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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Champagne glass; hollow stem, three-face pattern; late-19th century; 3 1/2 inches high, $5,000. Photo courtesy of Green Valley Auctions
Most people don’t think much about everyday objects like glassware. It’s there to be used. But for the astute observer, glassware like Native American baskets and rare books tell a story.

It’s a story about how different people throughout time made exactly the same thing, and miraculously managed to stamp their unique culture and way of life on each piece.

The color, composition and workmanship of glassware are as varied as the hands that made it. It’s all in the looking.

For early glass collectors, the looking and fascination seldom ends and constant handling of old glass is important to the schooling of every would-be collector. There is a softness to old glass. Fingers, more than eyes, can tell the difference.

Most old glass was less brilliant than modern glass and less sharp. Imperfections like tiny bubbles appear.

Glass is an amazing substance made from the simplest raw materials, mostly sand. Hard to imagine it was a rare thing in the American 18th century home. One hundred years later, it would be commonplace.

Sometimes it takes looking at an entire glass collection to really get what I’m talking about here. A single piece just doesn’t do it.

By 1820, there were 40 glass factories operating in America. Within 10-years, that number jumped to about 90.

Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I always figured steel was the city’s claim to fame. I learned later that the early American glass industry was centered in the city.

Cut glass, window glass, bottles, flasks, and containers for cider, beer and whiskey were produced there. It makes sense because the Pittsburgh region had lots of coal to fire the ovens and three broad rivers for shipping.

President James Monroe visited Pittsburgh in 1817, made a stop at the Bakewell & Page glass factory and ordered a service of decanters, wine glasses, tumblers, and oval dishes for the White House.

In 1829, President Andrew Jackson paid $1,451.75 for an elaborate table service of cut and engraved glassware from the same factory.

American glass was coming into its own in every conceivable size, shape and form. One of the first companies to perfect a method for pressing glass was The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Mass. Sandwich became the major glassmaker and nowadays is a common name in glass history and collecting.

Old glassware can be a minefield for the novice collector. Irish, English and American examples are sometimes faked and forged. Knowing the difference is a delicate distinction.

Pontil marks (mark left from where the glass separated from the blower) on the bottom can sometimes be a good indicator of age. Marks could either be rough or ground down and polished.

Old pieces should also show at least a rim of wear around the edge. On a genuine piece, the wear shows evenly.

On Sept. 27-29, Green Valley Auctions in Mt. Crawford, Va., featured its early American and oil lamp auction. Here are some current values for early glass.

Glass highlights

Pitcher and four tumblers; water set; New Martinsville Glass; Heart in Sand pattern; ruby stained; early-20th century; $3,200.

Covered compote; early thumbprint pattern; ball form; mid-19th century; 14¾ inches high; $3,700.

Decanter; blown-molded pint variety; waffle and thumbprint pattern; Boston and Sandwich Glass; circa 1850-1870; 12¾ inches high; $4,250.

Milk pitcher; frosted glass; lion pattern; late-19th century; rare; seven inches high; $6,000.

Covered oval dish; pattern: princess feather medallion and basket of flowers; Boston and Sandwich Glass; circa 1830-1845; 8¾ inches by 10½ inches; $6,500.

Hairpin tray; peacock-shaped; Boston and Sandwich Glass; circa 1830-1840, 8 inches by 9¼ inches; $9,750.

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