Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

DECORATIVE ARTS AND ANTIQUES

GLASS - Glossary - <A List of Museums and Galleries

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Glass - English


English tableware of fine quality was first made in England by Jean Carré [q.v.], who in 1570 established a glasshouse in the Crutched Friars, London, for the purpose of producing glass resembling the Venetian. Imported Venetian glass was highly fashionable, more than fifty families in London being supported by the sale of such glass. After Carré's death in 1572 Giacomo Verzelini [q.v.] acquired the glasshouse and commercialized the manufacture of this fragile Anglo-Venetian soda glass, which was clouded by microscopic air bubbles and discoloured in various hues. He was granted a monopoly to make 'Venetian glass'. About a dozen of his goblets, elaborately engraved by the diamond point, are known to remain. Venetian traditions dominated fine glass making for the next hundred years.

Sir Jerome Bowes [Q.V.] acquired the monopoly from Verzelini in 1592. In 1614 James I extended the monopoly to cover all branches of glass making, and granted it to a group of financiers in return for a payment of 1,000 a year. From 1618 until the King Charles I's death in 1649, when monopolies were ended, the monopoly was under the control of Sir Robert Mansell [q.v.]

Little improvement was made in the quality of Anglo-Venetian glass during the reign of Charles II, and within a decade of George Ravenscrofts [q.v.] introduction of flint glass in 1574 its manufacture had virtually ceased. Early flint glass was, naturally, influenced by Venetian design, and the new metal was blown thinly. By 1682 it was found that by doubling the gather of metal taken from the pot a far more substantial ware was produced without loss of translucency. New forms in tableware now appeared, ponderous and heavy, purely English in character.

Noble goblets, known as tallboys, with sturdy baluster stems supporting thick-walled, heavy-based bowls of the round funnel or conical type, became fashionable. Other ware was made on similar massive lines. In 1695, when twenty-seven flint-glass houses were operating in England, it was recorded that 'the makers of Flint Glasses have long since beaten out all foreigners by making a better glass and underselling them'.

Glass collectors must possess a background knowledge of the improvements made in flint-glass manufacture between then and 1820. Each influenced the quality of fine metal, making it possible for specimens to be grouped chronologically, due consideration also being given to form.

Early flint glass varied considerably in weight and clarity; formulae were not standardized, ingredients were impure, and furnace heat was irregular and could not be raised to a temperature adequate for efficient fusing of the materials. Flint glass made in these circumstances was highly brittle and its fabric unable to withstand without fracture the stresses caused by sudden changes of atmospheric temperature or slight surface shocks, even though it had been [p. 246] annealed in an oven above the furnace. Improvements in this toughening process were made in about 1740 and again in about 1780. It was found in about 1745 that double annealing produced a stronger and more brilliant glass.

The introduction of the Perrot furnace in about 1734 provided a vastly increased and more uniform temperature than had previously been deemed possible. The capacity of melting pots until now had been little more than that of a large bucket: now they might contain as much as 1,500 lbs of glass. The quality of the glass was itself improved by these means, and by 1740 glass from such furnaces lacked the dark tinge usually associated with early glass and displayed greater clarity and brilliance. The manipulative capabilities were improved, enabling more pieces to be made per pound weight of molten glass. As the eighteenth century progressed the clarity of fine flint glass was somewhat enhanced.

So prosperous became the glass trade that in 1745, and again in 1777, excise taxes were levied upon glass. Illegal glass makers working old-style furnaces, and not operating a tunnel leer [see Annealing] perforce continued making dark, heavy flint glass in forms similar to those fashionable early in the century.

Manufacturers of the new metal did not rely upon pure form for ornament, and it rapidly became a field for applied decoration. Toughness resulting from the introduction of the tunnel leer in c. 1740 permitted shallow cutting to be commercialized: the improved leer of 1780 made possible such annealing of the glass that deep-relief cutting could then be carried out on a commercial scale.

Until about 1802 flint glass was melted in pots set in a furnace and directly heated, adversely affecting clarity. The new furnace evolved at this time reduced fuel consumption by two-thirds, provided such intense heat that the materials fused in half the time, and produced the more crystalline glass associated with early nineteenth-century deep-relief cutting.

Glasshouses were in existence in the city and port of Bristol in the seventeenth century, and it is recorded that about 1651 'Edward Dagney [or Dagnia], an ingenious Italian, had a glasshouse at which the master was John Williams'. By the end of the [p. 246] century there were ten glassworks in Bristol, and in 1722 the number had increased to fifteen. Most of them made only window glass [known as 'crown glass'] or bottles, or both of which there were good markets locally and overseas.

It was not until the middle years of the eighteenth century that more sophisticated articles of good quality began to be made in quantity, and in pattern similar to the productions of other glass-making centers. The trade card of the Phoenix glasshouse of Messrs. Ricketts, Evans and Co. [in the City Art Gallery, Bristol] is engraved with typical pieces that were in fashion at the end of the eighteenth century, and these are no different in appearance from wares that emanated from Stourbridge, Newcastle, or Waterford.

