Cut glass is created and shaped by grinding and polishing the patterns to be cut into the surface very deeply. The cuts are made by moving the item against various sized stones or wheels to get a desirable pattern and the end result being a glass object decorated entirely by cutting.
One of the most charming features of cut glass is the reflection of light that it creates across the dinner table. At the height of its popularity (late 19th century) it was referred to as “rich cut glass” due to its expensive cost it was more affordable to those of a higher social class.
History of Cut Glass
Cut glass has been produced for thousands of years and can be traced back to 1,500BC where many vessels where crafted by cutting into them with drills and creating this cut glass effect.
This developed over time to an iron rod being used in the middle ages, meaning pieces that were created weren’t as accurate as those we can produce today. A grozing iron which was a hooked tool is what was used to carve shapes into the glass. The standards that we associate with cut glass such as geometric patterns didn’t occur until 1750s in Germany. It was the English and Irish cut glass that led the market in the 18th century. English lead crystal glass became the ideal material to use for the production of cut glass as it did not easily shatter. Due to the high amounts of lead this made it easier than the continental equivalent due to its weight. Popular patterns around that time were the star, relief diamond and the scalloped fan.
The Irish patterns in particular were so popular that they were copied by other countries such as France. It was Norway and America that went as far as employing workers from the British Isles to help advance their techniques and skills in this area. Much of the cut glass produced by Waterford (Irish glasshouse) was exported to the United States after 1780. Other countries started setting up their own independent factories without the British or Irish input, to which they successfully produced commercial cut glass. However, by the end of the 18th century the English and Irish were making large matching services which were being successfully exported to other countries. They also manufactured cut glass chandeliers at this time but were rivalled by the French factory of Baccarat by the mid-19th century.
1969 saw the arrival of the wheel cutter (tool for cutting glass still used today) and the United States became well established in the art of cutting glass; so much that Pittsburgh alone had several factories operating. Due to this the export of Irish glass started to suffer which was exacerbated following the removal of tax advantages in 1825. By mid-19th century the Irish glass industry was collapsing.
There was a change during the Edwardian period and cut glass became lighter and thinner. The brilliant cut glass that had been produced went out of fashion and during World War I and the Prohibition saw many cut glass companies go out of business. The manufacture of pressed glass also came into production at this time as it closely resembled cut glass at a lower cost. This has affected how we make cut glass today as it is now partially moulded and then finished at the wheel to cut the cost; the 1980’s saw the rise of fake cut glass on the market.
Caring and Cleaning Cut Glass
As with anything that we have in our homes we can take things for granted. But we do recommend looking after your cut glass and sterling silver pieces. A lot of people ask and worry about the time this can take but by keeping on top of cleaning it doesn’t take much time at all. It is always worth investing a little time to clean your items with care to prevent unnecessary damage to your pieces and regain that sparkle that the pieces had when you first purchased them.
Cleaning care tips:
- Firstly never clean your cut glass items in a kitchen sink as its too harsh of a surface, use a plastic tray or wash tub.
- Always remove any items of jewellery before starting to prevent any damage happening.
- Wear gloves to prevent the piece slipping through your fingers. You can use rubber or plastic, just whatever you feel you can grip better with.
- Use luke warm water with a little glass cleaner in, making sure you get into the cuts of the glass to remove any build up of grease, dirt, dust and house pollution.
- Use a nylon scrub with one inch bristles to get into areas of the cut glass.
- Never wash more than one piece at a time. We are always thinking about saving time in our lives but it’s not worth rushing and smashing a piece accidentally.
- Once the piece has been thoroughly cleaned rinse with clean water in a separate tub.
- It’s a good idea to wear cotton gloves when drying to help prevent dropping the piece.
- Use a lint free towel to dry.
Pieces to be especially careful of are glass decanters. Once cleaned and rinsed inside and out place it upside down on a plastic drainer to allow drying out completely. The inside must be thoroughly dry before replacing the stopper.
Some tips for when you are storing your cut glass pieces:
- Avoid keeping your items in direct sunlight as prolonged exposure over a long period of time can cause cracking.
- If the item is stored on a shelf be aware of its weight, once you see signs of the shelf bending relocate the piece or replace with a thicker shelf.
- Place a felt or plastic disc under your piece if it is kept on a hard surface. This will help prevent the piece from moving around and marking your furniture.
Popular Cut Glass Gifts
Here are some of our most popular categories for choosing the perfect cut glass gift no matter what the occasion:
Cruet Service – A cruet service made of cut glass is a truly sophisticated gift of choice. This type of gift is something that can sit pride of place in the centre of any dining table and be appreciated on a daily basis. This impressive rare example is the star of this category, it was also crafted by the renowned, and highly collectable silversmith Paul Storr. It is certainly a set to consider if you wish to impress, with its original stunning stand and beautiful cut glass work it comes highly recommended by us at AC Silver.
Centrepieces – The great thing about centerpieces is that they come in all shapes and sizes making them such a great choice for a wedding or house warming gift. Take these impressive German silver centerpieces for example, the embossed and chased decoration along with the mix of cut and etched glass makes them a thing of beauty and something to be in awe of in their presence.
Baskets – The less grand but more practical root for a gift is a silver and glass basket. Something that can be placed in so many areas in the home makes it a great choice for the person who likes their home décor gifts. Take this antique George V cut glass and sterling silver bon bon basket for example. For the individual who loves antique and vintage gifts this basket is sure to impress. The pierced and applied decoration along with the removable cut glass dish makes it a truly stunning piece.
Louise Snowdon – Website Content Contributor / Sales Professional
Louise joined AC Silver with a passion for the world of antiquities and jewellery. Louise also assists the marketing team by representing the business on many social media outlets.