Glassware has become a popular collectible. But beyond just finding glass items and knowing their age and monetary value, collectors want to know more. They want to identify patterns and manufacturers. They want to hear the stories that go with their glassware.
It is the stories that attract Al and Marie Edmonds of Des Moines, both members of the American Cut Glass Association. Their glass collecting began 20 years ago while meeting in a home filled with cut glass pieces.
"It was like being surrounded by diamonds," Marie said. Edmonds talked about his mania for glass collecting as he polished the silver trim edge on a cut-glass, punchbowl-sized piece during a recent interview.
"This is a trophy piece," he said. "It was from a New Orleans race track similar to Churchill Downs in Kentucky. It was made in 1905 and the winning jockey was to receive this. Two weeks before the race, the track burnt to the ground, killing 13 horses. (The trophy) went back into storage." When he saw the glass souvenir, Edmonds knew it was destined for his collection.
He said his favorite motif is hobstar (a raised hexagon or octagon with as many as 64 points). He said this and several other motifs are easily identifiable, but education is an imperative part of knowing about glassware.
To learn more about such terms as cane or chairbottom, vertical prisms, buzz star or pinwheel, strawberry diamond, hobnail or fan, novice collectors are urged to read books explaining about these patterns. Collectors also can learn more through visits to glass exhibits. The Edmonds' cut glass collection can be seen at the Brunnier Art Museum as part of the "The Age of Brilliance," exhibit, which runs through Saturday, Aug. 9.
Cut glass was in its prime from 1876 to 1914. Three companies were major contributors to the "brilliant" cut glass age: Libbey Cut Glass Company, T.G. Hawkes & Company and Christian Dorflinger Company. But many others created a variety of pieces with intricate geometric designs and shapes - from small relish dishes to large punch bowls.
Edmonds said cut glass pieces are heavy due to the high lead oxide content. Newer glass pieces will weigh less due to lower lead content. Also, older pieces will have many hobstar points, while newer pieces will have fewer.
What makes cut glass so unique is the hand decorating, done by one individual using rotating stone or metal wheels to create a predetermined pattern, either simple or complex. Edmonds said the "brilliant" cut glass, created by American craftsmen, offered a quality of glass unmatched by producers anywhere in the world.
His admiration of the glass is as much for the reflected brilliance as it is for the creative work that took long hours under the worst conditions.
"It is amazing how one man and a cutting wheel could produce the thin, fragile designs," Edmonds said. "Cut glass is truly an American art form. It was an era when beautiful things were done. We've lost a lot of that." Pressed glass met middle-class needs
Kay Beckett of Ames, a member of Iowa Questers Association, collects pressed glass. She suggested visiting antique stores to become educated about patterns, manufacturers and consumer use.
Collectors can take advantage of the exhibit, "Beyond Brilliant: The Victorian Pressed Glass Revolution," through Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Farm House Museum on the ISU campus.
"Pressed glass was the poor man's cut glass," she said. "Because cut glass was popular, companies tried to imitate it by making something less expensive."
Beckett said many of the patterns were similar to cut glass. Like cut glass, weight is a factor - pressed glass is much lighter.
"If you put cut and pressed glass side by side, you can tell a difference," she said. "Besides, there is a ring to cut glass."
Reproductions often are a problem with pressed glass, Beckett said. She said some companies are still turning out copies of old patterns.
"If they are reproductions, you should find the letters 'sm' somewhere on the piece," she said.