Monday, April 2, 2012

Is It Real or Repro?

QUESTION: My grandmother had a pretty little light yellow and pink glass cruet which I now have. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: Your grandmother’s cruet is made of what’s called Burmese glass. Frederick Shirley of the Mount Washington Glass Company patented the mixture for this type of glass in 1885 and produced it until about the mid-1890s. Over in England, Thomas Webb also had a license to make Burmese glass and did so until about 1900.

Authentic Burmese is a heat-sensitive glass, made so by adding a small amount of gold—roughly 1/20th of an ounce—to the glass mixture. In its molten state, Burmese is a soft yellow color, made possible by the addition of uranium oxide. However, reheating the piece creates pink highlights, especially on the rims. Varying the amount of gold in relation to other ingredients affects the range of intensity of the pink highlights.

During the 1970s through the early 1990s, reproductions of Burmese glass pieces appeared in Italy.. Now, some 20 to 35 years later, many people unknowingly confuse the Italian reproductions with the 19th century originals. This is especially a problem with these items when sold in online auctions, where misrepresentation is often a problem.

One of the most widely reproduced items of Italian Burmese was a cruet, which is now commonly mistaken or deliberately misrepresented as being original Burmese. The only authentic cruet form made by Mount Washington in the late 19th century has a relatively short-ribbed body with a matching Burmese ribbed mushroom-shaped stopper. The easiest way to tell an original is by the solid, smooth-surfaced applied handle, firmly attached to the cruet’s body. Reproduction cruets have thinner handles that aren’t attached to the body very well and are narrowly ridged or reeded. Original handles are sturdy, perfectly round in cross section, and smooth with no reeding.

Another way to distinguish originals Burmese cruets from Italian reproductions is their spouts. Original Mount Washington cruet spouts feature a standard straight-ahead shape. But the majority of reproduction spouts are trefoil or three-lobed. New stoppers also vary considerably, but none feature the ribbed mushroom shape of the original. Also, the bases on original cruets have a well-defined standing rim while most reproductions have a perfectly smooth base.

To trick unknowing buyers into purchasing reproductions as originals, some dealers and online auctioneers tout them as being Webb Burmese from England, but even though Webb had a license to make Burmese, no one has ever seen a piece on display.

Remember, first and foremost, Mount Washington glassmakers blew their 19th century Burmese pieces and smoothly ground the pontils—the point where the blowing rod joins the piece. Italian reproductions often are of pressed glass, thus have no pontils. 

When held to a strong light, reproduction Burmese cruets shows colored swirls and streaks not found on originals. The Mount Washington glassmakers created original Burmese from one homogeneous mass. The color change in original Burmese comes from reheating this solid mass. But the Italian glassmakers who created reproduction pieces of Burmese did so by mixing molten yellow and pink glass together. This causes a line of what appears to be clear frosted glass along the edge of the rim of a reproduction Burmese cruet.

Originally, glassmakers gave the surface of their Burmese glass a soft look by dipping their pieces in acid. Italian reproduction makers gave theirs a soft finish by sand blasting.

Reproduction glass is the hardest to distinguish from the original. The pieces often exhibit no marks or signatures and most glass shows little signs of age. The difference is in both the original mixture and the process to make and finish the pieces.

What you have is an excellent example of an authentic Mount Washington Burmese glass cruet. Today, you’ll see these listed for anywhere from $200 to over $5,000 online, depending on the condition and pattern.

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