What is generally referred to as “cut glass” is simply a product that results from grinding blown or molded glass on a wheel to shape its edges and etch designs upon the surface. The art dates back to at least the fifteenth century B.C. in ancient Egypt, where both large and small hand-blown vessels were decorated and finished by being ground upon metal wheels. The technique is also described in the writings of Pliny during the Roman Empire, and cut glass flourished in Constantinople during the twelfth century. Save up to 70% on Pots, Pans, & Cookware at Overstock.com! As in other fine decorative arts, however, the practice took many years to spread westward. While certain Italian glassmakers used the technique during the Renaissance, there is no evidence to suggest that cut glass was produced in England earlier than the eighteenth century. Most English designs were relatively simple, employing only straight lines in their patterns, cut from only a few basic molds. In 1851, the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London displayed innovative works that demonstrated a growing trend toward more intricate designs. Many such pieces were exported to the United States, influencing American glasscutters to a marked degree. It was from this point forward that American cut glass began demonstrating a unique style that has continued to mature for many decades.
The story of American cut glass actually begins in Boston, Massachussets in 1812, when an Englishman named Thomas Caines began working for Boston Crown Glass Company, which at the time was engaged primarily in the manufacture of window glass. Caines taught the owners how to produce a fine grade of flint glass, which it is believed was used to produce the first pieces of cut glass ever made in America. Eight years later, he opened his own flint glass crystal shop, Phoenix Glass Works, directly across the street from his former employer in South Boston (Suffolk). The manufactory continued producing cut glass until after 1870, outliving the South Boston Crown Glass Company, which closed in 1843.
Perhaps inspired by Caines innovation, three former employees of South Boston Crown Glass Company attempted their own cut glass manufactory in East Cambridge in 1815. It failed, however, and two years later was sold at an auction. The purchasers relit the old six-pot furnace the previous owners had used, and began the New England Glass Company in 1817 with a capital of only $40,000. By 1878, despite significant growth to include five furnaces and 500 employees, the original owners retired and leased the manufactory to William L. Libbey. Nine years later his son moved the plant to Toledo Ohio, where the famous Libbey Glass Company was born.
Cut glass had a slightly slower start in New York, first produced by Joseph Stouvenal in 1837. Throughout the first half of the decade, he would become one of the largest cut glass manufactures in New York, though his products were mostly limited to glass domes for oil lamps. It was, not surprisingly, a Bostoner who established the more influential crystal dinnerware manufactory in New York during this time. Amory Houghton, previous owner of Union Glass Works in Somerville, Massachussets, established the Corning Flint Glass Works in 1868. Due to the tremendous influence of the pieces produced in this factory, Corning, New York became an epicenter of cut glass dinnerware in the United States. It was in this city that J. Hoare & Company, O.F. Egginton Company, H.P. Sinclaire & Company, Hunt & Sullivan, and T.G. Hawkes & Company-just to name a few-were established.
By the end of the nineteenth century, cut glass manufactures in Boston and New York developed a style that was uniquely American. In 1880, the introduction of fan-scallops, rosettes, and curved miter cut patterns provided inspiration for numerous cut glass manufactures attempting to produce innovative styles. The “Russian” pattern, designed by Phillip McDonald in 1882 for T.G. Hawkes & Co., represented a radical break with the European past and marked the beginning of American patterns that would continue to increase in richness and quality. Even more revolutionary was John O. Conner’s “Parisian” pattern, which in 1886 represented the first pattern in cut glass history to employ curved, as opposed to straight, lines.
There are numerous pieces of antique cut glass in the Nacq Partners, Ltd. collection, and while it has not always been possible to identify the exact manufacturers, all of them demonstrate the exceptional jewel-like quality that has made cut glass so cherished in this country. From decanters to sugar bowls, bottles to pitchers, vases to candleholders, you are sure to find the treasures you are looking for.