Monday, July 14, 2014

Born Again Glass

QUESTION: I’ve recently started to collect colored Victorian glassware. But the more I get into it, the more confused I’ve become. On more than one occasion, I’ve been sold pieces produced in the 1960s that the dealer insisted were authentic. How can I tell the difference between the real thing and reproductions and downright fakes?

ANSWER: You’re not alone. The antiques world has become swamped with imitations and fakes. Imitators pray on the ignorance of many dealers, especially those in the lower end of the market selling at fleamarkets. Most of these dealers sell whatever they can buy at a reasonable price at garage and house sales. Others sell on auction sites like eBay. Just because a dealer feeds you a line about the authenticity of a piece of glass doesn’t make it so. In fact, unlike other forms of antiques, glass is particularly susceptible to scams because most of it shows no maker’s mark.

The demand for colored Victorian glassware continues to increase, causing the prices for it in some cases to skyrocket due to supply and demand. Most colored, Victorian glassware is now highly collectable. Therefore, copies and imitations have increasingly appeared on dealers’ shelves and tables.

This trend seems to have begun during the 1960s and has continued until today. You’ve already noticed the confusion at antique shows, shops, malls and fleamarkets. So if you intend to get serious about collecting Victorian glassware, then you must be able to visually separate the old items from the new and not-so-new. This means wading through the imitations, reissues, copies and reproductions until you find the real thing.

Dealers add to this confusion by intermingling glassware from the 1930s through the mid-1980s with older pieces. And just because a dealer seems to specialize in antique glassware doesn’t make him or her less suspect. Most collectors and dealers are nonspecialists, and therefore make buying and selling errors. The bottom line is that you equip yourself with the knowledge of the type of glassware that you want to collect. An educated collector is a wise one. This is the only way you can be assured of purchasing authentic pieces. So how can you do this?

Numerous national glass organizations promote details about their particular category of glassware. They track and report on the various reproductions and look-a-likes in their newsletters and Web sites. From these, you can acquire considerable knowledge in a relatively short time.

The worst culprits are the reproductions, reissues, and copies produced in the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s especially hard for those, like yourself, who have entered the glassware field in the last decade. One company, L.G. Wright Glass Company of New Martinsville, West Virginia, stands out among others.

Beginning in the late 1030s, Wright began buying up old glass molds from closed American glass factories. And this is the rub with glass. Unlike other antiques, makers produce glassware from molds as well as blowing. One of the biggest inventions in the 19th century was the discovery of the process to make molded pressed glass. Generally, molds are durable, so if a maker today can get their hands on some old ones, they can essentially produce the same pieces from the original molds. Glass can also be blown into a mold, a process used to manufacture items like lamp shades and water pitchers.

Instead of making the glass himself, Wright contracted with glass houses such as Fenton, Fostoria and Westmoreland to reissue glass using his molds. He then sold the finished pieces to various dealers, jobbers and wholesale outlets. Many of these glass patterns ultimately found their way into various antique shows and shops throughout the country. If marked at all, the glassware usually just had a paper label. Once the label fell off or was removed, dealers could represent these reproductions as authentic pieces to unsuspecting collectors like yourself. Now that 30 to 40 years have passed, many of these reproductions have acquired some wear, which adds still more to the difficulty of identifying them as reproductions or look-a-likes of the Victorian patterns.

While few reproductions can pass as authentic when placed side by side with original pieces, few collectors have the opportunity to do so. Fortunately, you can find a lot of information in books and periodicals and online that will help you identify the fakes.

Look for the following when trying to tell the difference between the real thing and a fake or reproduction:

1. Find out if possible if the pattern you wish to collect has been reproduced.
2. Feel the glass. Old glass is generally thicker and thus heavier than newer glass.
3. Look for signs of wear, usually scratches on the bottom and perhaps tiny chips on edges and rims.
4. Old pieces show a more defined, detailed pattern than newer ones. The more glass manufacturers use a mold the softer the edges become.
5. Look for ground off rims. This indicates either a newer piece or an old one that was so badly chipped that it needed to be ground down—especially salt and pepper shakers.
6. Be wary of maker’s marks that have been etched into the glass. Makers of older pieces either had no marks or used paper labels.

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