The Art Of Glass

The Art Of Glass
Glass Collector Digest Magazine

The making of glassware dates to the dawn of history, and the first glass collectors probably appeared soon after the first glass objects cooled. Early pieces included pendants and beads--often made to imitate jewels--and small flasks fashioned by winding hot glass threads around a removable core. These appealing shapes were natural collectibles. The activity of glass collecting was born.

In the Beginning... The discovery of glass blowing in the late first century B.C. made glass making more efficient and economical. Tableware was either free blown or mold blown until the glass press was invented in the 1820s. This process speeded up production, lowered costs, and opened up new markets among the general population.

Glass collecting as an organized hobby, however, probably had its beginnings in the United States in the 1920s. Pioneer collectors like George Lorimer, editor of the Saturday Evening Post, favored flasks, and like-minded individuals organized The National Early American Glass Club in 1933. Not long afterward, glass collectors also formed clubs in England, but no other country has matched the level of interest exhibited by collectors in the United States.

Another important stimulus was the publication of books on American glass in the 1940s by authors such as Ruth Webb Lee, Minnie Watson Kamm, and Mr. and Mrs. George McKearins. Glass collecting was given a further boost by the steady proliferation of antique shops and shows. More recently, eBay and other online auction sites have made the Internet a major force in glass collecting.

Infinite Variety Glass is collected in a bewildering number of categories: by shape (toothpick holders, salt shakers, cruets); by geographical origin (Czech, South Jersey, etc.); by manufacturer (Fenton, Cambridge, and Heisey); by type (art glass, cut glass, pattern glass); by color or decoration (cranberry, Mary Gregory); by age (Early American flint glass, contemporary studio glass); or by a seemingly limitless number of overlapping categories (17th-century English goblets). Some people collect any piece of glass that strikes their fancy!

There is a good market for most types of collectible glass--especially the better or rarer examples. Art glass by Tiffany leads the way with prices often in the five-figure range. Close behind are exceptional pieces by Loetz, Daum, and others. Carnival glass, the so-called "poor-man's Tiffany," can also sell for thousands, although it was originally a cheap, pressed glass.

The hottest glass category since the 1970s has been Depression glass--pastel-colored, machine-made ware that originally sold in dime stores or was given away in cereal boxes. Scores of clubs around the country continue to hold regular shows. Although interest in this collectible may have peaked, prices remain high.

Contemporary glass should not be overlooked. The commercial wares of the Fenton Art Glass Company attract a big following, especially because of its long-running presence on the QVC Shopping Network. And studio glass by Dale Chihuly, Dan Dailey, and others has elevated glass making to a fine art, with prices to match.

Make the Grade Hundreds of books on glassware have been published in the past 25 years. This availability of information makes it easier for dealers and collectors to identify pieces.

Nevertheless, major problems still exist in authenticating glassware. While books are helpful, they do contain mistakes and sometimes contain contradictory information. Since few pieces were marked until recent times, a lot of guesswork is involved in authenticating items not documented in the glass literature. A further difficulty is that many types of glass have been reproduced. Even experienced collectors have been fooled by a new piece being misrepresented as an antique.

Distinguishing new glass from old can be difficult, especially for the inexperienced. Some things to look out for in spotting a reproduction are: lack of wear on the base; an oily feel on the glass surface; signs of careless workmanship; a thick and heavy feel to the glass; and unusual colors not normally found in older glass.

The grading (and pricing) of glassware depends on many factors. Values found in price guides are for pieces in mint condition; any cracks, chips, or signs of repair lower the value. Besides condition, glass is graded according to rarity, as well as that intangible quality known as aesthetic beauty. Ultimately, a piece of glass is worth whatever the buyer will pay.

Big Shots Every glass category has its share of prominent collectors. For example, E. J. Williford of Missouri has more than 1,000 covered butter dishes in various patterns. Oregon's Stu Farnsworth owns scores of glass fishing floats that he found while beach combing on the Pacific coast. Jim Miller's passion is cut glass, and many of his pieces are displayed in a bomb shelter under his parents' Arkansas home! The list is endless.

The most prominent collectors, of course, are museums. Few individual collectors can match the displays in our nation's museums and those around the world--and few can offer the same degree of accessibility.

Admirers of Bohemian glass should visit the Passauer Glasmuseum in Passau, Germany, as well as the many fine collections housed in the Czech Republic. America's leading glass center is The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. Other notable displays are found at Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey; the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia; the Oglebay Collection in Wheeling, West Virginia; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; and the Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh. These museums (and many others) exist because of the generosity of private collectors.

Clean as a Whistle How do you clean glass? Very carefully. Most glass can be cleaned with a mild dishwashing detergent. It is a good idea to place a soft liner in your sink or dish pan in case the piece is dropped while cleaning. Safe solvents are available for removing marks left by stickers and certain types of stains. Ask a good glass dealer or repairman to recommend one.

Glass repair has always been a controversial subject among collectors. Some prefer to keep their glass "as is" even if an item has a few chips or cracks. Others favor restoration to eliminate unsightly blemishes. Both damage and evidence of glass repair can lower the value of a piece, so decisions should be made carefully on a case-by-case basis.

Try to avoid storing glass where it will be subjected to extreme hot and cold temperatures. Also, glass should not be exposed to continuous sunlight as this may produce damage. For storage, each piece should be individually wrapped in soft paper (cloth and paper diapers work great!) and packed in a cardboard box. If items must be shipped, it is safer to "double box" expensive pieces.

Live in Person Glass shows are usually sponsored by glass clubs. Some clubs preserve the heritage of a single company by holding a convention and glass show every summer, while others focus on shapes, colors, or glass type.

Two general organizations, the National American Glass Club and the Glass Collectors Club of Toledo, conduct regular seminars on glass-related topics. To keep abreast of all these opportunities and the glass collecting world in general, read publications like Glass Collector's Digest, The Antique Trader Weekly, or The Daze. The more you know, the more you'll be able to appreciate the ever-evolving art of glass.

Glass Collector's Digest is a bimonthly magazine that has been covering all types of collectible glass since 1987. Subscriptions cost $22 per year ($30 for non-U.S. residents). For more information, call 800/533-3433 or 740/373-6146; write P.O. Box 553, Marietta, OH 45750; email; or visit the magazine's Web site.


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