June 21, 2018
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Cut-glass market brittle except for the finest examples

bertoiaauctions.com | BDN
bertoiaauctions.com | BDN
The cast iron bank in near-mint condition showing Santa with a tree brought $2,050 when Bertoia Auctions sold a celebrated private collection.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: We’d like to sell our cut-glass punch bowl. We don’t want to ship it, as it’s very heavy. I can’t find any signatures on the bowl, and I’ve examined it thoroughly with a magnifying glass. Any suggestions?

A: The reader adds that the bowl is 14 inches wide and stands 7 inches high.

Seen in images sent, it is too small to be a punch bowl. This is a berry bowl, used to serve and display fruits or other small items.

The golden age of American Brilliant cut glass was 1876 to 1917. In that span, factories such as Libbey Glass in Ohio, Pairpoint in Massachusetts, Hawkes in Corning, N.Y., and Dorflinger in Pennsylvania produced intricately cut glass of such beauty that the like has not been seen again. And those were just the majors.

The reader is a smart collector to ID the piece as cut, not mold-pressed glass. Molded glass using similar patterns was the downmarket, less expensive version of cut glass.

American Brilliant was renowned, and stellar pieces won big at world expos.

The glass was a luxury item and everyone wanted a cut bowl or carafe, a tray or table piece. But it was labor-intensive to make and expensive to buy. Ownership implied that the owner had achieved entrance to the leisure, consuming class.

Two factors contributed to the industry: newly found U.S. deposits of high-grade silica and emigration of European glass makers and cutters to America. Glass cutting became a competitive art as each strove to outdo the others.

Basically, a glass blank was created, then it was cut by hand using a cutting wheel. Individual patterns designed to show artistry became company characteristics. A really good eye could spot a piece from Hawkes or Clark by the pattern. Some pieces were signed, some not.

To view the best, visit the site of the American Cut Glass Association, cutglass.org. Link to “Cut Glass Examples.” The site is an excellent reference.

The reader’s bowl looks very much like a common pattern of Libbey glass. Characteristics seen in the bowl, such as cutting in rows, plus crosshatched diamonds and hobstars, are pure Libbey.

Finding signatures on cut glass is tricky. Here are some hints, because signatures are small and easy to overlook. Hold the piece in a strong light and, using a lens or a loupe, look in the inside center. Some pieces were marked on the inside rim or base, so check there, too.

The 1950s marked the last time cut glass was “hot.” Other than collectors, few buyers fancy the style. It’s just too fragile, too fussy, and too high maintenance: All those crevices where dust collects turn off today’s keep-it-simple generations.

On liveauctioneers.com, we found a bowl identical (or darn close) to the reader’s. Described as a Libbey cut-glass berry bowl from the Brilliant period, it sold for $50 last year in a North Carolina auction. An online photo shows the acid signature inside.

Another Libbey bowl, also stamped but smaller, brought $350 in a New Orleans auction. Why? It was cut in one of Libbey’s most complex and expensive patterns, one coveted by collectors.

We saw the same happening in completed sales on eBay. There, a Libbey bowl in a very desirable pattern sold for more than $1,000. Others did not sell.

I hear gasps of disappointment from those who love the glass. Granted, the reader’s bowl is a lovely work of art. Yes, it is in fine condition. And absolutely, $50 is not fair for such a refined piece.

But that’s the reality of the market. Tastes and demand drive price, and this is a down period for all but the rarest and finest American Brilliant cut glass. Plus, much is for sale now; buyers can be picky.

To sell, I suggest a local or area auction. Staff can fill you in on the market in your area. Or perhaps a local shop owner or dealer will be interested.

FYI: “Identifying American Brilliant Cut Glass: 6th Ed.” by Bill and Louise Boggess (Schiffer, $19.99) is an excellent guide to the history, makers, collecting and identification of American Brilliant.

Auction Action: A cast iron Santa bank that sold for $2,070 at Bertoia Auctions in New Jersey earlier this year shows him not as a jolly elf, but as early generations of children knew him, as a stern Father Christmas. Shown in traditional pose with a tree at his shoulder, this Santa is a still bank made by Hubley. Still banks have no moving parts. In beautiful original condition with minor paint loss, he stands almost 6 inches high.

Collector quiz

Q: From the beginning, men have controlled horses through the use of bridles, a bit and later, a saddle. What were the earliest mouthpieces, or bits?

A. Iron

B. Rawhide with antlers

C. Wood

D. Bronze

A: Antler cheek pieces with rawhide toggle bits have been found at sites around the Black Sea. Source: “The Ring Bit: History, Form and Function” by Donald Minzenmayer (Schiffer, $49.99).

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.


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