Leaded Crystal: A Bygone Era
Cut glass or leaded crystal was once a symbol of elegance and leisure and its demand created intense competition from 1876 to the start of World War I. It was a luxury item and was owned by the rich and the powerful, but technology, tastes, and trends have now relegated the once "king of glass" to the memories of a past generation. The "Era of Super Glass" consisted of wares that sparkled like diamonds but now has a totally different value.
American Brilliant Cut became the glass of world choice; kings, barons, tycoons, and presidents ordered complete cut glass tableware after the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Over a thousand glass cutting shops opened, but by 1908 less than 100 remained. Inferior products, short cuts such as the less labor intense finishing of pieces that replaced the individual artisan whose labor drove up the cost helped begin the decline. Today it is imports, laser cuts, mass production, and the almost impossible to determine fakes that have continued the decline.
We recently had a client who asked for an appraisal of her rather extensive collection of various pieces of cut glass because she wanted to donate it since no one in her family wanted it. Sad, but a fact of life: many children don't cherish what we believe to be valuable. Hence, another layer of decline: reduced demand.
There are many pieces of American Brilliant Cut leaded crystal that have maintained a certain value. If in your collection you have a signed Dorfinger, Egginton, Hawkes, Hoare, Libbey, Meriden, Sinclaire or a Tuthill then you just might be on the road to having a quality and valuable piece. If that special piece has the bell-like ring, a certain level of clarity and brilliance, and a noticeable weight then it might have some merit. An experienced appraiser would know to look at the glass under a black light, find the signature, study the shape and weight of the blank, and look for the tell-tale wear marks on the bottom and face of the piece. If there is minimal damage and if the item passes the tests, then it can be valued. There were thousands of patterns made by hundreds of shops and only a few can be identified with a great deal of effort and expense. Most cut pieces fit in to the later.
However, all that glitters and shines isn't necessarily worthless in today's market. Leaded glass is still being cut today in Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden that commands a rather high retail cost. Today we are intrigued by the sparkle of faceted glass and are familiar with names such as Baccarat, Lalique, Orrefors, Val St. Lambert and the well-known and popular Waterford. Some of these pieces hold on to their value, and others drop in value as soon as you pay for the item and walk out the door. The ever changing wine goblet is a case in point. The newer and bolder goblets that vintners and wine connoisseurs have marketed have forced certain goblet styles out of fashion, so beware.
We told our client to enjoy her collection and not to worry about leaving behind her treasure trove for her children to have to worry over. It is a minor problem that is easy to handle and let them donate her diamonds in glass while she enjoys the sparkle and memories today.