Lynn-sand glassware – resplendent with its peculiar hoops

From a purely personal point of
view it’s gratifying to see that we’ve been able to add one particular item to
our catalogue of sale glass recently – a Georgian carafe, some 250 years old.
It’s rather plain compared to some, with one or two small imperfections and a
particularly unrefined appearance. Nothing special at all you may think, and
the only decoration which it does carry is a set of seven broad, concentric
horizontal rings to the inner surface, but these mark it out as being a piece
of Lynn glass, a range which just happens to be my particular favourite. Not
only is it a mark with solid, British provenance without any undue frippery or
overindulgent foibles (none of your convoluted Façon de Venise ornamentation or
Bohemian extravagance with these elemental beauties) but it’s also an excuse to
trot out my most studious bit of glass-related research, which – with apologies
to those who may have come across it before – I shall now regurgitate for your
edification and delight…

Lynn glass is a generic term for
18th glassware which is identified by this sort of horizontal banding. It’s a
simply-applied ornamentation, which is also regularly referred to as “Lynn
moulding” in spite of actually being a tooled finish rather than one which is
moulded in any way. Curiously, though, in the world of antique glass where
terminology is unfailingly exact when used to describe particular aspects of
glassware, there are no hard and fast rules with regard to what features a
piece must display in order to carry this particular name. The rings can be of
different widths, applied to the inner, outer or both surfaces of a piece,
either completely uniform or quite uneven and – perhaps most surprisingly –
liable to appear in any number. There are examples bearing the Lynn epithet
which have anything from three to a full dozen such rings – hardly an exacting
criteria when it comes to labelling an item with a specific designation.

Furthermore, the banded
decoration has been applied to several different types of glassware: wine
glasses, carafes, decanters, finger bowls, tumblers, cordials, colourless
crystal and – very occasionally – blue glass and pieces which carry additional
engraving – these last two variants being of singular rarity, to the best of my
knowledge. Tableware – syllabub or handled jelly glasses – have also been
recorded bearing the tell-tale rings. There are also similarly uncommon
examples of stemware which have moulded, terraced feet, mirroring the linear
decoration on their bowls in a rather pleasing manner, as does one of the
aforementioned dessert pieces.

With regard specifically to
stemware, there are two sub-groups in to which pieces can be allocated. The
first significantly less-refined examples have a somewhat insubstantial
composition, with small feet, ill-defined banding and a tendency to be made
from a lower grade of crystal which exhibits a slight cloudiness. The second
order then seems to consist of pieces which have been far more competently put
together – made of clearer crystal, more sturdily proportioned and with clearly
defined banding. It is not clear whether these variants are the products of
different manufactories or simply earlier and later examples of an evolving
style from one source.

With such non-specific design
specifications being loosely applied to the rather vagarious pieces that made
up the Lynn glass collective, the one aspect that was generally assumed to lend
some sort of commonality to them all was where they might have been
manufactured. The name is ostensibly derived from the town of Kings Lynn in
Norfolk, East Anglia – formerly Lynn Regis or just plain Lynn. The only problem
with this is that there is little or no evidence of the town ever having had a
significant glass manufacturing industry, certainly not one that could have
produced sufficient numbers of like pieces to warrant them all carrying the
name as an identifier !

In spite of this rather damning
lack of provenance, however, there is documentary evidence to establish the use
of the name in a broader context, as we shall see – but next, what of the town
itself and its purported glassmaking industry ?

Lynn’s glassmaking production was
restricted to just one or two manufactories operating from the very late 17th
century onwards under the auspices of Messrs Francis Jackson and John Straw,
and following on from Isaac Harrison’s earlier bottle-glass house. There are
several depositions on record from these gentlemen to their local MP’s
appealing for a reduction in glass tax, as the consequent increase in price of
their products restricted sales and threatened the viability of the operation,
which provided a significant source of employment for the townsfolk. These
remonstrations fell on deaf ears, and the trade remained hampered by the
imposition of the taxation for its entire duration, something which also
mitigated against the broader expansion of any glassmaking enterprise in the

The reason for the initial
establishment of the albeit small trade in the area brings us to the origins of
the name in its current usage. Naturally, industrial premises have always
sought to locate themselves favourably, and in this instance it was the
presence of extremely high quality glassmaking sand that prompted their
establishment near Lynn. Easily found just to the east of town, near
Dersingham, the sand was noted as being one of the area’s most significant
exports – most notably as listed in the quite splendidly entitled Penny
Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; Vol 13-14
(1838). This publication includes a lengthy piece about every aspect of Lynn,
it’s topography, the demographic make-up of the population, the profile of
local trades and so on. It makes specific reference to the export of fine sand
– but there is no mention at all of a locally based glass manufacturing
industry, something which would undoubtedly have been well documented had it
been extant.

The high quality of this Lynn
sand is often commented upon in contemporary writing, with records of it being
exported far and wide to Newcastle, Leith (Edinburgh), the Waterford crystal
works in Ireland and even to France where it was evidently equally as highly
regarded as it was on this side of the channel. Any 18th century “recipe” for
good quality crystal will inevitably include a proportion of “Lynn sand” in its
make-up. In conclusion, then, we are left with little reason to do anything
other than to fully concur with Nathaniel Whittock, writing in The Decorative
Painters’ and Glaziers’ Guide (I T Hinton 1828) who asserts, fairly
unequivocally, that:

The sand most fit for making
white, transparent glass is that brought from Lynn in Norfolk, by the name of
which place it is distinguished.

And there you have it –
contemporary affirmation that Lynn glass was a term applied to any wares
manufactured using the sand which was sourced from the area, entirely without
regard to where the pieces may have actually been produced. The commonality of
the banded decorations is clearly based on little more than its application
being a popular and straightforward way in which to augment the high quality
Lynn-sand glassware, which – on reflection – might have been a more appropriate
name for the pieces and gone some way to avoid the ensuing misconception as to
its place of manufacture. As the bands are technically known as “internal optic
corrugations”, and are intended to refract light in order to enhance the
appearance of a piece, it’s clear that they would be best applied to good
quality, clear crystal articles made from the aforementioned sand, so there is
no surprise that the decorative form and the name of the distinctive material
included in their composition have become synonymous over time.

The name as a distinction of the
similarly-decorated pieces does however provide a useful label by which they
can easily be referred in the absence of any other distinguishing features –
place of origin, manufacturer, manufacturing process, commonality of form or
any of the other usual identifiers. Given the variety of different items which
have been shown to exhibit the delineating bands, it is actually quite a
broad-ranging category and one which would constitute a very worthwhile
collection to assemble should anyone be so inclined – do let us know if you
intend to go after examples of Lynn glass, I’d personally be very interested to
hear if you manage to track anything down !

site search results for Lynn glass