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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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"Eagle in Flight;" signed Mike Murphy and John Maloney; dated 3-14-98; 17 3/4inches high; $10,350. Photo courtesy of Ivey-Selkirk
It was the worst nightmare the Irish people could imagine. Where the potatoes once grew, there was rotting pulp. A farmer was digging potatoes on Monday. By Tuesday, the blight descended and the same potatoes were unfit for man or beast. Between 1845 and 1851, the food source for 3 million people vanished.

With the potato famine went the people, a mass flight led to the exodus of starving farmers as well as skilled craftsmen. Five thousand ships set sail across the Atlantic. The Irish traveled in no greater comfort than the slaves before them.

Ireland’s glass industry shattered too.

The Irish art of Waterford crystal was no more. The factory doors closed in 1851 and it would take 100-years for it to come back.

Destruction like creation comes and goes.

In 1783, businessmen George and William Penrose opened the Waterford Glass House in Ireland. Waterford became a glassmaking center simply because it was a harbor town. Coal fueled the ovens and since Ireland had little coal, it was imported.

The Penrose brothers came up with a way to mix minerals and glass that resulted in crystal, crystal that was called as fine as any in Europe.

It was pure in color with deep-cut patterns that allowed the light to dance through its prisms. It was soft and warm to the touch, yet tough and sparkling. When tapped, it sang sweetly.

The old crystal stemware, finger bowls, and decanters are rare now and Waterford has become a generic term referring to the type of glass produced there. Today, Waterford’s main manufacturing plant sits on a 40-acre site on the edge of the city made famous by its crystal.

The techniques and tools for making Waterford crystal have changed little since the opening of the first Waterford glassmaking factory in 1783.

Glass blowers gather around the huge furnace that holds the molten crystal. Wooden blocks and molds shape the blank crystal chambers and the glass blowers hands, breath, and skill will decide the thickness of each piece.

Once the crystal cools, the master cutters trace a rough design from memory on each blank and control the depth of each cut. As a result, no two pieces of Waterford are identical.

The new Waterford is similar to the old. New items include clocks, chandeliers and novelty items all made of lead crystal.

Pieces of Waterford can be identified by the stenciled block-letter signature on the base, or a Waterford logo with the name inside.

Outstanding quality is Waterford’s trademark, so you won’t find any seconds to purchase at a lower cost because pieces with flaws are destroyed.

Value depends on condition, age, and elaborate cutting. On March 15, Ivey-Selkirk in St. Louis featured a selection of Waterford crystal in its spring auction. Here are some current values.

Waterford crystal

Penrose bowl; rosette-notched rim; decorated with panels of cross-cut diamonds; signed Roy Cunningham, stamped WS 1996; 8 inches diameter; $143.

Vase; Abraham Lincoln memorial; square with chamfered corners decorated with flute cuts; 10 inches high; $287.

Liberty Bowl; scalloped rim, decorated with deep oval flat cuts having vertical flutes radiating towards the rim; inspired by Benjamin Franklin and representing the rising sun and hope of a new nation; 9 3/4 inches diameter; $316.

Ice pail with silver plate tongs; tapered body and fluted rim; above bands of flute and thumbprint cutting; incised 29/1,000, stamped WS 2000, 7 1/2 inches high; $373.

Decanter; with star-cut mushroom stopper and cross-cut diamond body; a decoration which Irish-born architect James Hoban incorporated and designed for the White House; 12 1/2 inches high; $460.

Eagle in Flight; signed Mike Murphy and John Maloney; dated 3-14-98; 17 3/4 inches high; $10,350.

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