Part 10, Facetted Stems and Cut Glass, 1725 - 1825.

Part 10. Facetted Stems and Cut Glass 1725 - 1825.



Roman Cup c. AD 2 found at Barnwell, England and now in the BM. Ht c. 11cm.Roman Cup c. AD 2 found at Barnwell, England and now in the BM. Ht c. 11cm.Abraided decoration on glass goes back to at least 7 BC. Facetting dates from around AD 1 and some found its way to England such as the exquisitly produced Barnwell cup in the British Museum.

Silesian non-lead glass heavily cut, c. 1705,. Ht. 15.7 cm.Silesian non-lead glass heavily cut, c. 1705,. Ht. 15.7 cm.

In post-medieval times decorative cutting on glass seems to have begun in Silesia about 1700 when bowl, stem and foot were, on occasions, smothered with small facets. A small number of cut English balusters suggest that some cutters came to England to try their luck with the new soft lead glass but received little encouragement in their venture. About 1720 reference is made to the first sweetmeat glasses with cutting to the bowl, probably on a moulded pedestal stem. But it was several years before a small sprinkling of cut wine glasses emerged to partner cut condiment sets on the table.

London-cut chandelier for the Assembly Room, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, USA. c. 1745.London-cut chandelier for the Assembly Room, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, USA. c. 1745.However, the earliest English cut glass of which we have record is a chandelier and it is the English chandelier, exploiting the brilliant refractive properties of lead crystal that lead the way throughout the century. Cutting a baluster with facets enhanced a continental glass because of the poor quality of the glass itself. But it really did nothing for a baluster which had its own lustrous qualities.

English cut baluster c. 1725 based on the elaborate Roccocco decoration.English cut baluster c. 1725 based on the elaborate Roccocco decoration.A cut chandelier, apart from its own presence, provided lighting that enhanced the dining table and the next item to appear was the cut sweetmeat glass. They lasted perhaps until the end of the century almost independent of the prevailing air- and opaque-twist style that dominated drinking glasses.

By 1750 the number had become noticeable but was still a minute proportion of the whole. Barrington Sweetmeat with a cornered brim, simple flat cutting to the bowl on a spiral air twist knop, drawn stem and domed foot. c. 1745. Ht. 18.7 cm.Sweetmeat with a cornered brim, simple flat cutting to the bowl on a spiral air twist knop, drawn stem and domed foot. c. 1745. Ht. 18.7 cm.Haynes (Glass Through the Ages) considers 1760 as the earliest reaonable date for the emergence of cut drinking glasses in any quantity but adds "...they comprise some of the best glass English glassmakers ever made or English glass cutters decorated."

Nevertheless, air and opaque twists still reigned supreme at this time. But the growth of cut glass was becoming exponential and many of the best early cut wine glasses may be dated to around 1755 - 1765. The question of the nationality of the cutters is more contentious. Most were almost certainly German or Bohemian, immigrants from their own industry. The bst known in London are John Akerman (17I9-1785), the Haedy family (1719-1800), Jerome Johnson (1739—1761)and Thomas Betts followed by Jonathan Collett (1738-1800). They all had workshops independant of the glassmakers. Two other well-known firms were Maydwell & Windle in the Strand (1751-78) and Parker’s on Fleet Street (1762—1818), the latter particularly noted for chandeliers. (for a long list oftradesmen some of whom were probably glass decorators see the INDUSTRIES section of this site.)

The 1745 Excise Act introduced duties on a broad range of glass from bottles to tableware. At that time opaque white and coloured glass was manufactured (probably as rods and powder) for reworking into clock dials, decorative enamel boxes etc. and opaque twist drinking glasses that for probably two decades dominated the drinking glass market. Two Southwark factories were particularly involved, the white Glass House in Stony Street and the Cockpit glasshouse near Gravel Lane. On the other hand cut glass controlled the tableware market, lustres and chandeliers where the cutting provided added value.

In 1777 the duty on glass was raised at which time the government found it convenient to include a new duty on enamel including opaque twist glasses. Perhaps the lower class customer was already looking towards cut glass while, at about the same, time factories were beginning to create their own large cutting workshops, both in London by Apsley Pellatt and in the midlands. The overall result was that the excise duty on enamel finally killed off the opaque twist glasses and facetted glass really came into its own.

Cutting was a relatively expensive form of decoration and could only be afforded by the rich. By this time wealth had spread outside the capital. In the last quarter of the century, new canals facilitated transport and, in the industrial midlands the import of raw materials and export of finished goods made on fast sophisticated machinery brought more profit to the "nouveau riche" industrialists than they knew how to spend. Cut glass tableware of all sorts was one answer. Cut jugs, ewers, decanters, bowls and tazzas sparkled in the light of cut table chandeliers and the glittering opulence of the overhead chandelier as these all found their way into the best (i.e. wealthiest) households. The refractive characteristics of the metal were now being exploited to better effect than at any time since the reign of the balusters. Cut glass was on a roll.

In the last decade the newly invented steam engine enabled glasshouses to switch from employing outwork cutters using treadle lathes, or lathes turned by a young assistant, to huge on-site sheds where rows of cutters could operate at a time. The squeeling noise of the cutting wheel on glass, like the simultaneous killing of a thousand pigs, was horrendous.

With greater power to turn the cutting wheel the style of cutting itself changed. Flat shallow cuts were replaced by deep V-shaped grooves and step wedges. These demanded thicker, simpler blanks on which to work. The inventive challenge to the glassmaker and his team was on the decline. Cold after-work had become the fashion of the day. London was the centre of production with several small specialist factories.

The drinking glasses themselves remained mostly small, light and dainty. The cup-shaped bowl predominated although there was a considerable range of bowl shape and this was enhanced by the cutting. Around the turn of the century here was a period when, overwhelmed by cutting, form became simple and nondescript before the emergence of new style, panel-cut flutes on a deep conical stem and dwarf stem that characterise the Regency period. Another new type of glass to emerge was the printie-cut rummer. The short fat goblet-shaped ones were probably used for punch and the tall ones for ale and beer. Cut glass and within a decade or so its press-moulded imitations had come to the working class. These popular new styles endured until the end of the 19th century.

The increased Excise duty on glass in the 1770s drove a number of glassmakers to tax-free Ireland to set up factories there. Hence the last quarter of the 18th century is characterised by essentially English factories and their cutters producing glass with a distinctive Irish flavour. Although many of the drinking glasses are of no great merit, other tableware, particularly bowls and jugs, are of outstanding quality. These new styles were made mostly by adhering to traditional technology, and carried into the 19th century alongside the steam-cut mass-produced glass of the Regency period. However, recent research suggest that some of the best cut glass attributed to Ireland was actually made in England in such factories as Warrington in the Midlands and in Sunderland.

Here this trail comes to an end as the next development is the predominance of press-moulded glass made in Manchester, Birmingham and the North East,and the emergence of coloured glass, a glassmaking technology that brought dominance to the Midlands - Birmingham and the Stourbridge area. In the south only Whitefriars produced coloured glass of any significance.

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