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Glass - some clear tips for collecting vintage and antique glassware.

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Here at Emprades you may have noticed that we have a bit of a thing for antique and vintage glass and crystal. The famous Danish glass designer Per Lutken stated that 'Glass is Life'. Now, that may be a little extreme even for us... but glass is certainly an incredible and unique medium that offers virtually endless scope for the designer and collector.

Whether you collect or intend to collect glass or crystal or would just like to procure a statement piece for your home we would love to share some of our tips to consider before you purchase. 

This blog will be added to over time and will include tips on assessing the condition and quality of glassware before you invest your hard earned money!  We will also pass on some of our tips for cleaning and caring for your antique and vintage glassware. 

Firstly, the condition of the piece is paramount. If you are collecting then you will want your items to be in excellent condition, as the value of any collectible glassware is seriously compromised by damage. However, if you are purchasing for your home for display purposes a small chip to the base of a vase will not detract at all from the visual effect of the piece and hence the enjoyment gained. Following are some factors to consider when assessing the condition of the piece.

This sounds pretty simple, but you would be surprised how often this can be overlooked. Firstly, inspect the rim of the piece. It should be smooth and free of chips. Be sure to hold the piece to the light and check the inside and outside edge. Then, if it looks fine gently run your finger around the rim to see if it feels smooth. Check that the rim is level and even. Sometimes people have chips ground out with a wheel and this affects the height of the piece. If it is not for a high end collection it is not such a big deal if it has been expertly done, but we have seen sets of wine glasses with wonky rims due to ground out chips. 

Also be sure to check the base edge of the item. Sometimes, there are minute chips present from the grinding flat of the base of a piece of hand blown glass. These are not unusual if there is a flat polished base and some were probably present from manufacturing, but anything larger than a 'flea bite' is considered damage.  

Special caution has to be used when inspecting cut crystal for chips as the light refraction from the decorative edge cuts can disguise even quite nasty chips. Carefully inspect the piece visually first, then feel the piece carefully and gently right around the edges... remember chips can be sharp and can easily cut your fingertips! 

Cracks are usually easier to see but there are a few instances when they might be trickier to spot. One such instance is where coloured glass may be layered 'sommerso' style and the glass has fractured between colours. We found out the hard way that this can happen when such pieces are placed in sunny window sills! The different rates of expansion between the layers causes stress and can subsequently cause a fracture. Cracks can hide on dark and opaque glass so hold the piece up to the light. Also, exercise caution when inspecting antique and vintage jugs... handles are a weak point as they are often applied to outside of the vessel when the glass is hot. Check along the length of the handle and the points where the handle joins the main body of the jug carefully.  

Again, this one's pretty obvious, but we have a few tips.

With darker coloured glass or glass and crystal that is dirty even nasty scratches are quite easy to miss. This is why, ideally, when buying antique or vintage glassware it should be clean and inspected in good lighting. This is not always easy though.... many Op shops or car boot sales where you may pick up a bargain probably did not wash the piece before sale. Our tip is, if the piece is particularly dirty or grimy then DON'T PAY TOO MUCH!! Dirt and grime can hide a multitude of sins when it comes to glass, so err on the side of caution. Deep scratches are common to the inside of vases from woody stems and over zealous cleaning.  

Scratches to the base of a piece are pretty standard and if they are not visible on display they generally do not effect the value of the piece. 

Be careful when cleaning a glass item. Don't use a scourer (even the gentler nylon type can sometimes scratch) and be careful any matter such as dirt is not caught under your cloth before you clean the piece as any grit can scratch the surface of the glass.  Warm soapy water and a soft wash cloth or sponge is the best starting point. More tips for cleaning glassware will follow at a later time.

 In our opinion, this is the nastiest of glass afflictions. Most commonly found on vases and decanters clouding is sometimes hard to detect and nearly always impossible to completely remove. 

The most common cause for this kind of damage is liquid left in vessels for long periods of time. Various compounds in alcohol, and water with stems etc. can actually 'eat' into the surface of the glass causing a milky clouding (hence the term 'etching'). This can vary from a very slight 'tide' line at the water level to a opaque milky white clouding. If you see this kind of clouding do not be fooled that you will be able to wash the piece to clean it up... it will not make an iota of difference. Various pieces of advice exist on how to remove such clouding, but as it is actually damage to the glass surface no cleaning product will remove this damage. The only method that is possibly going to work is to remove a layer of glass completely from the inside of the piece. This can be done using strong acids... not a method we use or want to use. Even this method has mixed results despite the dangers involved. 

There is a saving grace, however. If you have fallen in love with an antique crystal decanter that has a slight milky white appearance to the inside, it is perfectly safe to use and once full of your favourite tipple the clouding will be invisible as it disappears when the glass is wet.    

We go to great pains to make sure our collectible glassware is free of such etching. Occasionally, we sell the odd piece with a faint tide mark or very slight clouding to the very base of a decanter BUT we always disclose this and reduce the price accordingly. 

Sometimes, people apply oil to the inside of a piece to disguise such damage. If the piece you are inspecting appears oily, avoid it. When you wash it the cloudy appearance will re-appear. 

A similar type of damage sometimes occurs to stemware when it has been washed in a dishwasher that has not been hot enough or has not rinsed properly. The glasses will feel slightly 'chalky' and will have a cloudy appearance or a slightly rainbow like coating when held to the light. This is also damage to the glass surface and cannot be remedied. Avoid the purchase of such pieces. 

As with cracks and scratches the only way to avoid buying glass in this condition is to inspect it in good, natural light and make sure the piece is as clean as possible. If you are buying an old decanter that has dried up alcohol inside there is a very good chance that when you remove the alcohol the glass will be etched (cloudy) underneath.

Stay tuned for our next post on this subject, where we will explain some manufacturing methods and some tips for assessing the quality of the piece you are considering.


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