Friday, November 26, 2010

What Have I Got? A Glass Primer

One of the biggest changes in the last few decades in the antiques business is a heightened awareness by the layman of the value of collectibles. She who finds a possible treasure in the attic wants to know what she has before she sells or donates to a thrift store. Will it be a rare piece as was found in a British home recently when a Chinese vase broke auction records. Or is it a piece that ultimately will be recycled, sold for a quarter at a yard sale or donated to her favorite charity?

"What have I got?," you ask. I'm beginning a series to help you on your quest to research your items. We begin with glassware. Here is a primer covering several of the major areas of American glassmaking.

Art Glass This glass is usually handmade or blown, and pieces were produced in smaller quantities since it was not manufactured. Usually the term refers to glass of this type made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Contemporary glass is being made in this style.

Carnival Glass Original pieces of this iridescent glass were made ca. 1907-1925. Many, many patterns were made, and some are currently being reproduced. Reproductions tend to be shinier and less sharply detailed than originals.

Crystal Lead Crystal refers to glass that contains 24-35% lead. Lead was added to glass to make it easier to cut, although crystal is more difficult to form. The lead changes the way that the glass reflects and refracts light; therefore; lead crystal has a sparkle or shimmer. The term crystal can refer to the color when speaking about depression, elegant or 40s 50s & 60s glass.

Cut Glass This term usually refers to pieces (produced ca. 1880-1905) on which elaborate geometric designs were cut into the glass. Because of this, cut glass tends to have sharper pattern edges than EAPG (sharper to the touch). See below for info on EAPG. Cut glass as a technique was used before this, the Brilliant era, and it is being used in glass production today as well.

EAPG Early American Pattern Glass or Early American Pressed Glass Glass in the category was produced primarily from 1880s to 1910 after the method of manufacturing glass pressed into molds was perfected. This glass can be colored or clear and was produced in a variety of patterns and shapes. Earlier examples of glass pressed into molds do exist, and the method is still used today. Some EAPG patterns are being reproduced. Reproductions can sometimes be spotted with a black light since they do not contain manganese as the originals did. Because of the manganese, EAPG turns purple in the sun as well. “Sun-purpling” the glass permanently ruins the value of the piece. EAPG is not to be confused with EAPC which stands for Early American Prescut, a much later pattern that was still being made in the late 20th century.

Depression Glass Popular and highly collectible today, this glass was made inexpensively in the 1920s and 30s. Many colors and patterns were made, and often they were promotional give-aways. Some collectors seek particular patterns while others collect colors. Reproductions are being made of some patterns. Often the detailing or size is different than the original.

Elegant Glass This glassware was also made during the depression era and through the 1950s. However, it has better clarity and is a better quality glass than ‘depression glass.’ It was also made in a variety of colors and shapes. Often the pattern is etched.

40s 50s and 60s Glassware The name says it all: this glass was produced after the depression era. Many popular patterns are included, such as EAPC, Silver Crest by Fenton, and various patterns of the popular ‘Swanky Swigs.’

Opalescent Glass It was mainly produced from the 1880s to the 1920s, Opalescent Glass is a type of pressed glass. If you hold up a piece of opalescent glass you will see a base color with milky edges. Fenton Glass Company produced many examples of opalescent glass and has continued to produce modern examples.

If you think your glassware falls into a particular category, check with your local library for cursory research before you purchase a value guide. Interlibrary loan may be more cost effective than buying several books for a small collection of glass. Stay tuned for part II of What Have I Got: Glassware. We'll provide some tips on spotting knock-offs, reproductions, and old glass.