Glassmaking knowledge and expertise.
I'm betting there are some antique hunters, collectors and lovers of find glass who would probably agree with me . The point of the article is to illustrate that the history of Venice in crafting this material includes an unbroken timeline that harkens back to at least several hundred years.
Consider this: the master craftsmen of Venice recreated a technique called latticino. An ability lost since the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans, it was the method of embedding threads of white or colored glass into clear glass.
The creation of the clear glass itself, called cristallo, was a triumph of the Venice glassmaking community.
Glass created with lacelike patterns displayed a skill of remarkably precise mathematical knowledge. But that's not the only method the Venetian glassmakers used to decorate their products.
Enamels were painted on the glass -- much like the painting of Chinaware -- and then fired. Certain pieces displayed gilding and still others were engraved.
Very often the white glassware used as decoration in the latticino pieces was used independently as well. When used alone, they bore an uncanny resemblance to porcelain.
Soon, though, the Venetian glass trade declined. Other countries were beginning to learn to create their own high-quality products. Venice-originated creations may have slowed, but it never stopped.
During the greater part of the 16th and 17th centuries, Venice craftsmen discovered more ways to keep working. They became the finest creators of mirror glass. They really were years ahead of their time.
As partial proof of this, you'll no doubt notice if you study antique glass for very long, that early Venetian styles makes a resurgence in the Victorian age. Truly, that's a testimonial to their classic beauty.
But the classic "timelessness" of these pieces poses a problem for the antique collector. Exactly. Our job is to take these pieces out of that realm of "timelessness" and label it with a date of creation. The resurgence makes the collector's job that much more difficult.
Oh, sure, said the Dutch confidently. Anyone can imitate Venetian glass making. But can they do this?
And with that question, they decorated the glass in the way that . . . well . . . only the Dutch (or so they thought!) could. During the 18th and 19th centuries, they -- like the Germans -- decorated a large portion of their production by cutting it on the wheel.
Their specialty, though, entailed engraving with a diamond. So finely executed were the pieces, that many times, the engraving went unnoticed until light gently fell across the pieces of glass.
You can find engraved pieces as early as 1600 from the Ruksmusem in Amsterdam, but similar work shows up later in the that century as well as the 18th century. Of those who practiced this fine art, two of the most prolific craftsmen were Frans Greenwood and David Wolff.
By now, it shouldn't surprise you to discover that much of their work is neither signed nor dated. (Don't give up on your quest to find signed and dated work by these gentlemen. Some really do exist!)
Since many others in Holland were performing similar work, sorting all of this out gets just a bit tricky at times.
As you progress in your pursuit of antiques, you may encounter the name of Zuener. Working at the end of the 18th century, he actually painted on glass -- and with a unique style. Not only did he use gold and silver leaf lace on the back of the glass, but he then scratched through this and filled it in with black paint. The skies in his outdoor scenes were painted naturally. The effect is nothing if not stunning.
Prior to the end of the 18th century, French glassware plays no real role in adding to either the quality or standards of the art. Up until this time, the French glass makers concentrated on making stained glass for churches.
French glass ware didn't develop its own "personality" until the end of the 18th century. Factories then operated with the mission "to make products in the manner and quality of England."
One of the first factories to appear, was located at Luneville, in 1765. Two years later, in 1767, another establishment opened by the Cristallerie de St. Louis in Lorraine.
These factories developed a singular style of encasing white ceramic medallions in clear crystal. This gave the objects a beautiful silver appearance. Among the pieces created in this fashion are paperweights and goblets.
Another variation on this theme was the creation of clear-glass paperweights decorated within colored canes of the same material. Not only was this style of paperweight made in the two factories already mentioned, but also in a third in Clichy.
As an antique collector, you may run into them. You'll recognize them by their markings. Dated mostly from 1845 to 1849, each of these carries an initial indicating the factor of origin. "B" indicates it was made at Baccarat. If the piece is marked with a "C", it was created at Clichy and "SL" stands for St. Louis.
The dates on the paperweights -- and yes, really there are dates on them -- are never placed in the center of the object. In fact, many times, they're a hunt in and of themselves.
As with any other potentially valuable collectible, it should come as no surprise that these items have been forged throughout the years. But you won't fall prey to these fakes if you keep in mind that the fake pieces are not as clear as the real deal!
Now that you have had a quick tour of some European glassware (yes, we could write a book -- several books -- on this topic), lets skip over to England, where those craftsmen were also busy producing quality pieces.