Flint glass, also called pressed glass, is defined as glassware made with lead, and is made by being either pressed in a mould or blown. Flint glass made in the United States was first produced before the Civil War, though such glass was also produced in England and Canada. The majority of flint glass was manufactured in the1880s and companies competed to make the most elaborate and popular patterns. Although crystal eventually replaced flint glass in popularity in the 1920s, flint glass remains a collector's item, and there are several easy ways to identify it.
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Identify the piece of glassware itself. Flint glass was used to make water goblets, wine glasses, tumblers, punch bowls, shot glasses and pitchers, as well as relish dishes, bread plates, jelly compotes, fruit bowls, creamers and other glassware used for entertaining.
Look at the patterns on the item. Flint glass is always patterned, though there are an estimated 3,000 flint glass patterns in existence, 1,700 of which are produced in goblet form. Patterns range from the simple to the elaborate, and can include animals, flowers and fruit.
Observe the colour of the glass. Flint glass can have a green or grey tint, meaning it was made with either iron or lime. Glass with a pink or purple colour is made with manganese, which was used to negate the green or grey created by the iron or lime.
Check for pattern intricacy, a lack of which indicates a reproduction. The majority of reproductions were made in the 1950s and 1960s, though production began in the 1920s and reproductions were manufactured through the1980s. Most reproductions are documented, according to antique experts from Sean George Pressed Glass & Goblets. Reproductions are also often heavier and thicker than the originals and are sometimes marked with a stamp such as "SM" for Sandwich Museum or "MMA" for Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Look for other signs indicating you are handling flint glass, such as cracks and mould lines. Flint glass was considered to be cheaply mass produced; everyday glassware and cracks in the glass were common, and can be felt from both sides of the glass. Mold lines, or straw marks, in flint glass are not uncommon as well. They appear as thin or thick scratches that can be felt on one side only and were created from the cast iron mould. Bubbles in the glass are another indication, which results from air getting inside the mould during the pressing stage. Bubbles can appear on both original and reproduction flint glass.
Tips and warnings
- Miniature glass, or children's glass, was also made from flint glass. These include banana stands, cake stands, candlesticks and mugs. Such pieces were used to train daughters how to set the table.
- Leaving pressed glass made with manganese in the sun for long periods of time will result in a darkening of the purple colour.
- Some flint glass companies signed their pieces, including the Higbee Glass Company of Pennsylvania, Heisey Glass Company of Ohio, and English glass manufacturer Sowerby Glass Company.
- Do not place flint glass in the dishwasher, as the combination of dishwasher soaps and high heat will eventually turn your glassware milky white and leave deposits in the glass patterns, which are very difficult to remove.
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