A few things to keep an eye out for when considering whether a purportedly antique glass is genuine and in good condition

The acquisition
of genuine 17th, 18th and early 19th century glassware as
a hobby is fraught with pitfalls and the potential for being misled by the
uninformed or mendacious is significant. If you’ve read any of our previous
posts you’ll be aware that deliberate fakery has – at specific times – been
undertaken on a near industrial scale (witness Elizabeth Graydon-Stannus of
Graystan glass fame and her “antique Irish glassware”, and the work of Franz
Tieze, the “copyist” who specialised in reproducing Jacobite glasses that
fooled museum curators. Factor in the availability of genuine pieces that have
been repaired or ground down for resale as undamaged, and the general
misdirection, mislabeling or simple and wholly innocent ignorance which may
lead pieces being sold under erroneous descriptions for inaccurate pricing, and
you have a minefield sufficiently well-set to catch out even experienced
collectors, let alone the novice.There are,
however, a few general guidelines that should stand you in good stead, and a
bit of preparatory work will enable you to avoid all but the most deliberate
and subtly-orchestrated instances of misdirection.

Firstly –
remember what it is that you are buying. Glasses from the periods mentioned are
at least 200 years old, and almost exclusively hand-made. As a result, they
will carry the scars of having been around for that length of time which,
although perhaps insignificant, can bear percipient testament to the age of a
piece. The feet of glasses which have been in use over time will show instances
of what is sometimes known as “mossing” – a myriad of tiny scratches in random
directions of varying size and depth from having been put down on hard
surfaces, pushed across table tops, stood in ceramic sinks or on stone mantles
– general use and abuse; this will result in faint “clouding” to the area of
the foot which is in contact with whatever flat surfaces on which it might have
been placed.  Such wear and tear can be added artificially, but it lacks
the random nature of the real thing , it will invariably feel far too prominent
– genuine “mossing” is more of a patina rather than physically discernible
scratches, as it is made up of striations, chips and bumps which have
themselves been rubbed down over time to the stage of being little more than a
blurred shadow of their former selves; anything too obvious is unlikely to have
had a century or two of continual burnishing to render it so indistinct !

Other damage –
more obvious chips, nicks to the rim, tooth marks, tiny bruises made from
glasses being clinked together – purposefully for a toast or otherwise – are
also likely to be present to some degree on any period piece. If they are
entirely missing on something sold as all but the most outstanding example of
any article, the glass has either been lovingly wrapped in velvet and lain
untouched for two hundred years or so, been restored, or was made an awful lot
more recently than you may have been lead to believe.

The way in which
damage has been hidden can also be a tell-tale sign. Chipped feet can be
reground, with the uneven edges polished off and the foot as a whole reduced in
diameter. As a general rule of thumb, period glasses would have had feet that
were wider than their rims – and although not a hard and fast rule, anything
going against the grain with regard to these general proportions should
probably raise some initial suspicion. When a foot has been ground down then it
may appear to have a flat rather than curved and tapered edge, wear may be
entirely absent or it may have been artificially applied, as above. The
fire-polished edge on a foot will always be a little thicker than the rest of
the base – when removed by grinding the foot can appear to be either overly
thick or very thin at its edge, insubstantial and out of proportion with the
rest of the piece.

The underside of
the foot may have been re-contoured to present a more realistic concave
appearance – look out for radial “spoke lines” which should very
definitely set alarm bells ringing. Feet can also be completely replaced when
damaged – in such instances stems are “sunk” into a new foot. Similarly,
if the unscrupulous vendor has a number of damaged items to hand, it’s not
unheard of to find glasses being cannibalised – intact stems and feet being
grafted on to broken bowls to replace damaged originals and vice versa –
nothing is too much trouble where the potential to make money is concerned. In
such a deception, you may be presented with a glass made from genuine antique
parts – which make up an entirely worthless whole; look for slight variations
in the appearance of the metal across foot, stem and bowl – minor differences
in clarity or hue can be indicative of such composite frauds, particularly if
you notice a “crack” or incomplete join at one of the points where pieces may
have been joined together.

You should also
take note of the general form of a glass. Old pieces have, as stated, been
handmade which very much mitigates against them being perfect in any number of
ways. The proportions are unlikely to be 100% symmetrical, for a start. Modern
technology has given us a good way of checking this by the simple expedient of
taking a digital photo of a piece, then using image editing software to clone one
half of the image (use a section down the midline from top to bottom); flip one
half and superimpose it over the other – an exact match indicates a perfectly
evenly made piece, which is highly unlikely to be the case should it be a
genuine period example ! Rims may be uneven, stems slightly offset from the
exact midline, knops a little unevenly moulded, bowls teased in to shape
marginally more towards one side than another and so on – it simply may not
even stand up straight ! Consider the likelihood of a glass maker in a
dimly-lit workplace with less than perfect tools at his disposal being able to
turn out a piece of which one half is the exact mirror image of the other; if
you have software available that can reduce the transparency of one layer of an
image, do this with the superimposed and flipped half of your picture – it
shows the non-symmetrical nature of glasses very readily indeed, and if they do
match exactly – then beware !

