Read how glassware originated
and how glass wares are still artisan and mass-produced
—from raw materials to finished products.
Standards of quality from
international experts at renowned glass factories will help you
JUDGE FOR YOURSELF!
Brands change, styles change, prices change.
TIMELESS, UNBIASED, GENERIC STANDARDS OF QUALITY
FOR EVERYDAY PRODUCTS DO NOT CHANGE.
Glassware is ubiquitous and glassware breaks,
yet we all love glassware and stand in awe of
man’s magical transmutation of glass from sand!
Our lives are enriched by the function and beauty of glassware in our homes but today’s choices are confusing. Many styles and shapes of glassware are similar to each other and the price range is very broad.
It’s almost impossible to buy inferior glassware although we may not like the color, shape, weight and size of some products. We have no money to throw away but many of us don’t know how to identify and differentiate qualities that make some glasses superior to other glasses.
We”ll explore timeless, generic principles of quality from designers and technical experts at international artisan and mass-production glass factories. Diverse formulae provide diverse glasswares for drinking and cooking but each product is only as good as the specific raw materials and production methods used to make it. It’s impossible to assess artisan or mass-produced glass without judging these elements.
Historian Jacques Barzun wrote;
“Without a sense of history,
the feeling is given that the whole system drowns down ready-made from the skies.”
And so, we begin our story of glass.
Obsidian is natural glass formed when a thick volcanic lava flow, rich in silica, cools into a brown-black, vitrified material. More than 11,000 years ago, prehistoric people quarried obsidian from a cliff near Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming and fashioned it into tools and weapons.
We don’t know how man-made glass came to be but we marvel
that early man made glass from sand more than 4,000 years ago.
The essential ingredient of man-made glass is silica (found in
nature as sand) and melted at extremely high temperatures and
shaped and cooled to a vitreous (non-porous) state. Historians
question if a very hot cooking fire on a beach might have fused
sand with soda?
We may not know how man-made glass came to be but we do
know glassware history chronicles man’s history. Early glass
wares were made using solid core, mold-casting and carving
techniques. Solid glass beads were made in 2,500 B.C. and
Egyptians poured hot liquid glass around a core of clay or sand
as early as 1,500 B.C to make vessels for precious oils and perfumes.
Blowing air through a pipe to inflate and shape a glob of molten glass attached to the opposite end is believed to have originated in Syria, 1st Century B.C. The production of hollow glass vessels flourished throughout the Roman Empire until its’ decline, circa 476 A.D. All glass was translucent or opaque: clear glass had not yet been developed.
Venice, an independent state on the Adriatic, became a crossroad of sea trade. Inspired by glass wares originating in the Middle East, 13th Century Venice became a center of glass-making. The Venetians crushed quartz river pebbles for pure silica which they combined with soda ash from Mediterranean coastal plants. Danger to wooden buildings from glass furnace-fire forced the glass industry to move to the nearby islands of Murano and where it remains.
In the early 1600’s, the heavily forested Virginia colonies provided wood for the intense furnace heat required to fuse ingredients for making glass and glass-making became America’s first industry. By the 1950’s, glass-making was still a regional industry but unemployment, especially in West Virginia, was very high.
During his presidential campaign, Jack Kennedy pledged to create jobs in this area. Mrs. Kennedy honored his pledge by ordering stemware for the White House from West Virginia: the very glasses we sold in Berger’s Gift Gallery.
Buying trips to Murano always put me in an eight century time-warp; factory showroom windows provided sights even more magical than the glass wares!
Glass ingredients were batched in pots each afternoon and placed in special furnaces to achieve a high temperature for proper fusion for the next day’s production. The result was a fused hot mass called ‘molten metal’ —shaped and cooled slowly to become glass.
I never dreamed I’d return to Murano as an FIT professor and revisit world-renowned glass factories to interview management and artisans whose very breath creates the beauty of glass. Artisan production hadn’t changed.
I later visited several mass-production glass factories in other locations in Italy. Furnace technology was similar; some had modifications and even the iron paddles and calipers were similar to ancient tools.
Glassware production is currently global—although competition from low wage countries and rising costs of raw material and labor have forced many international manufacturers out of business. Mergers, bankruptcy, buy-outs and reorganizations chronicle their struggle to survive. My sorriest example: NYC.’s 5th Avenue isn’t the same without Steuben Glass.
I never cease to marvel at the vitreous material that protects us from the elements, enhances beverages and helps us explore our world via test tube, microscope and telescope.
The next time you put on eyeglasses,
look in a mirror—or sip champagne,
imagine your world without glass.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
MY NEXT POST IS: KINDS OF GLASSWARE