History

The eighteenth century saw the beginning of one of the greatest periods of British history in terms of creativity; the Georgian period.  From 1714 to the end of the century there were only three monarchs - George I, George II and  George III.    The eighteenth century is therefore synonymous with the Georgians.   In terms of glassware, very little glass is available from the preceding Queen Anne period and earlier; so for all intents and purposes 18th century glass and Georgian glass are considered to be one and the same thing.

Georgian glass is heavily collected and for good reason.  Always hand-made using crude implements, the simple elegance of the resultant glassware has arguably not been transcended in any period since.  For nearly a hundred years, British glass (or more accurately English glass) dominated, and Georgian glass made in the façon d'Angleterre (English style) was in demand around the world.  

Glass had probably been made in Britain since the Roman times. There is enough Roman glass found in burial sites to suggest that it was made here in the UK rather than imported en masse.  With the withdrawal of the Romans, the production of glass declined and little British glass save for window glass is known of until the mid-16th century when Jean Carré moved from Lorraine to set up production in Southern England.  Using Venetian workmen and others, Carré developed an equivalence to the glass made in Venice that he called cristallo.  It is thought that he introduced Jacob Verzelini to his glasshouse in Crutched Friars in about 1571, and it was Verzelini who was responsible for the building up of a sustainable glass industry in England, based on a monopoly to manufacture façon de Venise (glass in the Venetian style) which lasted twenty plus years and ended up with him retiring a wealthy man.  In common with most Venetian style glasses, Verzelini's were thinly blown, and the majority were dark and greenish in colour.  Very few of Verzelini's glasses remain intact today. The next major character of note in the development of English glass was Sir Robert Mansell.  From about 1610 to the middle of the 17th century Mansell built up a thriving glass business based on letters of patent and monopolies which continued to produce glass in the Venetian style. 

It was not until 1676 that, for the first time in recorded history, George Ravenscroft introduced lead oxide into the production process for glass.  The appearance of this new type of glass was unmistakeably different from anything seen before.  The glass was heavy and limpid and demanded new techniques in fashioning and design, as it was unsuitable for the production of the light, thin walled Venetian styles that until then had been dominant.  The new English style (façon d'Angleterre) was born alongside the advent of English lead crystal, with new, simple, thick walled glasses that had a tactile element that is so beloved of the collectors of English Georgian glass.

The early lead glasses made in the late seventeenth century were prone to crizzling, a glass "disease" which results in the surface of the glass being covered in what looks like crazy paving.  This was eventually refined away and eighteenth century English glassware can look as good as the day it was made. This web site focuses on English lead crystal, collectible glass from the eighteenth century.  As the focus is on collectible glass, the majority of items for sale are drinking glasses.  Although all sorts of other utensils and vessels were made in glass during the period, it is in the production of drinking glasses that the Georgian glassmaker excelled.  The Georgians liked to drink and to show off their wealth.  Beautiful drinking glasses allowed them to do both.

The earliest drinking glasses made in lead crystal were the heavy balusters.  Thick walled, heavily striated, intensely tactile glasses with an almost oily feel to the glass, this type of glass dominated until about 1725 when the balusters became lighter, and then eventually declined into not more than a plain stem with a swelling.  

Many of the early baluster bowls were of a rounded funnel shape as shown on the left, but other bowl forms came quickly into fashion with bell bowls probably the most common.  Most early feet were both folded and conical, but domed feet and plain, conical feet may also be found.  The knopping of the stems took on different shapes and sizes, from angular to spherical, from single to multiple, from the elegant to the unusual. 

As the size and weight of the balusters declined, some say due to the imposition of a glass tax based on the weight of the glass, the plain stem glasses came into their own.  Often containing tears of air, some of the Georgian plain stem glasses show a simplicity and elegance that has stood the test of time.  In the author's opinion, no drinking glass has ever surpassed the simple beauty of the trumpet bowl, plain stem wine glass featured here on the right.

Plain stem wine glasses were made throughout the eighteenth century and featured any number of bowl types including the trumpet, the rounded funnel, the ogee, the pan top, the saucer top, the bell, the ovoid, the cup, the bucket and others.  Feet were folded and conical, or domed, or conical without a fold, or were thickened to make a firing foot.  As with the balusters the centre of the foot had to be raised off the table to avoid the rough pontil mark scratching the furniture on which the glass stood.  The majority of the stems were made of solid glass save for the air tears aforementioned, but especially towards the end of the eighteenth century, following the Glass Excise Act of 1745, hollow stem glasses were introduced. 

As the century moved forward, more and more ornate stem types came into fashion.  The moulded pedestal stem (sometimes called the Silesian stem due to an unproven belief that it originated in the German/Polish state of that name) was used throughout much of the century on sweetmeat glasses and salvers, as well as a number of drinking glasses.  Air twist stems (or wormed stems as they were often called at the time) were popular in the middle of the century, and opaque twist stems followed.  Mixed twist stems were made that combined twists of both air and opaque enamel.  As cutting became popular towards the end of the century, the facet cut stem moved into prominance.

  Silesian stem

  Air twist stem

  Opaque twist stem

  Facet cut stem

Regardless of your own preference as to style, Georgian glass continues to reward both the afficionado through its intrinsic beauty, and the investor.  We hope that we can assist you in benefiting in both ways.

 

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