Everyone has surely seen an example of cut glass within their lifetime. This intricate, detailed technique is defined as glass which has been decorated by hand using rotating wheels. Cut glass craftspeople carve fine patterns into a smooth glass surface using highly specialised stone or metal wheels.
The history of cut glass is long and prestigious. Although glass cutting is still practiced now, the demand for new cut glass is much lower than during some periods of history, primarily the Brilliant period. However, antique cut glass is still highly valued and some pieces can fetch a great price.
Here, we will provide you with a guide to the identification of antique cut glass patterns, how to value cut glass pieces, and a guide to buying antique cut glass patterns. Whether you have inherited an interesting item from a relative, found a curiosity in a second hand shop, or become a cut glass enthusiast, you have come to the right place!
Brief History Of Cut Glass
The earliest example of cut glass dates back to 1500 BC, during the Ancient Egyptian period. Craftspeople were believed to have used metal drills during this time. Cut glass patterns began to spread and became popular in Rome, through the Middle East and into Turkey, eventually reaching Europe around the 16th century.
There was an outstanding peak in in the late 19th century, particularly in America – the Brilliant period. Craftspeople from Europe began to travel over to America, honing the craft, using more sophisticated stone wheels and producing more complex patterns. Heavily leaded glass was used, and geometric patterns were favoured.
Due to high labour costs and the need for highly skilled craftspeople to produce cut glass objects, the industry became very expensive and was purchased exclusively by wealthy people. The possession of cut glass exemplified the social standing of the owners. Cut glass also become a popular wedding gift during this time.
Later on, during the Edwardian period, the trend for cut glass changed. Pieces became thinner and more delicate, and craftspeople used engraving techniques. Following this, there was a switch from steam-powered cutting wheels to electric-powered wheels which were more accurate and produced more refined pieces.
Cut glass popularity dropped significantly during World War I. This was mainly because the lead oxide, a compound used in the production of glass, was required for the war effort instead.
Identification Of Antique Cut Glass
It can be useful to learn a little more about cut glass in order to start identifying it correctly. The glass used contains around 40% lead oxide. This compound will soften the glass, enabling the surface to be cut without smashing the glass. The other components of cut glass material are silica and potash. Glass containing lead oxide is technically known as crystal.
Differently sized cutting wheels enable the craftsperson to produce different patterns in the glass objects. We will discuss the various types of patterns below, and help you to identify them. But first of all, cut glass can only be considered as antique if it is more than 100 years old. If it is between 20 and 100 years old it is technically considered to be vintage instead.
How To Tell If Cut Glass Is Real
There are unfortunately many examples of fake cut glass on the market. In order to tell if your cut glass is authentic or not, before you even begin to discover its antiquity, there are a few simple steps you can take:
1. What noise does it make?
When you gently tap a piece of real cut glass with your finger, it should produce a bright, bell-like sound. Low quality glass will produce a duller sound.
2. How clear is it?
The clarity of a piece of genuine cut glass is second to none and cannot be matched by imitation cut glass. The surface should be highly polished, and the majority of cut lines should be relatively deep (i.e. more than surface scratches) and sparkle with a diamond quality.
Holding the piece up to a light or a window should create a prism-like effect – another ID feature of crystal.
3. How heavy is it?
Glass containing lead oxide will be noticeably heavier than unleaded glass. Try weighing your piece of cut glass in your hand against another, standard glass object of the same size such as a glass cup or bowl.
Once you have discovered whether it is genuine or not, you can start to look at the patterns, search for maker’s marks or logos, and even try a black light test which can help authenticate antique glass in some situations. However, this should be used more as an indicator rather than a reliable diagnosis of antique cut glass. (Find out more here).
Types Of Antique Cut Glass
Have a careful inspection of the bottom or around the base of your cut glass – sometimes the manufacturer or date of manufacture can be displayed here, giving you a useful clue as to its identity. Usually marks will have been etched in acid. Find out more about glass markings here.
Some prominent cut glass manufacturers include:
- Dorflinger Glass Company
- Libby Glass Company
- C. Fry and Company
- Hoare and Company
- Val St. Lambert
- Cristal d’Arques
However, many examples of antique cut glass were not marked or signed and a paper label was attached instead. It can be better to examine the pattern closely. Many of these companies had special patented patterns which were developed from particular motifs. These created extravagant, distinctive styles which can help you to identify the maker of your cut glass and therefore how much value it has.
A good tip is to place some paper over your cut glass object and use a crayon to colour onto the paper, creating a tracing or rubbing. Once you have the pattern in its 2D form, it may be easier to compare it to patterns published online. Some useful resources are:
- Replacements Ltd. – this site has a crystal pattern identification tool.
