Glass - England. Part 2

It had long been considered that English glass was an inferior material, both in appearance and strength, to the imported Venetian, and in 1673 the London Glass-Sellers' Company engaged George Ravenscroft to experiment and find a substitute for 'cristallo'. The result of his researches was that the addition of a quantity of lead oxide in the form of litharge made an excellent glass that not only equalled, but even excelled, the Venetian. As powdered flints were also a part of the new composition it was given the name of 'flint glass' but it is called often nowadays 'glass-of-lead'.

Ravenscroft's first pieces suffered from a defect known as 'crisselling', in which the glass is covered in a fine crackle which clouds it. This was cured, and in 1676 it was announced that Ravenscroft had gained permission to mark his productions. The mark chosen was a small seal with the appropriate device of a raven's head in relief. Not more than a dozen sealed pieces have survived, and most of them are now in museums. Following the success of 'glass-of-lead', it was adopted throughout England. One feature of the new material was that it could not be blown quite as thinly as the Venetian, but it lent itself to the making of articles that were bright in appearance and could compare well with natural rock crystal.

The most popular production of the eighteenth century was that of wine-glasses, and thousands remain of which the different patterns defy calculation. A particularly pleasing feature of many is the 'twist' stem; these are clear, white, or coloured; the latter rarest and most expensive. The earliest glasses have a folded foot (with the outer edge turned under), later ones are with a plain thin edge.

In 1745 a duty was levied on all glass; as the duty was on the actual material the amount of this in each article was lessened, and more labour and time were expended on ornamentation. To this, together with changing fashion, is due the rise of cutting, enamelling and engraving, which played an increasing part as the century advanced. Members of the Beilby family of Newcastle-on-Tyne are famous for their enamel work. Decanters, introduced about 1750 and plain at first, became cut heavily, and before long cutting was the principal decoration of all pieces.

Chandeliers and pairs of candelabra were greatly in demand in the last half of the eighteenth century. The complex cut patterns glittered brilliantly by candlelight, enhanced by hanging chains of small glass drops. Old examples can still be bought, and most of them have been converted skillfully for use with electricity.

In Bristol, articles were made of a porcelain-like white glass, often painted delicately in colours. Blue and amethyst-coloured glass was made there also, but the majority seen today has been manufactured in recent years and probably not in England. Nearby, at Nailsea, a large factory made jugs, rolling-pins and similar domestic pieces. Many of these were in green-tinted bottle-glass, which was taxed at a lower rate and could be sold cheaply, others are made of glass striped in mixed colours. Pieces are described for convenience as 'Nailsea' and 'Bristol', but similar articles were made at glassworks up and down the country and it is rarely possible to say exactly whence they came.

Collectable Antiques: