Antique Cut Glass an Information Resource

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This Dorflinger American Brilliant Cut Glass Decanter recently sold on Ebay for over $3000

Heavy Antique Irish Cut Port Glass with star cut underside, c1800

Brilliant crystal all-over antique cut glass rose bowl

This is an example of antique cut glass in the Irish tradition

Antique cut glass exudes elegance and beauty, and just seems to sparkle with regency! That is why so many collectors admire cut glass, and why it has long been a favorite collectible of so many American and European antique collectors for the last century. 

Most antique cut glass originates from Britain, Ireland, and other Northern European countries such as Germany. Cut glass is somewhat of a misnomer for the technique actually involves grinding away the surface of the glass by means of an abrasive wheel. Cut glass is generally characterized by many geometric patterns of prisms and facets of usually four, six, or eight sides. Most often the early shapes of cut glass were simple with minimal curves, since curves were difficult to achieve with large cutting wheels. Often the polishing to give a crisp edge to the cut took longer than the cutting.

Cut glass from seventeenth and eighteenth century Germany is known to be of the highest quality due to the high standards kept by craftsmen during that time. During this time, the types of incision used in glass were limited to square-ended produced by a flat shaped wheel, hollow produced by a round wheel, and v-shaped produced by a mitre shaped wheel. The elaborate patterns of antique cut glass of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were achieved by combing these three basic cuts. 

Cutting of glass became popular in England in 1715 and was initially strongly influenced by the German styles. English cut glass from the eighteenth century is usually characterised by shallow cutting in simple designs until the use of wheel cutting by steam power allowed deeper and more florid patterns. Britain became the leader in the cut glass industry during the second half of the eighteenth century due to her production of soft, highly refractive lead crystal that was ideally suitable for cutting. The popularity of cut glass in England declined in the late nineteenth century.

Early examples of Irish cut glass are heavily influenced by the English techniques and forms. However, by the end of the eighteenth century cut glass from Ireland began to exhibit its own distinctive and recognizable patterns and shapes, such as oval butter coolers. A simple diamond cutting was typical of Irish antique glass around 1800. Late 18th to early 19th century Irish antique cut glass generally shows a short knopped stem and many oval shaped pieces, typically fruit bowls. After 1918 many imitations of original Irish glass appeared by manufacturers such as the Cork Glass Company and the Waterloo glass House Company. The cut glass imitations are marked on the bottom.

The first pieces of cut glass used by the American colonists was imported and only a few wealthy individuals could afford to have it. Immigrants introduced the cutting of glass to America in 1771 and these early American cut glass pieces were greatly influenced by English and Irish trends. The popularity of flute cutting can be seen on cut glass between 1830 and 1880, followed by the fashionable Brilliant cut glass that was cut using a deep mitre. American craftsmen began creating their own styles of deeply, highly polished Brilliant cut glass, and popularity in American pieces began to quickly increase. Other antique cut glass patterns from this period include star cutting, strawberry diamonds, chequered diamonds, and fine diamonds. 

The popularity of moulded glass, formed by blowing glass into a mould, temporarily waned as a result of the hugely popular machine pressed glass, glass forced into a hinged mould with a plunger, that surfaced in America around 1830.

An experienced collector can easily distinguish a piece of antique cut glass from press moulded imitations by the rounded edges of the latter. There is no foolproof method of authenticating cut glass. However, by close examination, undulating or wavy lines would suggest that a treadle was used, thus causing inconsistency in the speed of the wheel. Broad sweeps in the same plane indicate steam power cutting. Run your fingertips along the edges - they should feel sharp. High quality pieces of cut glass are mitered neatly and carefully cut.

Generally, examples of antique cut glass from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will show an uneveness in the polishing, and often grain marks near the edges as a result of the stone wheel. However, cut glass produced after 1900 by acid polishing has smooth edges and no marks.

Waterford Crystal continues to use wheel polishing for some of their best pieces, but most factories today use acid polishing. Many successful patterns in production today continue to be influenced by the designs of antique cut glass of more than a century ago.






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