Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's just Brilliant!



    From the end of the 18th century to about 1820, when glass cutting became a commercial production, a great number of pieces were made in small shops by individual crafters, who cut and decorated blanks of glass pieces, that were blown somewhere else.
    Patterns in cut glass are geometric and determined by that process.Early American cut glass patterns were taken from English and Irish cut glass. These  were the only patterns possible, as curves could not be cut.
   Bakewell and Company,1808-1882, of Pittsburg, were the first American Companies to make cut glass commercially.
    In 1818, the New England Glass Company was founded and from the start ,a cutting department. with cut glass mills, ran by steam, were very profitable. Most work was done from pattern books with over 400 designs.
    Cut glass continued to be fashionable and the desired glass, by all who could afford it, until the first part of the 21st century.
    In texture and design, American cut glass of the last half of the 19th century was unequaled by any in the world. Over 60 manufactures from the  Mississippi to the Atlantic, were producing cut glass. The industry was centered in Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.The glass was of the finest flint and the incisions were clear, clean and sharp.the the patterns  were heavy and BRILLIANT.
     Glass is a remarkable substance born of sand, alkali and fire.Glass has been produced for more than 3,500 years.Cut glass is glass that has been decorated entirely by hand, by use of a rotating wheel. Cuts are made in other wise completly smooth surface of the glass but artisans, Various sized metal or stone wheels , and running water,  are used to do the cutting. Cut glass can be traced to 1,500 BC in Egypt, where vessels of varing sizes were decorated by cuts that were believe to have been done with metal drills.Artifacts dating to
the 6th century BC indicate that the Romans had mastered the art of glass cutting.



   The first cut glass in America has been traced back to Henry Stiegil, an immigrant from Germany, who founded the American Glass Company in Pennsylvania.
    During the 18th century  high grade deposits of silica were discovered in America,leading to glass making being  vastly better than glass made in Europe. About the same time, natural gas furnaces replaced coal ones and electric motors replace steam, making it much easier to cut and control the glass. At this time cut glass became a symbol of elegance and leisure and demands for beautiful glass products,spurred intense competition and creativity with in the industry
    The BRILLIANT  PERIOD of cut glass was the late 1800's to early 1900's and it brought about many changes in cut glass. Stunning new patterns, quite unlike the earlier European designs ,were developed and patented. Fine cut glass was soon sought after by wealthy Americans. By the late 1800's prizes were being won all over the world by American glass makers,
  American cut glass during this Brilliant period became the choice of Kings and Presidents. The Presidents of America, Mexico and Cuba, fancied this cut glass. Pieces of Lincoln's cut glass, are still on display in the dish room at the White House today. Edward VII of Great Britain was a big lover of the American Brillant cut glass.
  Since true cut glass is entirely hand decorated, high labor cost made it expensive and out of reach to all but the wealthy. The introduction of pressed or  pattern glass, lead to the demise of the cut glass industry. During the hay day of this period there were more than 1,000 cut glass factories and by  1908 there were barely 100. From 1908 to 1915 some of these cutters created some of the finest designs ever made of cut glass. Glass of this period is heavy, cuts are deep and the pattern is Brilliant, when held to the light. There never has been anything to equal this since. In Ireland the Waterford Glass Company has managed to stay alive and do pretty good, but just last month, it was announced they were closing there productions..  Waterford glass is loved and collected by many, but to me, it is nothing ,compared to the old Brilliant Cut glass. I lost interest in Waterford, when they began to sell things at TJ Max and Home Goods.

    I have never been a big time collector of the American Brilliant Cut glass, I am , however, a lover of it.. When I was younger and starting out, these cut glass pieces were over the top as far as prices went. I have always loved it and bought and sold many pieces. I especially love punch bowls and lamps. I have never felt I could find either one at a good price that would make it affordable for me to keep. Punch bowls with stands in perfect condition still sell for thousands today. Some with miner chips still command hundreds of dollars. Large cut glass lamps, with prisms,  from this period , can also go for thousands. Smaller, not so great ones sell for hundreds. I have had a few of not so great ones, always sold them and have always been looking for that great one. Found one once in New York, but the price tag of $10,000.00, made me leave it . Like my mother always told me, "Go first Class, or stay home."
   Cut glass chips and breaks very easily and must be handled with care,  a sudden change from hot to cold, can make it crack. Pressed or pattern glass is much more affordable, and doesn't require the gentle care that cut glass does. It has much of the same effect when used on a table, and prices are far less.
    Like a lot of other antique items, cut glass has gone done in price. Very few of the younger generation know what it is, nor do they care, They have grown up in the plastic world and seem to not mind it . I still find that the big, rare, signed and unique pieces still command a pretty good price. Average pieces like, vases, water pitchers, bowls and  a common bottle, can be found at very low prices. I have a few pieces that I have found here and there ,at those low prices. I like to use them when I serve or entertain. To me this is the most elegant glass one can use. The sparkle or Brilliance is equaled by no other. When the light hits a piece, it cast prisms about the room.
   I hope you can come by some day and visit me and Sissy ,at My Old Historic House. I will leave the lights on and Sissy Dog ,will always meet you with a jump and a kiss. And I will serve us up something good ,from a Brilliant piece of American cut glass.Keep on shinning!


This cut glass piece has a sterling top.