A PATTERN GLASS REVIVAL: PART II
by Dan Simmons
In Part I we considered what seems to be an increased interest in
pattern glass, defined it and briefly reviewed its history. Now, let's
consider some aspects of buying and selling pattern glass.
Besides the age of the glass, distinguishing features of pattern glass
are the quality of the glass and the workmanship in the mold design and
the finishing. Though the quality of both declined in some production
toward the end, good pieces are very clear, high quality glass, fire
polished to a velvety smoothness. The mold work for the patterns is
crisp and well-detailed with excellent expression in the figural
patterns. The imitation cut glass patterns are sharp and distinct;
etchings are well-detailed also, and frosting and stippling even and
consistent. Add to these qualities, the extensive variety offered by
over 2500 identified patterns ranging from simple to ornate, from
realistic to symbolic, from serious to whimsical, as well as the
extensive number of items for the Victorian table available with many
patterns, and the collecting possibilities are vast.
As with any antique collectible, the first steps should involve study,
both first and second hand. I am convinced that almost anyone can learn
about pattern glass reasonably quickly. I would suggest handling as
much old glass as possible at antique malls, shops and shows. Reputable
dealers will have the glass identified. Buy several pieces gradually as
you become more confident and study them carefully. I would also
recommend investing in three fairly inexpensive books to begin, adding
others later as you may wish. The most extensive pattern glass
reference is McCain's THE COLLECTOR'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PATTERN GLASS.
Patterns are arranged into 18 major groupings according to motif.
Though somewhat difficult to use at first, especially for imitation cut
glass patterns, it is an invaluable reference, especially for the less
well-known patterns. WARMAN'S PATTERN GLASS, edited by Ellen Schroy, is
an excellent reference with over 500 patterns illustrated, and many
pieces of each pattern priced. The third book, IDENTIFYING PATTERN
GLASS REPRODUCTIONS by Jenks, Luna, and Reilly, is an excellent
resource to help remove the concern of buying reproduction pieces. It
is a definitive study with pictures and very clear, readable text.
As I think is true with many collectibles, the fear of reproductions is
often greater than the reality warrants. With a good reference and a
little experience and knowledge, most people can tell enough at least
to avoid purchase of questionable pieces. Before we go further though,
we should make a distinction between re-issues, reproduction, and
look-alikes or fantasies. Re-issues are items that companies produce
from the earlier original molds. If the quality of the glass and
finishing is the same as earlier issues, then wear would be the only
criteria which might determine the age of a piece. Reproductions are an
attempt to re-create a mold like the original. Look-alikes or fantasies
are an attempt to create patterns or pieces which do not exist but
generally imitate old glass.
The Jenks, Luna, and Reilly reference should solve most problems for
collectors. Actually, very few pieces of pattern glass have been
reproduced considering the number of patterns and pieces from which to
chose, and most of those can fairly easily be distinguished from old
pieces. Also, quite a few have become collectible in their own right,
such as King's Crown, Moon and Stars, Lacy Dewdrop, etc. Others from
patterns such as Lion, Westward Ho, Three Face, etc., continue to sell
well regardless, probably because of the scarcity of old pieces.
In determining the authenticity of pieces of pattern glass, there are
several characteristics to consider. First, the glass should be clear,
except for sun-purpled pieces. Much reproduction or look-alike glass
has a yellow or bluish-gray tinge. Second, the base or feet on old
pieces should show natural wear, the more the better. Genuinely mint
pieces of pattern glass are scarce to rare. Third, the glass should
feel soft to the touch not oily as is sometimes erroneously stated. If
the piece definitely feels oily, it is recent, not to mention, very
cheap glass. Fourth, the glass should not have extensive ripples,
waving or bubbling--again, characteristics of recent inferior glass.
Fifth, most reproduction or look-alike pieces are excessively heavy.
Again a characteristic of most recent pieces to attempt to deceive
since pattern glass is heavier than most depression era glass. The
older flint glass pieces are very heavy but they can easily be
identified by seeing if they ring when tapped. Sixth, there should be
distinct detail in the impressions. Seventh, the glass should have a
soft appearance, rather than the glare of recent glass. Eighth, any
colored pieces should appear mellow rather than harsh and of course,
not be a contemporary shade. Also, gilt, enameling and staining should
not appear too bright or vivid, though the reds may be deep. Ninth,
frosted pieces should not appear chalky in color or be too smooth.
In evaluating pattern glass, generally flint (lead) pieces, those with
interesting designs, and colored and decorated pieces have the greatest
value. Minor flaws and damage have only a minimal effect on value. Here
one must simply use good judgment. Nicks and light scratches or signs
of wear are acceptable to most collectors, and naturally the more
desirable the piece, the greater the tendency to forgive. It is
important to note that what are called "straw marks" or shear lines,
which may at first appear to be deep scratches or cracks, are not
uncommon and again usually only have a minimal effect on value. What
will seriously devalue a piece are water staining, cracks, much
cloudiness, chunks, and scratching that dulls the finish.
In marketing pattern glass it is essential that it be sparkling clean
and identified and referenced to draw top value. Some of the best known
pieces may sell without identification but most won't, or at least not
for their potential value. Though it might seem apparent that any glass
should be clean, at least half the glass I see in malls, flea markets
and auctions is dirty. Nothing increases the value of good old glass so
greatly as seeing that it is absolutely clean--unless of course there
is an attempt to mask damage. Toothbrushes are especially effective in
cleaning imitation cut glass patterns.
Though it is difficult today to collect complete table settings of a
pattern, there are a great number of possibilities for collectors in
both scope and expense. The evidence of increased strength in the
pattern glass market indicates that perhaps more collectors are
becoming aware of the possibilities.
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