Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Rarity of Napoli

QUESTION: Recently, I discovered a glass biscuit jar at a regional antiques show. I collect art glass but have never seen anything like it before. What’s so unusual about this piece is that it seems to be painted on both the inside and outside. Can you tell me anything about it?

ANSWER: The only type of art glass that’s painted on both the inside and outside is Napoli glass, produced by the Mount Washington/Pairpoint Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Albert Steffin, the head of the Mount Washington decorating department, patented Napoli glass on May 22, 1894. He had found a way to decorate clear glassware on both the inside and outside. In a way he used another method of glass decoration called “reverse painting,” which originated in Antioch around 200 A.D., as his inspiration. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, American and European mirror and clock makers used this type of decoration to ornament the tops of mirrors and the glass doors of wall clocks.

Steffin’s method began by first outlining the basic form on the outside of the glass in silver or gold metallic paint. This outline then served as a guide for producing the design on the inside using colored enamels. This decoration process produced a novel and almost three-dimensional effect unlike the decoration on any other type of glass.

But Steffin didn’t invent this type of decoration solely as a way to produce a unique type of glass. He actually was more concerned about the savings it would give him because with two different types of paint, each on a different side of the glass, he would only have to fire his pieces once, thus offering him a big savings on fuel. If he applied the two different types of paint on the outside, he’d have to apply and fire one, then do the same for other and firing again. Firing both types of paint separately also resulted in a brighter finish and correct coloration.

Workers at the Mount Washington factory produced the majority of Napoli glass pieces using the same forms as the firm’s other art glass lines—Verona, Royal Flemish, and Crown Milano.  But the Napoli pieces have an interconnected network of lines that looks like a spider web which makes them stand out from other kinds of art glass.

One unusual decoration on Mt. Washington glass depicts Brownie figures, created by author/illustrator Palmer Cox. Brownies were extremely popular within a few years after Cox published his first children’s book in 1887.

Of all the art glass on the market, Napoli is the hardest to find. At first glance, it doesn’t look like it would be particularly valuable, but its rarity drives the prices of pieces upward. Many pieces have gilt lines painted on the outside which makes them especially appealing to collectors.

Each piece bears a mark on the bottom in gold enamel. with the word “Napoli,” followed by the shape number.  If the mark is in silver, then the piece may also bear another mark of “MW” for Mount Washington. Common shapes include vases, punch cups, marmalade and cracker jars. Salt and pepper shakers are the rarest.

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