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A guide to: Antique glass


Unlike metals that tarnish and furniture that warps, antique glass is gloriously averse to ageing. Its fragility might leave it prone to breakages, but its unique qualities mean glass antiques can look exactly the same today as they did two centuries ago. You might not find glassware in abundance the same way you find other classes of antiques, but there are plenty of specialist dealers and auctions where you’ll find real gems at modest costs. 

Antique glass can be bought on a spectrum of budgets, from a couple of pounds to a few hundred. Much of it has survived from the 18th century and earlier - you can even buy Roman scent bottles for around £150. For dealers and collectors, it’s not overly common to see eye-popping rises in value for antique glass (although this depends on the rarity of the piece). You could pay up to £3000 for a pair of gilt decanters by a 19th-century artist and that’s without the brandy!

Identifying antique glass

Antique glass rarely carries the kind of identifying marks you’ll find on say, ceramics. From Roman soda glass to 17th-century potash, the best way to date and value glassware is to examine its characteristics. Glass antiques are usually made up from silica (sand), an alkali (normally soda or potash), an alkaline earth (lime) and bits of waste glass (cullet). It’s the other materials added to achieve different functional properties or decorative finishes that can help you understand the story and value of a piece.

Different types of glass antiques

Browse our spectacular range of antique glass for sale online or in our vast centre and you’ll discover everything from Art Deco glass ice buckets to Victorian antique glass vases. That’s not all. Here are the main areas that pique the interest of glassware collectors:

Bottles, decanters and jugs: Most antique glass bottles date between the 17th and mid-19th century. A rare spherical ‘shaft and globe’ bottle can value up to £3,000 at auction. Moving towards the 18th century, early moulded bottles with handmade shoulders and neck can fetch up to £300. Keep an eye out for Georgian wine decanters - depending on size and decor, these can value between £200 and £1,000.

Antique glass vases and bowls: Most ancient antique glass vases sit in museum exhibitions, but you can find some real gems from the last three centuries or so. The most expensive are ‘Favrile’ vases, but these are beyond the reach of most budgets. Our best tip is to invest in similar glass antiques by producers such as Loetz, which you can buy for up to £500.

Scent bottles: Delicate and dainty, antique glass scent bottles bear some of the most delightful glass designs. While prices typically range from £80 to £350, a frivolously decorated bottle can roll in at up to £5,000.

Drinking glasses: A joyful amount of drinking glass antiques survive from the 18th and 19th centuries - collectors love them. There are a few magpie-eyed enthusiasts should look out for: lustrous 17th-century glass with engravings and cuttings and 18th-century ceremonial goblets and wine glasses (valuing at £1,000 for a simple piece and a whopping £100,000 for more elaborate antique glass). Buy anything Beilby: the English glassworker’s enamelled pieces can fetch anything from £1,000 to £50,000 at auction.

Cameo glass: Characterised by their decorative colourful layers, cameo glass antiques are easy to spot. Highly lauded pieces hail from brothers George and Thomas Woodall in the late 19th century. During their time at British makers Thomas Webb & Sons, the three-colour antique vases they produced can demand between £30,000 to £40,000 at auction.

Table glass antiques: Sweetmeat dishes, jelly and custard glasses and other tablewares are often found lurking in antiques centres. And they’re the perfect antique glass for new collectors: modestly priced, useful, decorative and small in size. 

Pressed glass antiques: This is another brilliant area for new collectors on a budget. These simple pieces such as sugar bowls and bonbon dishes were formed in a range of imaginative shapes. The fancier the better: more unique shapes and colours can fetch anywhere from £5 to £500.

How to clean antique glass

Glass antiques can last centuries, but to increase value you need to make sure pieces are cared for. Gently does it - glass antiques are very unforgiving materials. Look out for signs of previous repairs before you even search how to clean antique glass, as well as crizzling (sick, weepy glass), metal mounts, any flaking enamel or unfired decorations. 

If your antique glass is in good condition, fill a plastic bowl (sinks increase chances of smashing on taps) with lukewarm water (distilled is preferable) and add one drop of detergent per litre of water. Clean with a cotton wool ball or a plastic bottle brush. Blot dry with paper towels and leave for a few hours to completely dry out inside.

Top tips for antique glass collectors

Don’t be afraid to buy singles. You’ll be pushed to find a complete set of 18th-century drinking glasses, which is fine because there’s no massive difference between the value of one and its price as part of a set. 

Look out for early 20th-century pieces. Big British company names of this time include Stuart Crystal and Bagleys. If you’re splurging, French pieces such as Daum and Lalique are expensive investments to look out for. 

One-off glass antiques are king. But you might well be put off by their price tags. Regardless of cost, a special one-of-a-kind piece of antique glass will increase in value in the long term. Whether you’re pondering over a novelty bit of pressed glass or quirky antique stained glass for sale, it’s usually always worth the investment.

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