Murano glass is made on the island of the same name off the coast of Venice where glass making has been a tradition for centuries. This fine quality art glass has form and style, with handblown techniques produced only by master glassblowers. In recent years, imports shipped into the United States are Chinese imitations as well as copies made in other countries, often confusing the American consumer. Superb art form and quality make Murano glass stand out from imitations.
Look for foil or paper tags on Murano glass. Although the label may identify the glass as made in Murano, the shape and style of the writing and the tag often identify the specific maker. There are sites and books with photos and identification of labels that define the maker as either Salviati, Seguso, AVEM, Fratelli Toso, Venini or another famous Murano artisan.
Check on the bottom of the glass item for a stylus signature. Venini and Cenedese often signed the art glass produced at the factories, so even if there is no paper or foil label, the piece may still be marked. These companies are still in business although the original founders are deceased, and signed pieces are scarce. A flat polished base is also common. Any roughness on the base is not likely Murano glass.
Inspect the glass for quality. Murano glass has clear colours without major flaws or seediness. Seedy glass has tiny, uncontrolled bubbles throughout and is not characteristic of a Murano product. Most Murano glass is hand blown, so there are no visible seams from moulds. There may be marks from crimping tools and other implements used in the glass industry that identify the item as handmade. Tools stretch the glass and make parallel lines or flutes, ruffles or scallops.
Compare styles of a possible piece of Murano glass with photographs in books to develop a feel for the art. Much of the glass seen today from Murano is from the 1950s and 1960s era, with a Mid-Century Modern style. Sleek flowing lines and biomorphic shapes exemplified the era. Organic abstract art designs based in biology, not geometry, created the amoeba designs common to the era.
Look for difficult design features in the glass, such as controlled bubbles, filigrana or filigree, millefiori or cut canes representing flowers and patchwork. These are internal techniques that require more skill than many of the works made in other countries. "It takes 15 years to become a master glassblower," reports a CBS article about Murano glass and Chinese imitations.
Identify imitations by roughness, seams, green cast to the clear glass sections, seediness and poor quality joins and connections. Colours are often flowing into the next section, and the shape is not well defined. Murano is heavy but does not have blobs of glass. View Murano glass at shows and in books, online and in museums to develop the skill to tell Murano glass from imitations.
Murano glass often has gold flecks created from the addition of copper to the glass, but this, too, is an often copied feature.