JUDGING THE QUALITY OF VINTAGE GLASSWARE©

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 A  fiasco I could have avoided — had  I used my fingers:

In a well-established flea market in an old barn in Connecticut,
I chose six wine glasses with hand engraved birds in flight.
Although the light was dim, each glass appeared perfect until I
washed them at home.  The rim of every glass was rough: they
were probably stored up-side down on a rough surface!

I examined them visually in the barn’s dim light but didn’t run
my finger around the top of each glass.  When I had the rims filed
and polished, each glass shattered.

Venues for resale glass products can be daunting and you’re on your own in flea market, thrift shop, estate sale or charity bazaar.  Be sure to carry a magnifying glass to better read labels and examine each product for flaws. (I didn’t bring one to the Connecticut flea market). Selections are limited, prices erratic, original labeling is probably gone and other information is probably a ‘guesstimate’ of the seller.

How old is the glassware?
Age has no impact on glass quality so have no concern about the age of glass unless you’re buying it for antique value. All glass is vitreous and if there are no cracks, glass cannot hold bacteria. Room temperature glass can be washed in hot, soapy water.

Did you get an honest answer about the age of the glassware?
This is impossible to know unless the manufacturer and style is from a particular period.

How long does glassware last?
Glass vessels from 1,500 B.C. are on display in international museums, so it’s safe to say, until glassware is broken, it has no expiration date.

What kind of glass is it?  soda-glass?  lead crystal?
This is important to establish. Lead crystal is much more expensive than soda-glass unless the soda-glass has historical value. (A manufacturer’s name or brand or logo is sometimes etched on the bottom of glassware.)  Whether free —or mouth blown into a wood mold is not easily discerned—but if the item is expensive, check the Internet for information about the manufacturer even though they may no  longer be in business.

Mold marks diminish the value of all glassware except Colonial and Depression Glass—where mold marks help establish authenticity.

Never purchase a lead crystal decanter to store wine or liquor.
Lead leaches into standing spirits. 

Where was the glassware made?
Currently, almost every developed country produces good quality glassware and traditions of style and quality have made some international brand-name glassware more valuable. If labels remain on the glassware you’re interested in buying, information about the maker might be available on the Internet.    

Is weight significant?
Very thin and sheer glass, or very heavy glass, is a personal preference—but don’t confuse weight with strength. If glassware looks heavy, it should be heavy; if it looks light, it should be light.  Weight must be balanced and not top or bottom heavy, especially for stemware.

Is the clarity good —and the color uniform?
Examine glassware in good light for clarity and uniformity of color, even if it’s clear glass. Don’t be disturbed by minute bubbles, but inconsistent color, flecks (seeds), obvious bubbles, impurities or stria (variations caused by unequal density of ingredients or variations in furnace temperature) are not a sign of good quality. 

Is the glassware well-polished and finished?
Superior quality glassware has polished rims and also polished foot rims—even for soda-glass. Good quality finishing is done by hand—one-piece at a time—which increases the price of each glass. Even if glassware is not hand polished, all rims must be smooth and bases must not scratch table surfaces. Check with your fingertips as well as your eyes.

Glasses with a safedge (the edge is uniformally thicker than the wall of the glass) are mass-produced and because the rim does not require polishing by hand or machine, should be relatively inexpensive.  Safedge glasses are sturdy for everyday, especially for young children. Connoisseurs prefer not to drink wine from glasses with a safedge—and better restaurants do not use them. 

If glassware is decorated, determine if it’s a decal or hand-painted and heat-sealed.
If hand painted designs –or decals of color or gold –have begun to wear,  assume the glassware was washed in a dishwasher. Pass. Even if the design is heat-sealed, decorations last longer if washed by hand.  

Don’t believe everything a seller tells you about glass products:
Many people confuse pressed glass with cut glass and engraved glass with etched glass. They look similar but their production techniques and market value are very different. 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

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