A few years ago, collectors were so enamoured by brilliant period cut glass that pieces often sold without regard to age, pattern or condition. Today that allure has faded as collectors have become more sophisticated and selective.
The Brilliant Period of cut glass roughly spanned the years from 1880 until the end of World War I. These years saw the development of heavy glass rich in metals which could be deeply cut in a variety of patterns with wheels and handwork. Glasshouses had been developing techniques with the help of foreign-born craftsmen since the early 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, most large glasshouses had developed the capacity to mass produce fine cut tablewares and decorative items to supply the demand of America’s newly prosperous middle class.
By the end of World War II, much of the fine Brilliant Period cut glass had been consigned to the attic, considered by many to be too fragile and old fashioned. With the tremendous interest in nostalgia and antiques that began in the 1960s, collectors began to take an interest in the cut glass of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This first flurry of interest created a demand for cut glass that carried into the late 1970s. For the most part, this demand was untempered by research, scholarship or true market forces. People read about brilliant cut glass, they saw it in magazines and their friends’ collections and they just plain wanted it. Often price was no object.
By the late 1980s, a number of factors had changed the market for brilliant cut glass. The economic downturn slowed demand for all collectibles and those who continued to buy became far more selective. Today it is hard to sell a damaged piece of brilliant cut glass at any price. Buyers are particularly sharp-eyed for chips and flakes in those highly protruding sawtooth edges, not to mention cracks hiding along cut lines.
Condition is probably the most important factor in the collector’s eye when it comes to buying cut glass, but form and pattern also are very high on the list. Common forms such as the nappy, candy bowl, cream and sugar are just not very exciting to most collectors unless the piece is signed or in a rare pattern. The hobstars are one of the most common patterns in brilliant cut glass and one of the prettiest because of the high degree of refraction. Unfortunately today’s collectors don’t get excited about most hobstar pieces. Many companies produced pieces which incorporated the hobstar into a more complex pattern. These pieces, such as Middlesex by New England Glass Co., are usually sought by collectors who are interested in completing a collection of a form, such as the nappy, in every known pattern.
One of the more valuable patterns of the Brilliant Period are the Cornflower pattern by T.B. Clark. This pattern combined cutting with wheel engraving and intaglio work to produce some of today’s most sought-after features in cut glass. Another example of this genre is the Lily of the Valley pattern by Henry C. Fry. Generally those pieces with intaglio cutting in the representation of flowers, fruits, animals and birds will be preferred above the more traditional geometric forms unless those are in an unusual bold pattern such as Hawkes’ Venetian pattern.
In recent years a mark or signature on a piece of brilliant cut glass has become almost de rigeur. A signed piece will often bring twoto three times the price of an unmarked piece and sometimes makes the difference as to whether a piece sells at all. Some prominent names to look for include Hoare, Hawkes, Libbey, Tuthill, Fry, Dorflinger, Sinslaire and Steuben. Most marks are a very faint acid etched logo or initials and may be difficult to find or read.
Robert Croul of Newburgh is the NEWS antiques columnist.