Colored glass has been cut since ancient times. In the United States, colored cut glass was produced in quantity in New England during the 1850s. This early colored cutting style emulated the work of Bohemian glassmakers, who had perfected the technique of casing or plating different layers of colored glass over clear glass. Decorative designs were then cut through the layer or layers to reveal the colorless glass beneath.
A new American style of heavy all-over cutting emerged following the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. These new elaborate designs were perfectly suited to the flamboyant Victorian taste of the period. Developments in glass technology resulted in the production of thick fine quality lead glass blanks with a high index of refraction. When cut with intricate patterns, the clarity of the lead glass reflected light, emitting a brilliance and sparkle. The name “Brilliant” became associated with this period in American glass, which lasted from about 1876 to 1915.
Probably the most beautiful and rare Brilliant cut glass ever produced was colored or color cut to clear. Due to its scarcity, many collectors and experts suggest that these colored pieces were not part of a company’s regular production line, but were special order individual pieces or custom-made presentation items. Very few patterns are known and still less are illustrated in the catalogs of companies that produced colored cut wares.
The number of cutting firms that cut colored pieces was quite small in relationship to the total number of companies that produced cut glass. Even fewer companies melted their glass and made their own color layered blanks. Companies such as C. Dorflinger & Sons, the New England Glass Company (later known as the Libbey Glass Company), Mt. Washington Glass Company (which became the Pairpoint Glass Company) and the Union Glass Company were some of the firms that made colored blanks and sold them to independent cutting shops.
Cutting shops that purchased their blanks not only purchased American-made blanks but also imported European examples. Today, it is almost impossible to sort out just where many of these uncut pieces originated.
Brilliant period and post-Brilliant period (1915-1930) colored cut glass included in this exhibition can be divided into three general categories. The first is cutting on solid color or one-color pieces. The second is cased glass, usually made of a transparent layer of colored glass plated over a colorless layer, in which the colored layer is cut through to reveal the clear layer. Finally, the third category is a border or a band of color, with the majority of the piece remaining colorless.
Solid or one-body colored cut pieces are really self-explanatory. The blank or uncut desired shape was fashioned from a single color. After the piece had cooled slowly, a process called annealing, the pattern was drawn on the piece with a red or black fluid. The piece was then given to the rougher who cut the main outline of the pattern and made deep cuts into the piece by pressing the blank against a rapidly spinning steel or stone wheel. This wheel, called a mill, had a mixture of abrasive and water dripping on it from above, which aided in the cutting.
Once the pattern had been roughed, the piece was then passed on to be smoothed. During this process, the rough cuts were refined and the more intricate lines were cut by utilizing a variety of smaller stone wheels. After these lines were completed, the piece was then polished with felt or wooden wheels to buff out all the whitish cut areas. To cut costs in later years, many companies eliminated this time consuming polishing process with polishing acids.
Several unusual solid color cut pieces were selected for this exhibition. Three were cut in the “Russian” pattern, one of the most popular designs ever cut. The bowl, in a striking red-amber color, was probably made by the New England Glass Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or possibly the Mount Washington Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the 1880s. The extremely rare champagne pitcher in Amberina (ruby shaded to amber) was produced by the New England Glass Company of Cambridge, Massachusetts, before the firm moved to Toledo and changed its name to the Libbey Glass Company. This shaped cut pitcher was illustrated in an 1884 New England Glass Company advertisement.
The third “Russian” piece is a decanter made of a solid body color of straw-amber over clear with an applied clear handle, which is also cut. Another piece, included in the exhibit, illustrates a similar combination of two solid colors. It is a tall vase of a light green color with a colorless stem and foot. The vase was cut in the “Lotus” pattern and is attributed to the Eggington Glass Company of Corning, New York.
Two champagne color pieces, a basket and a pitcher, were lent to the exhibition by the Jones Museum of Glass and Ceramics. Both pieces are illustrated in the Union Glass Company of Somerville, Massachusetts, catalog of blanks which were offered for sale to numerous cutting houses. The two pieces are part of the DeCordova Collection of Union Glass Company glassware on permanent loan to the Jones Museum.
