Glass - England - Part 1

It is probable that good glass was made in England during the Roman occupation, but when that ended little other than plain utilitarian pieces were made for a considerable time. It is known that there were glass-makers in Surrey and Sussex, where timber was plentiful, from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Also, it is known that coloured glass for church windows was made at several centres.

In the sixteenth century domestic needs were supplied by glass imported principally from Venice, and some was made in the Venetian manner by Italian workers who settled in London but did not stay. In 1575 Queen Elizabeth I granted Jacopo Verzelini a privilege for twenty-one years, during which he should make Venice glasses in London and teach Englishmen the art; at the same time, importation of such glasses was prohibited by law but possibly not in fact. A number of glasses exist which it has been suggested were the work of Verzelini, but it has been impossible so far to prove this and they remain the subject of argument. A typical goblet, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is engraved with the date 1581, and the names of 'John' and 'Jone Dier"; other rather similar pieces are dated from 1577 to 1586.

For the next seventy years a series of men held monopolies from the government for glass-making, and in the same period a change was made in substituting coal for wood in heating the furnaces. Little has been identified as having been made during this lengthy period, but it is suggested that much of the glass made then, and earlier, is so like true Venetian that it cannot now be told apart. One truly recognizable article of which the making began late in the seventeenth century is the wine-bottle. Fortunately, it was a custom in many instances to make them with the addition of a circular glass seal on the shoulder on which was the name of the owner and the date, and many of these have survived. A study of both seals and bottles has enabled a sequence of styles to be noted, and it is possible to date a bottle by its shape even when no seal is present.

Collectable Antiques: