Tradio: Enhanced Art Glass
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Someone brought in some pieces of art glass to sell me. Sometimes in my commercials you will hear me say, “We buy all kinds of artwork and art glass and things like that.”
A lot of people will say to me, “Steve, what actually is art glass?” It involves a lot of different things, but it is a form of glassmaking. Generally, the artist will do some sort of certain technique with this glass. It will have some artistic characteristics. I guess that would be a good thing to say.
It will have some sort of special coloration. It would have some sort of special design, something rather than just a mason jar that you are going to drink moonshine out of or put some canned fruit in. It is not really all that utilitarian although there are a lot of art glass utilitarian items that were made.
But rather than just a clear piece of glass, it is something that an artist made to use either as a functional piece or as a decorative piece. Glassmaking dates all the way back 3,500 years ago into the Egyptians and into Europe. Over the years they have discovered a lot of art glass and glassmaking techniques in the pyramids. The stuff was out of King Tut’s tomb and there were pieces of glassware.
A lot of these discoveries over the years have inspired a lot of artisans to go into glassmaking and certain techniques that were done 3,500 years ago are being copied today, and back in the early 1,800s and 1,900s.
Some of the bigger glass companies that produced art glass, one was Tiffany. Another was Steuben. Another was Durand. Lots of times people will hear these things and say, “That is a piece of Tiffany glass. That is a piece of Steubens, a piece of Durand.”
They don’t know why it is called that. They don’t know why it is that, but sometimes on the bottom of the piece of glassware, if you flip it over and look on the bottom, it will actually have a signature. That signature can either be the artist who produced that piece of glass or it could actually be the company that produced that glass.
They had a lot of different artisans working for them. If it was something really special or experimental, usually the artist would put his name on that piece of glass. If not, if it was just a production piece, then you will see the word Durand, or Steuben, or Tiffany. There are lots of other companies out there.
Of the companies that produced art glass from the 1840s all the way up to as far as the 1950s, there were a lot of these different companies producing art glass. What do we look for?
This past year we went to Italy and I enjoy glassware. I am a big collector myself. I am always looking for different types of art glass, generally the older stuff. But it was very neat to go to Italy and Murano and see them making what we call Murano glass and Venetian glass.
These are different forms of glass. These are different techniques that they use. The reason it is called Murano glass is because it is made in Murano. This is where they fire the glass into molten glass and they will form it and shape it and blow it into various types of vessels, vases, bowls, and cups.
One thing that Murano was famous for was their Murano clowns. If you have ever been to Italy and you went to the factory, you probably got hooked into buying one of the Murano clowns. You certainly had the opportunity to buy the cordial set where they would blow a pitcher and they would do it with an applied handle.
They would make the little cups that would go with it and they would make the tray. You would run around and buy that and bring it back and show everybody what you bought in Italy. Some of us just bought the chocolates and things and we wore those things back rather than having them to display.
The Europeans have been around much longer than the United States. These processes were passed down from generation to generation. The European glass working had a big influence on what the Americans would do.
Another thing you will see is what we call millefiori. It is a process that we call thousand flowers. They would take various rods of colored glass and put those together; they would adhere them. Then they take slices out of it while it was still molten.
They would embed those into a larger piece of glass. One of the things that we see over the years in the United States in great numbers were paper weights. We find a lot of the millefiori paper weights and various techniques that they use to produce these paper weights.
These are all considered forms of art glass. Tiffany is probably the most well known art glass producer amongst collectors and even people who are not collectors. I am going to say that nine and a half times out of ten, people will say to me, “I have a Tiffany glass lamp shade that I would like to sell.”
I would say, “That’s great.”
“Can you come to the house?”
I’ll say, “I can’t keep up with my house calls. If I knew for a fact that it was a Tiffany shade, I would be there with bells on. But describe this piece to me.”
They would describe it to me and I would ask how old it is.
“It is pretty old. I know my folks bought it at such and such store in the seventies.”
I’ll say, “Thank you very much for the phone call and if you get a chance to bring it by, I will be more than happy to look at it for you.” But 99.5 times out of 100, unless that shade was purchased from an antique dealer rather than Woolworths or Montgomery Ward or Sears, it is definitely not a genuine Tiffany shade.
It is a Tiffany style because it has the inlaid glass into it and it is held in place, that type of stained glass work. But it is not a Tiffany shade. How do we determine what a Tiffany shade is?
There are lots of different things that we look for, but the easiest thing, and you don’t have to be a professor or rocket scientist, but if you look on the inside of that shade, generally Tiffany had some sort of a little tag that was soldered onto the inside of that shade.
I had a fellow come in the other day with a Tiffany glass lampshade. Unfortunately, it was Tiffany Studios and it was done with a little tag that was done in script. Generally, the older Tiffany tags were stamped. They were block letters. They were not in script and it did not have a copyright signature on it, a little © to show that it was copyrighted.