Also, pay
attention to the overall structure of an item of stemware. Most pieces – and
excuse the rather woolly generalisation – just “look right”; stem and bowl in
proportion, broad foot, even to the extent of being comfortable in the hand.
Our website – showing both currently available and previously sold items –
provides a very extensive catalogue of glasses, so take a browse through the
section specific to something you might consider buying and get an idea of the
sort of thing that has already been sold on – anything that looks out of the
ordinary or just plain odd should at the very least prompt some further

Then, of course,
there is the crystal itself. Again, be mindful of what it is that you are
buying – something that is the result of largely unrefined, almost constantly
evolving process of experimentation, trial and error. Flawless crystal was the
exception rather than the rule, so period glassware is more than likely to have
imperfections or inclusions. These can take the form of unintentional air
bubbles (sometimes just tiny, bright pinpricks), impurities from the
constituent parts of the glass which appear as residual specks of solid matter
(sand or lime) – or sometimes tiny black flecks of incompletely-burned material
from the furnaces (coal, charcoal, soot). These vestigial flaws are by no means
present on every period piece, but their presence is a good indication that you
are looking at something that has some age to it.

There are then
physical properties which indicate that a glass has been handmade at a time
where the process left its own defining marks. These may be, quite literally,
tooling marks where a bowl has been held in place during manufacture while the
foot was added. These tend to take the form of almost imperceptible lines
called pucella marks or “fold lines” near the rim of the bowl, and are a
good indication of 18th century production, after which time more delicate
tools came in to use which minimised the marking to a point where it becomes
almost totally invisible. The best way to see these marks is to hold your glass
up to a light, tilt the rim towards you and look through the farthest “side”,
turning the glass by the stem as you do so; it’s a case of trying to “catch”
the marks in the right light – but once you have seen them, they become quite

Perhaps the most
conspicuous of these manufacturing marks is the pontil mark – the residual
“lump” underneath the foot where it was stuck to punty or pontil iron with a
gob of glass whilst it was presented to the stem during assembly. This was then
snapped off once the pieces had adhered, leaving an irregular scar. These
pontil marks are the reason that early glasses have feet which are conical or
domed, so that the roughened residual stem would be kept away from precious
table tops rather than gouging great scratches in them. Folded feet can also be
reproduced but they invariably tend to appear to be much thicker than would be
the case if they were entirely genuine. Again, bear in mind the environment in
which period glasses were made – it’s always a reassuring sight to come across
a little dirt trapped within the fold.

As the 18th
century progressed, it became increasingly usual to “grind out” or polish
pontil scars, and feet became flatter as the need to raise the now smoother
base of the stem away from surfaces was removed. The presence of unground
“snapped pontils” is therefore a good indication that a glass is likely to
pre-date the Regency period. Again, it should be noted that reproductions
intended to be sold as original pieces can be made with these same “snapped” pontils,
so their presence is not definitive but, as with the other things we have
noted, it’s something else that can be added to your investigative notes to
build up the picture of a glass’s likely provenance. Look at the striations on
a polished pontil, make sure they all run in one direction – concentric circles
are indicative of modern, rotary grinding by machine and are indicative of

So, there are the
basics, but this is by no means a comprehensive guide. Of course, if there is
ever anything that you are thinking of buying, and would like to run past us
for our opinion, then please do feel free to do so. Send us a few pictures
(look at products on our site for an idea of the sort of image which comes in
handy) and let us take a look – we’ll be delighted to offer an opinion or arm
you with the pertinent questions that should be asked.

With regard to
restored glass, legitimately sold as such or otherwise, most dealers in Britain
use the same restorer; we know who they are and they remain busy, yet very
little restored glass seems to be described as such. If pushed, we can point to
items that have been made available via public auction, which were sold with
once-scratched bowls or chipped feet and yet fail to reference such seemingly
pertinent points in their catalogue descriptions…

We are firmly of
the opinion that restoration, however, should be embraced not shunned – as long
as it is undertaken with complete transparency. When done well it can remove or
fill unsightly blemishes, replace broken drops on lustres and stabilise
stress-cracks in handles. These are positive steps to take, in the vast
majority of cases. We often arrange for glass and porcelain to be restored
on behalf of customers, and hope that it becomes as widely used and accepted
with regard to period glassware as it is with soft paste, hard paste and bone
china items – this will go a long way towards removing the temptation to
obfuscate the truth.

website search results for items which have been repaired