Crystal glass has been manufactured around the world since the 17th century. This makes identifying specific patterns very challenging, even for professionals. Knowing a bit about the history of your glassware can help you narrow down the pattern. Otherwise, you may need to seek the assistance of an antique dealer.
Crystal stemware often has an acid etch on the bottom of the stem. You may need a magnifying glass to read it. If you are lucky, your stemware will have an etching and you will be able to read it. If the crystal is antique, it may be difficult to read, but even deciphering the first letter will point you in the right direction. From here you can search online databases for your brand of crystal and narrow down the pattern by the shape, size and design on the crystal. If you have many pieces that need to be identified, you can invest in a pattern guide.
No Visible Etching
If you aren't able to decipher any etching on your crystal, your task is going to be more challenging. You can try browsing pictures online to see if anything looks familiar. If you know a little about the history of your glassware (maybe it was a wedding gift to your great-grandmother), you will be able to narrow down the time period and possibly the location. This will make an online search less daunting. Replacements is a website with an extensive glassware database (see Resources).
However, the easier method might be to enlist the help of a specialist. You can either take your glassware to a local antique dealer and find out what he can tell you; or you can take pictures of the item and send them online. Carrying pictures with you might be preferential to travelling around with your glassware.
Use a digital camera to get pictures of your stemware. Make sure to take pictures of all angles and any details. If you don't have a digital camera, you can try photocopying the glassware and doing a rubbing of the pattern using tissue paper and a pencil. Find an online specialist to send these pictures to.
American Brilliant Glass Period
Crystal made during this period is quite popular today. The stemware was manufactured between 1880 and 1925. Until 1910, all this glass was hand cut. During this time the patterns were of geometric shapes. According to Just Glass, a website dedicated to information on old crystal, hobstars, pinwheels, diamonds and fans were popular geometric patterns. After 1910, manufacturers started using patterns with flowers, birds and fruit.
If you think you may have one of these pieces, check out ABP Glass (see Resources) for patterns.
Fostoria Crystal is another popular company with a purely American history. They started making glassware in the 19th century but moved on to fine crystal in the early 20th century. It used to be the biggest stemware manufacturer in the United States and its pattern "The American" is still being produced today.
Our House Antiques has an extensive list of Fostoria pieces. (see Resources)
Cambridge Glass starting making its finer pieces in the 1920s. Tis glass was handblown and came in opaque colours. Its success continued despite the Great Depression, and pieces from this period are very popular among collectors today. Our House Antiques also has a database of their pieces. (see resources)