Tiffany did not do that. They did not put a copyright tag on their labels. Generally they were in block letters. It is a little misleading. Here is a fellow who has a shade that says Tiffany Studios on it, but it was not an old Tiffany piece.
Tiffany not only did stained glass, but they did hundreds of different styles of glass. They produced things called lava glass. It actually looked like a vase that was melted. It had bubbles in it and it looked like if you could solidify a piece of lava, that is what it looked like.
They had a huge line of what we call Tiffany favrile glass. This was either in a blue or a gold color. Most of what we call art nouveau style glass that a lot of these companies did had an iridescence to it. when I say iridescence, if you can imagine what it looks like if oil spills into water, there is a sheen on top of the water.
It is iridescent. It dances to the light. This was performed by adding different metallic oxides to glassware and then firing it. It would give it this iridescence appearance on the outside of the glass. It became very popular. Tiffany displayed this at the 1893 Columbian World Fair. They had a whole stand of all types of their wares. A lot of this was the iridescent favrile line which sold extremely well.
This was fairly expensive back then, not extraordinarily expensive, although Tiffany did produce pieces they sold for hundreds of dollars. You have to realize that back in 1893 that was a lot of money. A lot of their favrile line sold for a dollar to three dollars and five dollars which was expensive, but not outlandish.
Tiffany did all kinds of different things. They did a design that we call pulled peacock feathers. If you can imagine a peacock feather, it has sort of an eye on the end of the feather, then the quills sort of form vees of various colors and they sort of flow into that piece.
The glass artisans would actually roll pieces of glass in different colors and embed those into the other pieces of glass so that it would actually look like a feather, a peacock feather. This is one of the things that Tiffany was known for, their peacock feather design.
They also did what we call threaded glass. They would take the iridescent bodied glass and they would spin thin layers of glass or thin threads of glass around the outside body.
Durand was really well known for this particular type of glass, their threaded glass. We find that there is only a certain amount of artisans who knew how to do these treatments to art glass. They traveled from company to company.
We find guys who worked for Durand Company for years. They got tired and they would move to Steuben. The Steuben Glass Company would hire them and the next thing you know, now Steuben had a lot of pieces that looked just like other glass companies. These fellows basically had the ingredients and the formulas for these glass oxides and these glass treatments in their mind.
It wasn’t written down in a book. They had done these for years and years and years. They would travel from company to company and we would find that different companies would all of a sudden have different wares because it depended on the artisans they had working for them.
There were a lot of American companies out there. Lots of them were in the New York area and some in Ohio. Again, these were all different treatments that they would come up with. There were certain glasses as simple as bi-colored glass. Some parts of it would be red and the bottom would be yellow. This is what we refer to as Amberina.
There was Crown Milano which was different types of glassware that you could not see through it. There was Coraline and these would have little pieces of glass in little globules. It would be adhered to the main body of the either the pitcher or the glassware or whatever in particular it was.
There were all kinds of various treatments. These are all things that we refer to as art glass. Another treatment which was kind of unusual from what we are talking about as far as applying some sort of oxide to the glass and heating it, there was what we refer to as Cameo glass.
I recently had somebody come in with some Cameo glass. Cameo refers to the fact that they would take layers of glass and on a wheel they would cut into the layers of glass and leave different colors exposed.
We talk about cameos as far as jewelry, and they start with a conch shell, and they would leave the outside layer. They would draw a picture on it and leave the outside layer as features for their picture. Then they would cut back into it so that the background was the inside of that conch shell which would be either pinkish or brownish colored.
These artisans would do the same thing on glassware. They could put two different colors, two layers of glass, three, four, as many as five layers of colored glass. They would adhere each layer to itself and then they would begin cutting into the glassware and they would leave the outside layer as one color.
Then they would cut into the next layer and that would be a little bit of shading. Then they would cut into the third layer and the fourth and the fifth to finally get the entire picture or design of what they wanted onto the glass.
Actually, the first piece of glassware that we ever found was over 3,000 years old. It was a piece of Roman glass that they found that was reassembled. It was virtually in hundreds of pieces. They put it back together and this is where a lot of the Europeans learned about the process of cameo glass.
Some of the makers who were really big names in cameo glass, Galle was one of the French makers, Webb who was English, and Stevens & Williams was another English firm. Woodall was one of the great, great artists when it came to doing cameo glass. His pieces were just fantastic.
He did a lot of vases. He did some platters and things like that. Generally he would do a lot of people. The detail that this gentleman would come up with, you have to realize he was cutting into glass. It was not like he was sketching. He was actually using the wheel and cutting pieces of glass away to form these pieces.
If you have ever seen any of these things in some of the museums, the quality is just unbelievable. You will see the people’s faces, their eyes, the work on their hands and things like this. Some of these pieces of cameo glass sell for hundreds of dollars.