- The American Cut Glass Association. The association is a font of expertise, and displays a gallery of stunning cut glass pieces here.
- Try a reputable reference book like J. Michael Pearson’s “Encyclopedia of American Cut and Engraved Glass”. This is hard to find in print, so try your local library.
- Find a cut glass pattern ID sheet such as this one from Pinterest.
- Check out this pattern identification tips sheet.
- The House of Brilliant Glass has some great articles, identification tips and resources.
There are very many different cut glass patterns, and it can seem overwhelming when you try to identify your piece at the beginning. The key is to identify the motifs used to create the patterns, and narrow down your search to look for the companies which used the motifs to create their unique patterns. Some of the most regularly seen motifs include hobstar, strawberry diamond (see the carafe below), and punty cut. Some rarer motifs which fetch a higher price include aztec, panel, and trellis.
The comet motif is an interesting one. In response to the passing of Halley’s comet in 1910, several cut glass manufacturers included a comet motif in their works. Some of these were J. Hoare, Libbey, Bergen, and Tuthill. (More information here).
Valuing Antique Cut Glass
The price of cut glass pieces can vary enormously from just a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. Its value it judges mainly by 3 factors:
- How rare it is – the less pieces that were made, the more valuable your item. Collectors will particularly value rare pieces of cut glass than cannot be found elsewhere, raising the price considerably.
- The condition it is in – any form of damage such as chips or cracks, and discoloration will devalue the piece compared to on in mint condition. However, it is rare to have a piece in perfect condition when it was manufactured over 100 years ago! So a little damage may not drop the price too drastically.
- How attractive it is – although beauty is very subjective, an exquisite piece with a complex pattern and elegant form will usually fetch a higher price than a more basic piece.
- Who made it – some manufacturer’s pieces are worth more than others, especially if they did not produce many pieces, or had a strong reputation for very fine cut glass.
American cut glass from the Brilliant period is especially famous and can be worth a lot. As a guide, a piece of cut glass in good condition can reach somewhere between $1,000 – $100,000 USD.
To get an approximate idea of what your piece may be worth, it is useful to browse antique selling sites for items similar to your own. Some recommended sites are:
- Ebay – Cut glass pieces can often be found under ‘Other antiques’ or ‘Glassware’. By selecting the filters ‘sold items’ or ‘completed items’, you can see what previous listings have been sold for. Have a careful read of the condition and provenance of the sold pieces.
- Etsy – There are many great examples of antique cut glass on Etsy, usually sold for a set price.
- Try to find a reputable, reasonably priced online appraisal service, such as this one. An expert may be able to both help you identify and value your cut glass.
- Collector’s Weekly – this site assembles a great collection of antiques in every category. It can help you to keep watch of prices on other antiques markets.
Every piece of antique cut glass is unique, so we can only provide an approximate guide here. It is recommended to go to an antiques appraiser or cut glass expert to get the most accurate valuation. Bear in mind that these services may cost you.
Other tips to help you value antique cut glass are to attend antique auctions and showings, ask questions and make contacts.
Where To Buy Antique Cut Glass (And Buying Tips)
Now you have identified your piece of cut glass, or really gotten into antique cut glass patterns, you may be inclined to purchase a piece youself (or perhaps adding to your collection!). We’ll list some of the tops places you can find real antique cut glass, and provide a buying guide to help you make a good purchase.
- Ebay – this auction site has an incredibly helpful search function whereby you can filter the results and fine-tune your quest for antique cut glass. Filters include: time period, brand, material, style, condition, and price.
- Etsy – by simply searching for ‘antique cut glass’ on the Etsy website, you can find many excellent examples from all over the world. Etsy sellers are usually open to contact and questions from potential buyers, so don’t be afraid to ask them for a little more detail about the items they are selling.
- com – this site is mainly focused on the European market, but prices are stated in GBP, EUR, and USD. The sellers on this site are antiques dealers, and it is connected with antiques fairs where buyers and sellers can go to exchange antiques.
- Second hand sites and garage sales – if you want to be thrifty and love to scour second hand stores for intriguing items this is definitely an option for you! You can find amazing antique cut glass for very low prices in these places. Sometimes people under-value these items without realizing how much they are actually worth.
If you are considering buying antique cut glass online, you should try to go for listings which include loads of detail – both descriptions and images of the piece/s. Ideally, go for listings from reputable sellers with good ratings, and those that have an authenticity guarantee if possible. You can ask the seller for more information or extra images on many sites.
Think about going to see the piece in person before buying. If you have the chance to go and look at it, and pick it up in person then this is a great opportunity. It will save you money, and help you identify whether it is all the advert promises. You many even pick up some details indicating the piece’s provenance that the seller hasn’t spotted!