antiques to this day.

The thing about buying cut glass as antiques today is that, as with all things truly wonderful, there are crafty imitations. There is a vast difference between “cut glass” and “pressed glass.” It tends to be of inferior quality glass to the leaded glass of the original, but is collectable in its own right.

There are easy ways to tell the two apart, and here are a few tips:

  1. Look for a seam in the glass. Cut glass is blown and will not have seams. Pressed (or “molded”) glass will have telltale marks from the mold in which it was made.
  2. Look inside. In pressed glass you may notice small dimples in the interior that are mirrored on the exterior.
  3. Look closely. Through a loop you should be able to see tiny striations or tool marks on the facets of cut glass. Pressed glass will have no tool marks and smoother, duller facets.
  4. If you carry a small UV light (or black light), shining it on the glass can be very telling. Older, leaded glass will glow a bluish purple. Cheaper glass, sometimes called “soda glass,” will glow a dull green.
  5. This is the most basic rule. FEEL IT! Old, leaded-glass pieces (true antiques) that are cut will have a weight to them. They are not light. Further, run your fingers over the pattern. Cut glass will feel rough – almost sharp – to the touch, whereas pressed glass will be much smoother with far less tactile detail.

If you’re interested gut glass, there are sure to be many pieces and antiques on display and available  at upcoming Palm Beach Show Group shows. The next shows are in Los Angeles on January 27-31, Palm Beach on February 10-16, and Naples on February 19-23.

Copyright © 2015. Palm Beach Show Group.