By Sarah McCullom

          I don’t know about you, but beautiful glass shining in the light has always intrigued me. Glass is not only beautiful, but so very useful.Its development and refinement has led to so many wonderful things that we use everyday, and changed the way we live.As an appraiser, I sometimes see glass, but not as frequently as I see fine art, furniture or silver.Glass is not normally as expensive as these other items – another reason to take a good look at it.It is a collectible that can still be found for not a lot of money.

          Glass has actually always existed – as it is formed in nature when certain rocks melt as a result of some high-temperature phenomena such as a volcanic eruption.However, the earliest man-made objects are thought to date back to around 3500 BC. Archeologists found glass in Egypt and Mesopotamia.The basic material that makes glass are sand and soda, and it is thought that the making of glass was spread by the Phoenicians along the coast of the Mediterranean.The discovery of glass blowing was a major discovery, thought to have occurred between 27 BC and 14 AD.It was the Romans that first made useable objects with this new craft.The Romans, of course, with their widespread Empire, spread this art to many parts of the world.

          Glass has been made in American since the very earliest settlers.In particular, German glassmakers, settling in the north east made glass, using the high quality sand found in New Jersey. Flintware was the most expensive, since it was produced using lead oxide instead of soda.It was a heavier, more sparkling glass, better suited for cutting and engraving.

          In the 1820’s, a machine to press glass was developed, and led to a great innovation in glass making.The first items made in any number were glass knobs for furniture.The process of glass pressing was not particularly easy, used only flint glass, could only make small items, and was imprecise. Because of that, makers developed ornate designs to hide the imperfections.These pieces are called “lacy glass”.Some of the most common items you can find today are small cup plates. Later, salt dishes and small, round dishes were made.Patterns were not made to match.One of the companies that made many of these is the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, Massachusetts.The more common of these items can sell for as little as $15, while the rarer pieces can be valued at $200-$1,000.

          In the later 19th century, flint glass pressing was refined, and many beautiful pieces were made that were of great use in homes.In addition to glassware, and dishes, early oil lamps were made of glass, as well as candlesticks.This was also the first time that patterns were developed for glassware.Many times the process of pressed glass and blown glass would used together to make objects. Values for these items goes from $15-$30 for the more common sauce dishes to $300 and up for the rarer pieces such as pitchers and covered dishes.

          In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, William Leighton developed a new glass that did not require lead for the pressing process. It could be pressed quickly, with more detailed molds, and cost 1/3 less than flint glass.On the negative side it was lighter in weight and less light reflective.However, it opened up many new markets.This glass is called pattern glass because of the many patterns designed.There were a lot of new forms made available in pattern glass, including larger items. Another big change was the development of colored glass. Many new companies opened up in the Midwest. Values in pattern glass are quite reasonable.  Many pieces can be found for under $50.00.The most expensive pieces, in prices of $100 and up, are in the rare patterns, or the choicest pieces such as large pitchers and rare forms.Colored pattern glass is frequently among the most expensive.

          I have only taken you through about 1915 for glass, but you have a feel now for some basic pieces of glass, and its development.If this has wet your appetite, I would recommend a road trip to Norfolk, Virginia and the Chrysler Museum of Art in downtown Norfolk.The Chrysler has one the best glass exhibits anywhere.They have an extensive display of Tiffany glass and lamps, and you can trace the history of glass in the United States, and its many forms.It is a breath taking exhibit. 




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