You get into a Woodall piece and they sell into the thirty thousand, forty thousand, even $50,000 for a vase made out of glass. There are people who can still appreciate these pieces.
As in all collectibles, like I have talked about before, if you enjoy it and you pick it up and you look at it and it makes you smile, then by all means collect it. Again, there are people who buy these pieces because they appreciate over a period of years. The finer the piece, probably the more appreciation there is.
I have bid on these pieces at auction and I know when I first started in the business, I watched Woodall pieces sell for five, six, seven thousand dollars. And I thought these people were crazy to pay that kind of money.
I have been in the audience bidding on pieces when they are the same pieces I saw for five, six, seven thousand dollars, sell for thirty and forty thousand dollars. Again, this was 30 years later, but that is a pretty good appreciation.
There is a lot of glass that is fake out there. There are a lot of signatures that are applied to glass. If you are buying a piece of signed glass, look on the bottom. Look to see how the signature is applied. Generally, most of the better glass, when we look at art glass, was signed when it was still somewhat molten.
That means when you look at the signature under magnification, there won’t be any chips when you look at that signature. It is kind of like if you signed your name in wet cement, it might push that cement away from where you are signing it, but if you try to sign your name when it was already solid, you will notice there are lots of chips if you took a nail and tried to sign your name in dry cement.
It will chip around the edges of those letters. This is one thing that we look at to identify whether it is a genuine piece of art glass or not. How does that signature look? Is it chipped or is it nice and fluid?
A lot of Tiffany pieces and a lot of Durand pieces and Steuben pieces had certain shapes that they would make. There are books that show these actual shapes. Lots of times you will find pieces that are signed Tiffany or Steuben or Durand and if you are a scholar or a knowledgeable collector, you can look at it and say, “I have never ever seen that shape before.”
You can refer to a lot of your books and your reference material and if you can’t find that shape and it is signed Tiffany, then it is probably not Tiffany. I had a gentleman come in years ago with four or five pieces of Tiffany glass and I got all excited.
I thought, “Here is some more stuff for my collection.” I looked at the colors that I have never ever seen before. I am looking at the shape that I have never ever seen before. I am not the smartest guy in the world; I will certainly admit to that.
But I went into my reference books and these shapes were nowhere to be found. These colorations were nowhere to be found. Generally, on the bottom of a piece of Tiffany glass, if it was an experimental piece, they may have made two or three of them, there would be a number on it and there would be an X in the front of it that would show that it was an experimental piece and it wasn’t really made for production.
None of these pieces had that. I asked him, “What do you want for this stuff?” And it was so reasonably priced that he and I both knew it wasn’t real. I said to him, “This is not real Tiffany.”
“Well, what do you mean?”
I said, “It is definitely not Tiffany glass. I don’t care. It is priced where it is pretty.” I turned around and I bought it. I put it in my shop with tickets on it that said, “This is not Tiffany glass even though it is signed.”
We had a lot of people who were collectors who walked in. I had one gentleman from the Midwest who looked at it. He said, “I will buy all your Tiffany glass right here.”
I said, “It is not Tiffany glass. It is signed Tiffany glass. It looks like the coloration of it. I’m telling you it is not Tiffany glass.”
He said, “Well, I will buy all of it.”
And on his receipt I put on there that this was not genuine Tiffany glass. I am sure that he took it back to the Midwest and sold it as genuine Tiffany glass to other people.
If you are not knowledgeable, you better ask the dealer you are buying it from, “Is this genuine?” and get it in writing. If you are paying for a genuine piece of art glass, and you are not knowledgeable enough to know, make sure they put it in black and white that it either is or it isn’t so that you have the option to be able to come back and get your money back.
If you are enjoying it and it is not going to affect your lifestyle and you think you can sit there and enjoy that piece and look at it and fondle it and touch it, then by all means buy it and enjoy it.
I am sure there are lots of people out there who are not going to be knowledgeable who will buy pieces and hopefully they bought them because they enjoy them. On the other foot are the people who bought them because they know people who are not knowledgeable enough and they are going to turn around and sell them as genuine.
They are not going to guarantee it, but they are going to come up with a great story. This was passed down from my grandmother and from her grandmother and they were at the 1893 World Fair and they bought this at the Tiffany exhibit.
Somebody is going to wind up paying a lot of money for something that is not what it is supposed to be. If you are new to collecting, stop by and see us at Westchester Gold & Diamond. We have a lot of different types of collectibles. I have been dealing in this stuff for over 35 years now. I don’t know everything, but I have a lot of reference books and I have a lot of friends who know more than me.
If we can help you with collectibles as far as identifying or making sure of what you have, I am always happy to look at that stuff. If you have collectibles or items that you are interested in selling, I am always happy to give you a cash offer on those things.
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