Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian

18th Century Wineglass

Believe it or not £80 can buy you an 18th century English wineglass with a plain stem and simple conical bowl in tip top condition. Should you feel flush £30,000 gets you the best in the shape of a goblet complete with armorial decoration enamelled by William Beilby of Newcastle in 1765. But forget the big money, Dwarf Ale glasses of about 1780 are often to be had for about £50, ale at that time differed in being much stronger and consumed from conical glasses of small size.

Ale glasses can be found in larger sizes and are often engraved with wheatear, barley or hop decoration. Prices depend on size and standard of engraving. £100 - £300 is the going rate. The sheer variety of table glass produced during the18th century is amazing with specific types of drink warranting an individual glass. The smallest bowls appear on glasses designed to serve cordial, a fruit based syrup favoured as an after drink by ladies - the gents stuck to brandy.

Other shapes were made available for the consumption of Cider, Mead,and Champagne with prices starting at £300. Georgian glassmakers rapidly developed remarkable skills with production centered in various cities and regions such as Bristol, the Midlands and the North East. Most table glass produced up until the end of the Georgian period is invariably handblown and consequently no two pieces are totally identical.

The English glass industry didn’t get up and running until the late 17th century before that time quality glass had been imported from the continent. Venice had been the most important glassmaking centre for well over two hundred years. The extremely delicate glass however proved fragile and prone to damage during transportation. As a result of the problem and expense involved the Glass Sellers Company in London decided in 1675 to employ the chemist George Ravenscroft to develop a more resilient glass.

Ravenscroft set up his experimental workshop in Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire and in time was able to come up with a more durable material. He found that by adding a critical amount of lead oxide to the glass mix that the final result was not only stronger but also well suited to engraving. Anything made by Ravenscroft is exceptionally rare and sometimes applied with a seal mark embossed with a ravens head.

Early 18th century wine glasses are mostly of heavy appearance with baluster stems and flared bowls. Prices start at £500 but most are £1000+. For those of lesser means the more affordable glass dates from the mid to the later part of the century with plenty to choose from in the £200 to £500 bracket. This includes the many airtwist and white enamel or cotton twist stems. Colour twists are rare and usually start at £2000 with yellow the most desirable at £4000.

Engraved wine glass bowls can add to desirability and value with Jacobite glases that display a loyalty to 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' top of the collectors list weighing in at £1500+. The biggest problem being those 18th century glasses later engraved in the 19th and 20th century with Jacobite motifs such as budding roses and oak leaves. Telling an 18th century glass from its Victorian lookalike is down to colour with early glass showing a blue-grey hue and the later a more yellowish tint.

Novice collectors need to be warned about repairs that are largely limited to top and footrims both of which are prone to chips that can be ground and polished away. One important rule of thumb is that the diameter of a bowl should never exceed that of the circular foot. If it does the foot has probably been chipped, ground and reduced. The best advice I can give is to only buy from a reputable dealer or an auctioneer who specialises. You could even consider joining the Glass Association, if so contact Broadfield House Glass Museum on 01384 812745. Just say Eric sent you!


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