How the pedestal stem moved from early 18th century affectation to a staple of Regency glass design

Right – deep breath required for this one, everyone…..and - let’s begin:
The term pedestal stem is another example of the glass collecting fraternity feeling the irresistible urge to come up with a collective name which can be applied to a disparate range of glasses which all share a specific characteristic, and do not fit in to any other readily available category. It is the current vogueish replacement for the now largely redundant term “Silesian stem”, which was originally coined due the fact that glasses with a particular common feature may possibly have come – in the first instance - from central Europe, perhaps Silesia; which definitely appeared when there was a Hanoverian (or German) King on the throne of England; that kind of resemble the sort of thing that Bohemian glassmakers were once fond of turning out and which were once deemed to be just as likely to have come from Thuringia, a German former landgraviate which was also referred to as a “Stammesherzogtümer” or Stem Duchy, which ceased to exist as an administrative entity for 700 years before being resurrected as a federal state in the aftermath of the First World War. And if that sounded a little disjointed and nonsensical, it was supposed to – there is no irrefutable proof that any of that had any bearing on the derivation of the term Silesian stem – which is, to be honest, why it has been discarded over more recent, thoughtful times. The apparent willingness at one time or another to quite happily accept this purported Silesian or Thuringian heritage for glasses of this nature is, one can surmise, due to the fact that they most definitely bore a resemblance to Bohemian glasses which were available around 1700 with cut stems, exhibiting distinctive long, flat facets – a rather non-specific central European background must have therefore seemed to be an at least partly plausible hypothesis to the casual observer. Earlier glasses of a similar structure have been attributed to Venetian glasshouses but it should be noted that in spite of all this much-mooted European provenance, the earliest example of a properly moulded pedestal stem that has been demonstrably shown to come from a traceable source is an English-made example from 1715. It is entirely likely that English glassmakers sought to reproduce purportedly German styles to take advantage of the clamour for all things Teutonic once a certain Georg Ludwig had been installed on the throne the previous year. It’s the moulding that is the key to differentiating later pedestals from the early cut versions – more of that anon…
Initially, however – cast your mind back to our discourse on baluster stems, and consider from which sphere of endeavour that particular name was borrowed (come on now – think…); ready or not, it’s time to plunge once again in to the murky world or architecture…
Balusters you may recall were the vertical, features with distinctive, symmetrically curved, profiles that were used to construct balustrades or bannisters, and the term was appropriated to mean any glass stem that shared a similar form. Pedestals, or plinths, are similarly architectural features which supported columns or pilasters, from Roman times to the renaissance, adding both a firm physical footing and an enhanced notion of stability and structural integrity to whatever it was they were placed underneath. It therefore seemed entirely reasonable to use the same term to refer to glass stems which did a similar job for the bowls on to which they were fused. Further commonality can be found with the fact that most pedestal stems were, in fact, inverted balusters – wider at the top near the bowl and narrower at the foot, a characteristic which ideally suited their means of production.
Whatever the derivation of the name, the process by which pedestal stems was made is less open to conjecture – they were produced using moulds, but not in what might be regarded as the conventional manner. Instead of entirely filling the void carved within a form of wood or sand with near-liquid glass, more akin to the manner in which molten metal would be cast, the process would see an unmarvered mass of glass (which would become a parison if it were to be subsequently blown, but it wasn’t, so let’s just call it a blob) placed in to the most capacious part of a two-part mould. The corresponding half was then set in to position, squashing the blob in to place, and still-malleable crystal then be pulled or drawn through the full length of the mould, tapering from one end to the other. This – helpfully – gives yet another twist to the names of the stems, in that they are sometimes known as having been drawn (and whatever you do ignore the use of the word twist just now – they’re another wholly different form of stem entirely…) So, now we know how to make the things, but what they should properly be called is about as clear as some of Ravenscroft’s earliest abortive, badly crizzled lead crystal, full of sooty inclusions, unintentional tears, unfused silicates and - well, basically lacking any sort of clarity whatsoever…
It’s possible to indulge in further obfuscation if one takes on board that the pedestal stems drawn in this manner were being made with the intention of ending up with flat rather than rounded edges (similar to the Bohemian cut facets as above) – four to the earliest examples and with later pieces being hexagonal or octagonal in section. As these stems would feature elongated “panels” on each side, it will come as no surprise to you that they were  sometimes referred to as panel stems – so that’s now five distinct names for essentially the same thing !
In the context of stemware, the pedestals were used predominantly with funnel or trumpet bowls, though a browse through our back catalogue will demonstrate that single and double ogees (both lipped and waisted), buckets, round funnels (sometimes saucer topped) and saucer-topped cups also made an appearance. The stems themselves may well be further augmented with merses or cushion knops to the top and/or bottom, and – not uncommonly –with cut or moulded stars at the widest point which formed something akin to a false shoulder-knop. Equally, it was not uncommon for the stems to also be decorated by the inclusion of tears, or impressed graphic elements or text that were included in the moulds. The addition of these plinth-like features at either end would ensure that the finished stems resembled architectural pedestals even more closely.

What you cannot fail to have noticed when taking a look at any selection of pedestal stemware is that the stems had a tendency to be quite substantial, and ultimately this helped the form to endure long after its initial popularity with the drinking public had waned. As the 18th century progressed, we have already established that an ever-increasing amount of glass tableware was required to adorn Gillows’ finest mahogany pieces of the upwardly mobile and rather bourgeois middle classes; sweetmeat bowls were amongst these newly-indispensable accoutrements, and what better to provide a solid base for something that diners were going to be manhandling and jostling than a nice, sturdy pedestal stem. In combination with lipped, scalloped, waisted or flared ogee, double ogee, round funnel or saucer bowls, these pedestal-stemmed sweetmeats remained popular until the advent of the Regency period, meaning that the stem-type – under any one of its five different guises – remained at the forefront of British glass design for the best part of 100 years.

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the items in the image below show pedestal stemware from the 1730 and 1740's, then the 1750's, 1760's and finally late Georgain and Regency pedestal sweetmeats

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