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 questions.

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 obvious.

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 fakery.

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.

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