Boot sales. Charity Shops. Bric-a-brac stores. These used to be great places for buying pressed glass. Surprises were relatively common and I built up my collection by going in to every one of these shops or sales whenever I came across one.
Not any more. I rarely find anything of interest in these places now. The easy access to images and descriptions of any type of antique or book makes it simple for anyone to check on what they have. So people are more aware and my specialist knowledge of pressed glass is worth less in finding bargains.
So how do I decide what to buy? Most of us have limited funds and/or time to devote to a hobby such as collecting antique glass so we have to be focussed.
Is it A Bargain?
First, is it a real bargain and so buy it and sell it because you can make a profit even though you don’t want or like it yourself? This has happened very seldom but all collectors hope for that special piece they recognise and others ignore which will make them a decent pile of cash.
What Pressed Glass Is It?
The scale of glass making over the last two centuries has been vast so there is a huge number of styles to consider. Limiting your research to a limited field makes sense here unless you think you can get to know the whole shebang. I don’t. Pressed glass is complicated enough for me to get a reasonable knowledge and that’s mostly confined to the UK. There is some wonderful US pressed glass but that’s really straying into a big area. So limit yourself to a reasonable patch of knowledge you can cultivate until you know what it usually produces. Once you’re familiar with one area you’ll spot examples which fit almost immediately. Pressed glass is then easy to spot because you know the general shapes and styles and because you can check for the mould lines which are rarely completely absent even in fine pieces.
Do I Like The Piece?
This excludes quite a lot. Some pressed glass has beautiful designs and colours and could aspire to being art. Other examples are dull and perhaps useful. Some are just horrendous, at least to my eyes which have different tastes to Victorian times. So if I don’t like it I leave it where it is, unless it’s Number 1 (very valuable and could earn me dosh!).
Pressed Glass Colours
I’m fond of flint or clear glass pieces but it does make a lot of difference if the style and shape is good. I can’t really get enthusiastic about cake stands or tazzas, about biscuit barrels and bowls. They may have been useful but now they look clumsy and take up loads of room. Cream jugs though, that’s different. I love the variety and styles of little milk or cream jugs, often paired with a sugar bowl of the same design. They are neat and elegant and I can fit loads into my display cabinet. The clear ones are cheap too.
Colour is always more expensive and sought after. The knowledge and skill needed to add the correct minerals to the glass mix or gather so that the right colour was produced were very great. It seems to have often gone wrong, or was difficult so only small numbers were produced. Those are the rarest and often most sought after now. So it’s worth knowing that the Sowerby colours Aesthetic Green and Yellow for instance are much more valuable than most other colours.
Pressed Glass Weights
Five. Weight is a quick factor worth checking on. Compared to modern pieces, pressed glass items are heavier than you expect. If it’s very light it’s quite possible it’s modern.
Imperfections in Pressed Glass
Imperfections and inclusions are common in old glass. Modern techniques of glass making have pretty much eliminated errors in manufacture, or they’re weeded out before they get to us. In Victorian glass there are cracks due to contraction as the glass cools, often smooth edged in contrast with cracks due to violence. Bubbles may appear in the glass itself and at the surface disguise themselves as if a woodworm had made a burrow into the glass. Discolouration and coloured inclusions may appear in or on the surface of the glass as bits of debris got into the mix. Coloured pieces may show areas where the colour has not mixed in well or where more glass has been added to a previous part, leaving a horizon like a rock stratum.
Damage to Glass
Damage is common. These pieces have been around for up to 150 years so have seen a lot of use, moving about and accidents. Checking really carefully is vital. It takes a while to get your eye in for damage to the piece you’re looking at.
First thing I do is close my eyes and feel the piece all round, especially with fussy designs or colours which confuse the eye. Your finger will snag on chips and cracks more easily than your eye alights on them.
There are a number of different types of damage and the name I give one may not be official but I think it’s descriptive.
- The chip. Chips are common on edges which is where running your finger round the rim, the bowl, the foot, comes in so useful. If the piece has feet then that’s a part that is often chipped. I’ve become more difficult over time and now I’m not willing to consider any piece which is chipped unless they are really tiny and say, on the base. If the rim is chipped it has been known for the piece to be ground down to remove the evidence, leaving a shorter piece than usual.
- The crack. As pressed glass can have cracks which are due to perhaps over hasty cooling during manufacture then it’s important to distinguish these from damage. Cooling cracks are just part of the interest of a piece unless they’re huge. Damage is not. Feeling the piece can help, very close inspection of the piece systematically as you rotate it is vital. Holding the item up so that light passes through can be really useful to find a crack hiding there somewhere.
- Punch cracks. Well that’s what I call them. The piece has been hit against something but the damage is localised and part of the glass has not been removed. However, small cracks radiate out and the glass seems crazed in the area. These are usually small and may indicate damage against an edge or point.
- Scratches are quite common and some may be from the mould or handling soon afterwards. They rarely mar the piece.
- Lopsidedness. When glass came out of the mould, especially if the mould was hot, it had often not cooled enough to be rigid and keep it’s form. So you can see items which have sagged, or gone off to one side as the plasticity of the hot glass suffered from gravity until it hardened fully. This can be part of the charm of the piece but in some cases a symmetrical piece will be worth more and a saggy one less.
My last thoughts about condition? A perfect piece may be worth £50. The same piece damaged is to me worth £0.0p. I only want to spend money on a perfect piece and luckily there are a good number of pieces out there to choose from. It’s worth sticking to only buying undamaged pieces.
Yes, this is the tricky bit. Luckily for us pressed glass collectors this kind of glass is not that sought after apart from the really nice bits. So we have good levels of pricing and room to negotiate. Often a vendor will have few buyers for the piece you are looking at and doesn’t know when the next buyer will come along, if ever. So building a collection of things you like is relatively easy and affordable. Always ask what price they’ll do something for, you will often get a 15% reduction if you show genuine interest in a piece.
Pressed Glass Collecting
When I started I pretty much picked up any kind of pressed glass I liked the look of. Some pieces were damaged but I liked the colour or the shape. As time has passed I have moved upmarket in terms of both condition and expense. I don’t collect anything now with any damage at all apart from the most minor “nibbles” on the base. And I’m thinking in buying pressed glass that I should buy one expensive piece rather than a load of cheap ones.
That’s quite a lot of stuff about how I do things. So what are your experiences?