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A collector's guide to antique drinking glasses

A collector's guide to antique drinking glasses


You can thank George Ravenscroft for the astonishing variety of antique drinking glasses we have today. The Englishman was first to produce clear lead crystal glassware on an industrial scale, vastly improving the process of adding lead oxide to glass in 1674. A glass revolution was started and the first goblet to sit on the shelves of antique drinks cabinets across the country was developed - the baluster.

Since then, collectors’ combined love for antique drinking glasses has led many dealers and glass enthusiasts to seek out these delicate vessels for centuries. But what exactly are they collecting?

Which antique drinking glasses should I look out for?

Glasses have been catalogued in terms of their specific types ever since Albert Hartshorne outlined them in his 1897 publication, briefly titled: ‘Old English Glasses: An account of glass drinking vessels in England, from early times to the end of the eighteenth century’. Here’s the condensed version: 

Antique baluster glasses
Heavy balusters (or goblets) were all the rage between 1680 and 1740. Their shape reflects the French meaning of their name (‘balustre’ means ‘pomegranate flower’). You’ll recognise these glasses by the large knop (swelling/knob) in the stem. The feet of these antique drinking glasses were folded and domed to strengthen the vessel. 

Antique balustroid glasses
Lighter versions of balusters were introduced in the 18th century, due to taxes imposed according to the weight of the glass. These new antique wine glasses were known as balustroids, distinguishable by their hollow stem complete with bubble of air. 

Air-twist stem glasses
Evolving from balustroids, these lighter and more elegant antique drinking glasses were produced by drawing out the bubble of air within the stem. Intricate twists were created, fitting in nicely with growing Rococo fashions and thirst for Chinoiserie styles.

Opaque twist glasses
Enamel rods were brought in at the same time air-twists were being produced (about 1750-1780). It wasn’t anything new - Venetian glassmakers had been using the technique since the 16th century. But the style enabled glasshouses to produce all kinds of stem patterns, many of which we see in fancy antique champagne glasses now.

Antique facet stem glasses
Cut with a wheel, this form of glassmaking created the diamond and hexagon patterns we know and love in the stems of antique wine glasses today. Their intricate engravings make them absolutely divine by candlelight.

How to identify antique drinking glasses

Marks are your best friends when it comes to identifying antique drinking glasses. It’s the absolute first thing you should look for in any antique, straight-up showing you who made the glass. Use a glassmaker marks book to identify the signature, symbol or trademark - Google can be just as handy. 

As discussed above, many antique drinking glasses can be identified by their patterns. Of course, there are still possibilities that glass can be replicated - inspecting the clarity, edges and weight will give you an idea of the quality.

If you’re interested in growing your glass cabinet and aren’t sure what you’re looking for, make sure you go to a professional dealer or antiques centre. There’s so much choice in our collection of antique drinking glasses. Fair-priced, top-quality, 100% genuine vessels await, ready to add to your collection.

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