I decided that I would start chronicling my hobby of glass collecting on this blog. (These posts will be intermingled with sermons and whatever other random thoughts I may have….) So, to be specific, I collect early American pattern glass mugs.
Since this is a first post, let me dissect those terms.
“Early” refers to the first era of pressed glass production in America, from about 1830 up to 1910 (roughly, some of my mugs are from later years). Glassware historians divide this into three periods: the Lacy Period, 1830-40; the Flint Period, 1840 to about 1860; and the Non-Flint Period, 1860-1910. What primarily distinguishes the periods are the stabilizers used in the glass and production methods used in the making of the glassware, and the retail price and availability of the products. In the earliest periods of human history, glass was something only for the wealthy; this continued to be true until the late 19th Century.Although a glass is a substance that is non-crystalline, it is almost completely undeformable and thus brittle. Glass tableware is made of silica (silicon oxide); such glass, without the addition of other elements, is extremely brittle. Therefore stabilizers are used to give the finished product particular characteristics. Calcium carbonate can be added as a stabilizer that will make the resulting glass insoluble in water. Lead oxide added as a stabilizer gives the glass extreme transparency, brightness, and a high refractive index (the measure of glass’s ability to bend light); it also makes glass easier to cut. The glassware known as “lead crystal” uses lead oxide (up to 33%) as the stabilizer. Zinc oxide can be added to glass to make it more resistant to changes in temperature as well as to increase its refractive index. Aluminum oxide can also be added as a stabilizer to increase the physical strength of the glass.
The earliest American glass makers added flint or lead to stabilize glassware. However, the military need for lead during the American civil war lead to the search for alternatives. In 1862, William Leighton, Jr., devised a formula using soda lime. This produced a less brilliant, less resonant, but also much less expensive type of glass. Together with advances in molding techniques brought on by the industrial revolution, and by the advent of natural gas to fire furnaces in the 1880s, the changed formula reduced the price of glassware and made mass manufacturing and mass marketing possible. Glassware became available to the larger market of the growing American middle class.
Well… that ought to be self-explanatory. On the other hand, I should acknowledge that not all of my mugs are American! I have a couple that are definitely English and one that is definitely German, and a couple I’m not at all sure about. Also, “American” glass includes products of some Canadian manufacturers. (So perhaps it should be “North American”?)
PatternWhat is the difference between “molded” glass, “pressed” glass, and “pattern” glass? Not much. Nearly all pattern glass is pressed, but not vice-versa. All pressed glass is molded, but not vice-versa.
Some molded glass is blown into the the mold; pressed glass is, obviously, pressed into the mold. Nearly all pattern glass is pressed glass with this characteristic: that several different items (or “forms” as collectors call them) share the design pressed into the glass. Darryl Reilly and Bill Jenks in their book Early American Pattern Glass: Collector’s Identification & Price Guide (2nd Ed.: Krause Publications, Iola, WI: 2002) define “pattern glass” as “only those designs produced in forms large enough to constitute a basic 4-piece table setting.” (Page 7) Others defined “pattern glass” as pressed glass tableware, and some related novelty glass items, made only during the Victorian period (1850-1910), only in America, and in “sets” such that all of the pieces in the set matched in design, without setting a minimum on the number of forms. And some make no distinction at all between “pressed” glass and “pattern” glass.
How many patterns are there? One expert has suggested that there may have been up to 5,000 patterns produced by American glassware manufacturers during the Victorian era! See Bob Batty, A Complete Guide to Pressed Glass, page 7 (Pelican Publishing Co.: Gretna, LA, 1998).
Here’s a technical definition: “Glass is often referred to as an amorphous solid. An amorphous solid has a definite shape without the geometric regularity of crystalline solids. Glass can be molded into any shape. If glass is shattered, the resulting pieces are irregularly shaped. A crystalline solid would exhibit regular geometrical shapes when shattered.” Good enough? Good enough – I think we all know what “glass” means.
MugsMug: “A drinking container with a handle” is about the simplest definition one can give, but it begs the question. John B. Mordock and Walter L. Adams in the introduction to their book Pattern Glass Mugs (The Glass Press, Inc.: Marieta, OH, 1995) note that there are all sorts of particularly shaped mugs: lemonades, whiskey tasters, steins, and so forth. As they say, “It is difficult to determine what should be included as a mug. Items that are on the borderline are custard cups, cup and saucer sets, punch cups and some mustard containers.” Toothpick holders and children’s toys are on the borderline, as well. My definition: if it’s a handled drinking vessel, not obviously a tea cup or a punch cup, and I like it – it’s a mug!
So that’s what my collecting hobby is all about. In future posts, I’ll post pictures of my mugs and give as much detail about them as I can find. As I get more information on a piece, I’ll edit the posts. I hope those who read them and look at the pictures of my mugs will enjoy these little works of art as much as I do.