Treasures

These glass pieces are not what they appear to be

 
 
These pieces may appear to be cut glass to some, but they are not.
These pieces may appear to be cut glass to some, but they are not.
HANDOUT / MCT

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q: I have these items from my grandmother and was wondering what their value might be. I believe they are cut glass.

M. J.

A: Cut glass has been around since at least the 8th century B.C., and refers to a process of laboriously hand cutting designs into the surface of a piece of glass using a variety of spinning wheels — some for cutting and abrading, others for polishing the gray areas left by the cutting.

There are basically three periods of American cut glass. The first was from approximately 1770 to 1830, and was characterized by engravings of swags, birds, flowers, stars and such, alone or in combination with simple flute cuts, the English “Strawberry diamond-and-fan pattern,” as well as sharp diamonds or pillar cuts.

The second period of American cut glass, which lasted from 1830 to 1880, is characterized by simple panel and flute cuts. Pieces from this period also may be intricately engraved with elaborate designs such as buildings, animals and the like.

The third period of American cut glass lasted from around 1880 to 1910 and is called the “Brilliant Period.” This period is generally characterized with thick, heavy, high-quality lead crystal glass “blanks” intricately and deeply cut with geometric patterns such as hobstars, fans and notched prisms.

These pieces are so prismatically cut that they refract the light something like a gemstone — thus the name “Brilliant Period.” Certain decorative motifs on the pieces in today’s question are vaguely similar to those found on “Brilliant Period” cut glass pieces — but unfortunately, the items belonging to M. J. are pressed from soda lime glass and are not cut at all.

How do we know this? First of all, these three items are from a time after the end of World War II — long after the end of the American cut glass era; secondly, the designs (particularly the quarter pound butter dish and the oddly configured two-cup candlestick) appear to be from the 1950s or early 1960s and not earlier.

Finally, the quality of both the glass and the decoration that we can see in the photographs is rather modest and not indicative of a luxury product as genuine cut glass would be. No, these pieces, despite their decorations that vaguely echo American Brilliant Period cut glass, are mid-20th century pressed glass that were inexpensively made and probably retailed in a lower-end store such as Woolworths.

Pressed glass has been around in both Europe and the United States since the mid- to late 1820’s, and while some early and rare examples are quite valuable, most 20th century pressed glass designs for actual household use is not. Of this group, the quarter pound butter dish is probably the most valuable with the bowl being the least.

The candlestick would have been the most valuable if it had its mate, but as a single many collectors would not be interested. As for the insurance replacement value, that is in the $30 to $40 range for all three pieces together.

One last word: Cut glass is still being made, but the vast majority is being manufactured in Europe, China and elsewhere using lasers. It is sharper than the originals, the blanks are usually a bit thinner, and cut surfaces are not as well polished as the earlier examples (look for gray areas that would have been polished out on original pieces).

Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.

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