In 1745 the Glass Excise Act laid a duty on glass, which was levied by weight and which seriously hampered the trade. In order to recoup themselves for their lowered turnover from making articles of lighter forms, the manufacturers introduced decoration whenever possible. This took the form of engraving, cutting, gilding, and enameling, all of which began to flourish shortly after that date. It has been suggested that these same circumstances caused the Bristol makers to produce coloured glass; a material with which their name has been linked inescapably, rightly or wrongly, ever since. In particular, glass of a rich, deep blue colour is termed 'Bristol', and the same name is applied to glass in tints of purple, green, and red.

Although coloured window glass had been made for centuries, particularly for stained-glass windows, it was not until more recent times that colouring was employed in England for domestic articles made of good-quality glass. Certainly, in the case of blue glass there is proof that this was made in Bristol; for pieces are known signed with the name of the maker, Isaac Jacobs, and that of the city in addition. The same manufacturer advertised that he made purple glass.

There is less reason for being certain about the west-country origin of glass in colours other than blue and purple. Articles of green glass had been made in England as early as 1700, and by 1751 it was noted by a traveler that Stourbridge was making glass 'in all the capital colours'. There is no doubt that similar pieces were made by then, or soon afterwards, not only at Bristol but elsewhere.

Of greater artistic importance and more positively identifiable, is the opaque white glass for which Bristol is also famous. As this is very rare, it is known only to a restricted circle of collectors, students, and dealers, and is generally unrecognized by the devotees of the flamboyant coloured pieces.

White enamel glass was made in several factories on the Continent as well as in England, but that of Bristol was particularly satisfactory and individual. Whereas much eighteenth-century white glass is only just opaque and mostly has a pronounced pink tinge, the Bristol variety is completely opaque, was made very thinly in pleasing shapes, and is of a distinctive creamy colour. It seems probable that it became popular at the time because it was not liable for duty under the Act of 1745. This loophole was, however, closed by the Act of 1777, and it is doubtful if much was made after that date. Unquestionably, it was made also to rival the porcelain then being made, and [p. 257] most of the painting on both glass and china was in parallel styles.

Among the many artists who must have been employed in decorating Bristol white glass, only the name of Michael Edkins is known. At one time both the glass itself and the name of its only recorded painter were forgotten completely; but a century ago, William Edkins, grandson of the painter and a well-known collector of china, made public the fact that he possessed several pieces of this scarce glass, and that these had been painted by his grandfather.

As further proof of the activities of Michael Edkins, his notebooks have survived and are preserved in the Bristol Museum. These record briefly much of the work he did between 1762 and 1787, and although the majority of it cannot now be identified, there is no doubt that he did paint a quantity of the white glass, as well as gild some of the blue.

A glassworks was opened at Nailsea, a few miles west of Bristol, in 1788 by John Robert Lucas, a Bristol bottle maker. The factory was taken over during 1810 to 1815 by R. L. Chance, and under various proprietors continued in production until 1873. It has been assumed that J. R. Lucas took advantage of the fact that there was a lower duty on common bottle glass than on the normal glass used for domestic wares, and decided to make a wide range of articles from the cheaper material.

None of the glass made during the eighty-five years in which the factory was at work bears a mark to indicate its provenance, and for this reason both mystery and argument surround the glassworks itself and the articles that were made there.

A brownish-green glass speckled with splashes of white is said to have been the earliest and most characteristic type made at Nailsea. It is no more than a standard bottle glass with surface decoration of fragments of opaque white glass scattered on it and melted. An unusual wine bottle inscribed J.S.J.M. Stirling 1827 is of the same material as the foregoing. However, in view of the fact that it bears a Scottish place name and similar glassware is known to have been made at that date in many places far nearer to Scotland than Nailsea, it is not improbable that this bottle, and many other pieces, came from a more northerly factory. [p. 248]

Other articles ascribed to Hailsea are made with coloured or white stripes in clear glass, and are said to have been made by a group of French workmen introduced by R. L. Chance. It is recorded that a row of cottages named 'French Rank' was built in Nailsea, and it was there that this colony of craftsmen resided.

The variety of articles made at Nailsea was probably wide, but certain of them are supposed to have been invented there and to have been a monopoly of the factory. These include such popular 'bygones' and 'frigers' as inscribed or plain glass rolling pins, witch balls, fancy [and usable] glass tobacco pipes, 'yards of ale', walking sticks [solid or filled with coloured sweets], and, more conventionally, cream jugs and pocket flasks.

It is agreed generally that the output comprised pleasing, but simple, articles for everyday use to be sold at country markets and fairs. It is highly probable that much of the production was exported to America by way of Bristol, and that many of the pieces served as models for the glass manufacturers there. This is especially probable in the case of those in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Middle West, for, as W. B. Honey pointed out: 'Much glass preserved in American collections as the work of these makers is indistinguishable from English country-market glasses.'

Altogether there has been a tendency to attribute both to the Nailsea and the Bristol glassworks a very large amount of glass that was almost certainly made elsewhere. No doubt in time more thorough research will be carried out and result in the clear definition of just what was made at either place, but in the meantime it is only possible to follow what are thought to be established attributions.

Finally, it should be mentioned that almost all the accepted Bristol and Nailsea types have received careful and ample attention from copyists, and collectors should be on their guard against the numerous reproductions on the market. In particular, Czechoslovakian blue glass is frequently labeled BRISTOL, and bought as such by the inexperienced; an occurrence that is the more irritating when the price was possibly that usually paid for an English piece. [pp. 245-249]


[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]




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