Glass & Glass-Making
26 of 28
T was a Dutchman, Jan
Smeedes, that gave the glass-making industry its first impetus on the
Island of Manhattan. Glassmakers' Street, now South
William Street, New York, was so named because of the importance of his
shop. Pittsburgh had its birth as a glass-making center at the end of
the eighteenth century.
A carpenter living in Sandwich, Massachusetts, enriched the industry by
inventing pressed glass in the year 1827. Most
of the enterprises launched before the middle of the nineteenth century
were concerned with the production of bottles and plain tableware. Little
was done toward the development of decorative glassware until 1840.
Bottles were the first objects to attract the attention of the designer.
Colored bright blue, green or red, they now appeared in the shape of
log cabins and barrels. Old cupboards and museums still treasure dishes
that bear the American flag and the national bird, and handles and
household articles made of old-time opal or cloudy glass.
The first sizeable factory for the making of
flint and colored glass, the New England
Glass Works, was established near Boston. Later, the
Libby Glass Company was founded at
Toledo, Ohio. This concern is now one of the largest in
the country and produces many different kinds of glass objects, varying
from the strictly utilitarian to the highly decorative. The plant
organized in 1852 by Christopher
Dorflinger in Brooklyn, New York, began by making glass for lamps and
chimneys, to meet a demand arising from the discovery of petroleum.
The modest lamp factory became the parent of the widely known Dorflinger
cut glass works, now at White Mills, Pennsylvania.
In 1864, a form operating glass-houses in Wheeling, West Virgin, brought
about a revolution in processes of manufacture by making a clear,
brilliant glass with the aid of bicarbonate of soda and lime, and at
one-third the cost of the lead glass, also called flint glass.
The United States leads all countries in the
production of pressed and cut glass. The best grade of the latter is
entirely hand-cut; the second grade is pressed and then finished by
hand; the third grade is pressed in imitation of cut glass.
"Genuine cut glass," says
Mary Lehmann, author of an instructive little
manual about glass and its manufacture, "has four characteristics known
to the expert. These are: Its colors-- a brilliant white, tinged with
steely blue; its bell-like resonance when struck; its weight; its fine
finish." Genuine cut glass has the design cut in and is polished by hand.
All good glass contains a certain about of lead,
and this gives to the object a ringing tone when it is lightly tapped.
In making a cut-glass dish, the thick "blank" is
first brought to a very high temperature and gradually cooled before the
design is traced. Steel and stone wheels in varying sizes are employed in
the exacting labor of cutting. "Glass cutters," Miss Lehmann reminds us,
"must be expert workmen, for their material is heavy and yet easily
broken, and mistakes can seldom be corrected. The operator must hold the
blank against the wheel with just the right amount of pressure for the
speed of the wheel; the vibration of the glass will cause it to crack,
unless skilfully handled. The operator judges the proper pressure by
feeling, as much as by sight. Elaborate pieces require several weeks
for cutting and polishing, and the labor cost is very heavy."
The cutting of rock-crystal (a white, transparent
form of quartz or crystallized silica) is a separate art, and resembles
engraving. Another kind of cut glass is made by incising shallow designs
with stone wheels and copper tools. Stone-engraved goblets sometimes cost
as high as forty dollars apiece.
Preeminent in the manufacture of fine cut glass,
America has also produced a remarkable colored glass, known as
Tiffany favrile (hand-made)
glass. Mr. Louis C. Tiffany, who established his furnaces at
Corona, Long Island, in 1892, is still the
guiding spirit of this very exceptional art industry. He secures his
rare color effects by introducing metallic oxides-- gold, copper, iron,
etc cetera-- into the raw glass. Or ladlefuls of molten color glass,
taken from several different pots, are mixed together with beautiful
"accidental" results. In Tiffany ware, the color effects most in favor
are peacock, gold luster, opal-tinted, purplish blue, turquoise, and
aqua marine blue with bronze or pale green lights.
This tough, metallic, glowing, jewel-like glass
from the Tiffany furnaces is used not only in the making of exquisitely
shaped vases and tableware, but lends itself to the creation of windows,
memorial tablets, and mosaic mural decoration. A glass curtain, completed
within recent years for he National Theater in Mexico City, stands as a
supreme achievement of Mr. Tiffany's genius. Twenty craftsmen in mosaic
glass were employed in its construction for more than fifteen months.