Identifying Antique Glass

Added by on November 18th, 2008 @ 8:40 am

One of my favorite activities in thrift stores and antique shops is hunting through the home goods for items like picture frames, wooden bowls, and glassware (I’m a huge Pyrex fan!). But when I find glass pieces I like, I often have no idea the type of glass, its history, or value. In an effort to make us all experts on the colorful glasses, bowls, pitchers, and vases we encounter, Goodwill’s Special Events Coordinator and Antiques Appraiser, Bob Parker, gives us some tips on how to differentiate between Brilliant Cut and Depression Glass. I also encourage you check out this great post on how to identify Carnival Glass and its history.

Brilliant Cut and Depression Glass

American cut glass is often referred to as “Brilliant Cut.” Craftsmen in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries developed techniques that resulted in the creation of wonderful cuts and bevels. Like a diamond cut, cut glass was designed to capture and reflect light.

How is Brilliant Cut Glass Made?

The glass was cut using a wheel and a great deal of skill. It was not unusual for a craftsman to work for days on an item only to have a missed cut render the entire piece useless. The blanks of glass came from Germany and contained a high quantity of lead.The lead content creates rainbow reflections and the “pinging” sound when the glass is tapped. World War I adversely affected the cut glass industry, as Germany diverted its lead-heavy glass blanks for the production of bullets. American glass cutters developed methods to cut thinner glass, but the Great Depression essentially ended the industry in the U.S.

How can I identify Brilliant Glass?

Look closely to see that there are no mold lines. Notice that the glass is brighter than pressed glass. Look at the depth of the cuts; there is often damage to the points of some of the cuts. Cut glass is generally heavier than pressed glass. Sometimes you can locate a signature or logo etched into bottom of the piece.

What is Pressed Glass?

Pressed glass was manufactured for everyday use and came in different colors, patterns, and sizes. It was cheap and easily produced using molds. You will find that pressed glass always has mold lines or seams that are easily visible. Most of what we see today is pressed glass. Pressed glass was popular until the 1920’s when it was replaced by crystal. It resurfaced during the 1930’s; pieces produced during this period became known as “Depression Glass.”Manufacturers and local movie theaters would often give away pressed glass as an incentive for people to purchase their products.Depression glassware is highly sought after today by collectors.Candy dishes and serving dishes are most valuable along with dinnerware and drinking glasses. Dinnerware and glasses are most valuable when there are several pieces.

Ken Christian
Senior Director, Communications
Goodwill Administrative Office

Updated 1 year ago by Calvin Gilbert

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bob parker

Bob is the Special Events Coordinator at Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

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