Antiques & Collectables - Decorated Glass

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Antique glassware
Antique glassware
Antique glassware
Antique glassware

Decorating glass is certainly not child’s play!


I am sure at times we have all watched a glass blower creating wares and being amazed at his skill and deftness, working within the high temperatures at which glass has to be shaped and formed.  The temperatures have to be very high to keep the metal in a malleable state.  Therefore, it is even more amazing when you realise that to create an enamelled effect on glass it has to be re-fired to make the decoration permanent.


Enamelling is created by painting with specially produced compound colours that are applied sometimes with the most unlikely catalysts, such as borax or honey to create a flux ensuring successful fusion.  They were also occasionally mixed with a form of oil so that they could be applied easily.


The second firing was done in an unusual contraption called a "muffle furnace".  This was run at a significantly lower temperature that allows the fusing of the decoration to the original article without damage.


Decorating on glass in this way was practised by the Romans but, I suppose, the most successful was that carried out by the Bohemians in the 16th/17th centuries.  Many German and Bavarian drinking glasses were beautifully enamelled with various heraldic crests and other designs.


In Britain, the most famous family firm connected with enamelling glass was the Beilby family.  The team of two brothers and a sister, William, Ralph and Mary worked in Newcastle-upon-Tyne during the middle of the 18th century.  They decorated locally made glass pieces with some inscriptions and, most famously, coats of arms.  Many fine specimens show the arms of George III with crests, supporters, and mottos, with elaborate rococo mantling.  Some, but not many, pieces are signed by the family with the surname only.  These glasses are well documented, are exceptionally rare and command enormously high prices when they come up for sale.


As travel became more affordable and pursued by the well-off, particularly after the Napoleonic wars, these early "package holiday travellers" were visiting all the capitals of Europe bringing back home with them examples of exotic wares.


One such item that found great favour with the British was produced in vast quantities in the Bohemian glass factories of Czechoslovakia/Bavaria.  This part of the world produced nearly all of the coloured glass enamelled with the faces and profiles of children; it was actually conceived as an art form in America.  A certainly lady called Mary Gregory, an American decorator employed at the Boston and Sandwich glassworks in Massachusetts, is credited with its origination.  Her name became immortalised with this type of decoration.  The process, I imagine, remained very similar to that of the early factories of Bohemia and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Mary Gregory had created an art form that was popular from the 1870's right through to 2017.


Beware, some fakes and later reproductions of the original  "Mary Gregory" are produced in clear glass and the children's faces are painted with flesh colour pigments, old "Mary Gregory" was executed solely in white.  Never buy chipped or cracked glass as it has little resale value.




Mike Hicks ©