The most exceptional and probably unique piece of solid color cutting is the green kerosene lamp which stands 36 inches tall. Cut in a strawberry-diamond pattern, the maker is unknown but could have been the T.G. Hawkes Company of Corning, New York.
A vibrant purple cut bowl was also borrowed from the Jones Museum. The pattern cut into the bowl is unknown, as is the maker. Upon close examination of the bowl, the purple color appears not to be the true color of the glass. The purple was achieved by means of a stain, which was then reheated to permanently affix the color.
The second grouping of Brilliant cut colored pieces in the exhibition are cased examples. A layer of colored glass was applied over the surface of colorless glass. When cut, the colorless glass was revealed in the elaborate facets. Over the years, many different terms have been used to describe this type of glassware. Cased, plated, flashed and overlay are the most common. Glossaries included in cut glass books and dictionaries on glass all give different and varying definitions of these words.
To be consistent, cased glass will be the word used to describe this multi-layered glass. These blanks could have been manufactured in two different methods. The least complicated was to gather a gob of colorless glass and inflate the gob into a small bubble. The bubble was then dipped and rolled into a molten batch of colored glass, applying a thin layer to the colorless surface. The piece was then fashioned into the desired object.
The second and more involved method was to fashion a cup of colored glass. While still hot, this cup was removed from the blowpipe and set upright in a holding mold. A gather of colorless glass was inserted into the cup and inflated, adhering the two surfaces. The double-layered bubble was then fashioned into the blank.
Emerald, ruby varying to shades of cranberry, and cobalt were the most used colors. Two outstanding examples of cased color are the punch bowls included in the exhibit. The emerald cut to clear punch bowl with eight cups and silver ladle was produced by C. Dorflinger & Sons in its popular “Marlboro” pattern.
The second punch bowl, in ruby cut to clear, was cut at the American Cut Glass Company of Goshen, New York, operated by John S. O’Conner. The magnificent punch bowl, cut in the firm’s “Star” pattern, was given as a special gift to Mary O’Conner Cusick, daughter of John O’Conner.
The most common form of cased color cut was stemware. Combining clear stems with clear or colored feet, the variety appears almost endless.
Border, banded or spotted color was achieved by applying small areas of color to a colorless gather of glass. When completed, the majority of the blank was clear. Designs were then cut into both the colored areas and the clear areas.
Brilliant cut pieces with spotted areas of color found on bases and handles were made by the Empire Cut Glass Company of Flemington, New Jersey. These examples are rare and unusual because, unlike the border or banded pieces, the colored cut areas appear to be one solid color. The creamer and sugar with gold bottoms and gold applied handles are examples of this uncommon Empire style. The nappy with an electric blue bottom and handle was also cut at the Empire firm about 1908.
The border or banded color cut pieces with simple cut flutes and engraved decoration were produced at companies such as the H.P. Sinclaire Company and the Steuben Glass Works. These pieces date from the post-Brilliant period of the 1920s.
Colored cutting continued to be manufactured on a limited basis during the 1920s and early 1930s. The cutting and engraving was simpler in design on cased or solid colored pieces. Companies noted for these examples were the Pairpoint Glass Company, the Libbey Glass Company, Steuben Glass Works, and the Durand Art Glass Division of the Vineland Flint Glass Works.
Several unusual or unique pieces were also included in the exhibition. The green cut to clear dinner plate with wide sterling silver border is part of a twelve piece set made by the H.P. Sinclaire Company of Corning. The silver is marked “Grogan Company” of Pittsburgh. Engraved on the silver border with the initials “HJH”, the dinner plates were a special order for the Heinz family.
The gold iridescent pitcher was made by the Tiffany Glass Company and marked “Favrile.” The tankard was cut to reveal the plain gold glass beneath the iridescence in a floral and bordered design.
The bowl is the only example of three-layer glass exhibited. Made of a transparent green glass cased over pink over clear, it is cut in a naturalistic design of flowers and leaves. The maker is unknown.
Hundreds of thousands of pieces of cut glass were produced in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is believed that color cut comprised less than one percent of that amount. Today, these rare, uniquely American examples of cut glass, with their intricate, geometric and naturalistic designs, are eagerly sought by collectors.