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Glass & Glass-Making
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Page 12

    The story of glass is about 6,000 years old. According to the Roman historian, Pliny (lived 23 A.D.-79 A.D.), some Phoenician merchants with a cargo of natron (carbonate of soda) landed on the coast of Palestine, near the mouth of the Belus, built their fire, and, finding no stones on which to place their cooking pot, took some of the pieces of natron for this purpose. When the natron was fused by the heat, it mixed with the sand and produced streams of a transparent, unknown fluid. Experts tell us that the production of glass in the open air in this way is impossible, but Pliny's legend is, nevertheless, frequently cited to account for the origin of glass.
    Earlier records, however, go to show that the Egyptians antedated the Phoenicians in the use of glass. The oldest specimens of glass that we know are Egyptian, and it is quite probable that the land of the Pharaohs, was the original home of glass. The glass of early Egypt was usually opaque and made in colors, in small pieces for purposes of adornment, or in the form of vases, tiny vessels, or ornamental figures. Many of these delicate glass articles, iridescent in color, have been found in tombs 4,000 years old. To the sunlight of the present day the surfaces of these delicate little vessels throw back glints of light blue, yellow, black, red and green-- opalescent color-echoes from centuries ago. The iridescence of ancient glass that has been exhumed was produced by the action of the earth moisture of ages-- a process of decomposition of the glass by which tiny scales formed on its surface. This iridescence is produced artificially today by placing plain glass in an oven and introducing certain acids, the fumes of which deposit on the surface of the glass and produce a permanent opalescent effect.
    The ancient Egyptians not only knew how to make glass, but how to make exquisite art glass pieces. They also used glass to imitate precious stones. So we see that, from its earliest years, glass has led a double life-- one of great usefulness and beauty, and one of glittering pretense. Like many other things, animate and inanimate, glass was too beautiful to be altogether sincere-- it so often looked "like the real thing" that the temptation to play the part of a gem was too strong to resist.
    Transparent glass is about 2,500 years old, the oldest examples that we find being bottles. The value of transparency in glass had the effect of extending its use quickly and widely-- for bowls, bottles, windows and for mirrors. Just when the art of blowing glass originated owe know not; but blown-glass objects found by Dr. Petrie, when the city of Tel-el-Amarna in Upper Egypt (built by Amenhotep IV about 1400 B.C.), was excavated, give us one authentic date. The industry probably goes back several thousand years before the Christian era.
    The peculiar consistency of glass adapts it for a wider use than almost any other material. Glass when cold is hard like crystal. When it is heated it is a liquid and it may be either poured into molds, blown or pressed into forms, or spun into threads and woven. Woven glass has the pliability and soft sheen of satin.
    One of the most useful attributes of glass is its reflection. Backed by mercury or some other substance, glass has for ages "held the mirror up to nature." When Louis XIV was building that great monument of luxury, Versailles, his minister, Colbert, imported in 1665 eighteen expert glass-makers from Venice-- a city famous for glass-making art-- and established them in France. There they made the great glass pieces for the "Hall of Mirrors." Each of the great countries of Europe developed glass according to its own taste; and, today, we find glass in many of the affairs of life. We are so surrounded by glass that we may almost say that we live in glass houses. There are nearly one hundred kinds of glass, differing distinctly in characteristics. Glass is ever present in the useful and in the fine arts. It is supreme in optical science, where it gives various grades of service, from the ordinary eye-glass to the giant telescopic lens that surveys the heavenly stars. In fine arts it plays many parts-- from the tiny bead used in simple decoration, to the superb stained-glass window that forms the crowning beauty of architectural monuments. W. D. Moffat signature The art of stained glass is a big subject, and we shall devote a special Mentor to it later on.