Antique Cut Glass - Part II
Glass can be decorated by a combination of techniques including molding, coloring, shaping, engraving and cutting. Most old "cut glass" you will encounter today does not represent a good investment, regardless of price. A cheap antique does not gain value just because one purchases it for a bargain fare. Examples worth collecting or dealing in will be in near excellent condition and predate 1916 when, following WWI, glass houses almost universally lowered quality standards to save on labor and materials. Here are a few other important quality aspects to consider toward seeking out brilliant examples of hand cut and polished crystal:
- FORM: A "nappy" is a small bowl generally measuring about 6 inches across and an inch or two in height. Other forms commonly found in cut glass are: bowls, vegetable dishes, carafes & decanters, sugars & creamers, pitchers & cruets, and vases. Hard to find forms like punch bowls and early fluid and electric lamps with domed cut shades are hotly contested over by collectors when they appear on the market. Ever see an Early Period (ancient times to the 1875) or Brilliant Period (1876-1916) cut glass coffee mug, wig stand, windowpane, witch ball, or weight driven clock? How about 18th C. cut crystal candlesticks? If you see one of these rarities, consider purchase. Other than hard to find types, here are some "form" questions to ask your self when it comes to cut glass. Will the piece display something beautiful like a large bouquet of flowers and excite passion? Think romance! Is it sculpturally beautiful or fascinating in some way? Personally, I like old cut glass that is almost modernistic in form. Because the most collectible variety was made in the late Victorian Period, Brilliant Period cut glass is almost predominantly showcased in that same busy-design-era kind of shop or home. Shortsighted thinking. As an art form, cut crystal is arguably best suited to an ultramodern Spartan environment complimenting futuristic furniture and directed spot lighting. Seek out examples your classic type-A New York City loft dweller might find enticing.
- MAKER: Most antique cut glass was not marked by artist or even manufacturer. Pieces found today that were engraved or acid stamped by: MJ Averbeck(NYC), JD Bergen(Meriden, CT), TB Clark(Honesdale, PA), Libbey (Toledo, OH), Tuthill(Middletown, NY), TG Hawkes or J Hoare or HP Sinclaire (all three from Corning, NY) or a hundred-plus other makers are a bit of a rarity. Most commonly encountered on the bottom of a piece or near a handle, a maker's mark frequently will only become visible by rotating and tilting cut glass and valley inspecting the "miter" or V-shaped cuts until light hits the mark at such an angle as to highlight it. As a result, even dealers occasionally sell unidentified "marked" cut glass for an "unmarked" lesser price-roughly 50% difference.
- MOTIF OR PATTEN: Following the Civil War, when cut glass became a big business, manufacturers were constantly looking for brilliant new patterns that would distinguish their line of wares at Expositions and in the minds of the consumer. Just as Early American Pattern Glass can be collected by pattern, so too can Cut Glass by collected by motif. From "Acme" made by the Hoare glassworks to "Azorn" produced by Clark glass, over forty motifs beginning with the letter "A" are sought after by collectors today. Over 600 clearly identified distinguishable combinations of bars, rows, stars, arches, panels, diamonds, swirls, pointed loops, circles and other types of wheel work designs were produced by American makers alone. Perhaps the most famous combination of such is called the "Strawberry Diamond" pattern produced by many companies. One of the qualities that distinguish an antique field is what I describe as a strong "collectibility" factor. Because cut glass was produced in so many different motifs of ascending rarity and value it scores strong marks for the future. Beginning collectors should look for patterns or even pattern categories like "fruit" or "astrological" motifs that appeal to them. References are available.
- FLINTINESS: Adding red lead or lead oxide to that fired silica batch of ingredients we call "glass" produces crystal or leaded or flint glass that is beautiful in quality and workable to the point that stone and metal grinding wheels can be applied to it without shattering. Quality Brilliant Period cut glass will ring like a bell when tapped. Its cut edges will be razor sharp and overall it will feel cold and flinty to the touch with brilliance, clarity and prismatic light dispersing qualities unsurpassed by any other material. Quality cut glass will also be noticeably greater in weight than a comparably sized piece of molded glass or later period cut crystal lower in lead content.
- VIBRANT COLOR: Cut glass was painstakingly hand crafted as a luxury item for people who wanted to grace their home with something that sparkles like diamonds. I am sure you are aware that blue diamonds and other colored gemstones can have value exceeding similar clear examples. The same is true in cut crystal. Two types of Brilliant Period colored cut glass command big prices because of their rarity and unsurpassed beauty. 1. Cut crystal made of Solid Colored Cut Glass: shaded throughout in the most brilliant hues of cranberry (by adding gold to the molten glass), blue (by adding cobalt), emerald and other magnificent shades. 2. Cut to Clear Glass: The clear blank was overlaid in the making by dipping it into molten batch of tinted metal or glass. Finally, after cooling, the cut to clear effect was creating by wheel grinding the desired pattern through the tinted flint glass overlay, revealing the clear glass blank underneath and exemplifying the cutting motif. Please note* that thinly overlaid cut to clear "flashed" glass has a tissue paper thin electronically applied outside layer. Most commonly found in ruby glass, it is not valuable like thickly layered Brilliant Period cut to clear glass.
Now, all you have to do if you don't want to work next year, is go out to your local tag sale and purchase a maker marked, artist-signed, cobalt layered, American Brilliant Period, cut-to-solid-citron, flint glass punch bowl in perfect condition. Hey, finding it in a super rare pattern with a little silver overlay embellishment and all the matching sapphire cut to citron cups thrown in as a bonus wouldn't hurt either.