We have some stunning glass pieces at the moment, some of which are a beautiful green uranium glass. To the general public the word uranium is synonymous with nuclear weapons, nuclear power stations and radioactivity. But the term uranium glass, to the collector, will always be associated with that yellow, green, transparent glass which glows vibrantly under a black, or UV, light.
Uranium glass is a coloured glass, made by adding a small amount of uranium into a base glass. It has a typical colour tone, either light yellow or light green. The glass has a unique and beautiful shine due to the fluorescent effect of uranium contained in the glass. Uranium glass has been sought after for more than 200 years. The radioactivity of uranium glass has been well researched and it has been found to be about the same level naturally contained in the human body.
Uranium glass was once made into tableware and household items, but fell out of widespread use when the availability of uranium to most industries was sharply curtailed during the Cold War. Most such objects are now considered antiques or retro-era collectibles, although there has been a minor revival in art glassware. The normal color of uranium glass ranges from yellow to green depending on the oxidation state and concentration of the metal ions, although this may be altered by the addition of other elements as glass colorants. Uranium glass also fluoresces bright green under ultraviolet light and can register above background radiation on a sufficiently sensitive geiger counter, although most pieces of uranium glass are considered to be harmless and only negligibly radioactive.
But who first thought of using uranium to colour glass? The use of uranium glass dates back to at least 79 AD, the date of a mosaic containing yellow glass with 1% uranium oxide found in a Roman villa on Cape Posillipo in the Bay of Naples, Italy by R. T. Gunther of the University of Oxford in 1912. Starting in the late Middle Ages, pitchblende was extracted from the Habsburgsilver mines in Joachimsthal, Bohemia (now Jáchymov in the Czech Republic) and was used as a coloring agent in the local glassmaking industry. Some authors give the honour to Josef Riedel at his glassworks in Bohemia in the 1830s. It may be that he was the first to produce uranium coloured glass in quantity with his Annagrun and Annagelb – green and yellow glasses named after his wife – but it is unlikely that he was the first to add Klaproth’s discovery to sand and alkali. We know from records held by the Museum of London that Whitefriars used uranium colouring in 1836. There is good reason to believe that the British scientist, William Vernon Harcourt, started experimenting with glass compositions in 1834. He did not publish his work but it would appear that by 1861 his work had included uranium. There are reports of a uranium glass beaker cut with a portrait of the famous German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller. He died in 1805 and it is thought this beaker commemorates the 20th anniversary of his death, as it is inscribed with the date 1825. Between 1800 and 1809, Thomas Cock, brother-in-law of P.N. Johnson of Johnson Matthey, working at the laboratory of William Allen at Plough Court in Lombard Street, studied the extraction of uranium oxide and its application to the colouring of glass. An early English reference to uranium in glass also comes from C. S. Gilbert’s Historical Survey of Cornwall (1817). From all this we conclude that the colouring properties of uranium were known early in the 19th century, but it was not until the second quarter of the century that it was marketed
Everyone seems to be talking about recycling. Thankfully the era of the disposable everything seems to be drawing to a close. There was a time (that I can still remember) when resources were so scarce through either availability or affordability that everything down to the shortest piece of string was jealously hoarded for reuse. It didn’t matter if plates had a chip or a scratch or, heaven forbid, didn’t match, if they were useable, they continued to be used. If they were repairable they were repaired. As the eldest of six children we handed down and recycled everything. I still ‘save’ all sorts of things ‘just in case’ I might need it one day.
Which leads me to admire the skill of the craftsmen who made some of those repairs. I have several items which I have purchased purely to allow me to do this, and to show other people and use as a chatting point. The first is a stunning hand painted Royal Staffordshire hexagonal shaped dessert set of six small bowls and a larger serving bowl. The set was made by Arthur J Wilkinson (Ltd) operating at the Royal Staffordshire Pottery in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent between 1886 and the early 1990’s. The pottery mark on this set would date it to the mid 1940’s, making the set about 65-70 years old and thereby classifying it as ‘vintage’. One of the bowls has had a corner broken. As high-quality glues were not available in the past, old time pottery and porcelain was repaired using staples or rivets. Rivets on porcelain (or metal clamp repair as it was once known) has its origins in China. Ceramic restoration was once the work of metal smiths and jewelers. It was a preferred method of repair in Europe from the 1600’s up until the 1960’s. It actually lasted longer in the West than it should have. With the advent of epoxy and polyester resins restorers were able to bond vitreous materials (porcelain and glass) without the aid of rivets or wire laces.
In my dessert bowl, holes were drilled on both sides of the break to insert the staples which hold the broken edges together. The repair is a work of art in itself. Two staples have been inserted from the front of the bowl through the purposed drilled holes, and bent around at the back before being soldered so that there is no visible join. While showing this repair and discussing the craftsmanship with an older couple, they mentioned that they had heard about staple repairs where you couldn’t see the staple at the back of the piece.
This led me to search for my next talking piece which is a Royal Worcester fine bone china egg cup. I would say the cup has been dropped as it was badly broken into five pieces. This piece has been repaired with staples which are only visible from the outside of the piece. Even though you can now see the adhesive on the inside of the cup, the repair itself is just beautiful.
A unique way of recycling has been taken up by a friend who loves the patterns and the history behind antique and vintage china. She has almost completed a setting for eight, calling it her ‘exquisite dinner service’. Each six piece place setting of large plate, smaller plate, side plate, soup bowl, and cup and saucer is from a different dinner set, but matches in tones. They all have a cream base, with different patterns with colours that blend with each other – it is exquisite.
As we travel to auctions, or private sales, and even in Annie’s, items we are buying or selling are described as vintage, retro, rare, victorian, art deco, nouveau and antique. So to make sure that I don’t mislead people I have been doing quite a bit of research in reference books and on the net to try to determine what it all means.
Something that is only 5 to 10 years old is really too new to give it any description other than perhaps desirable or rare.
Rare is a description that is often mis-used. If something is rare, there should not be many of them and it is really hard to come by.
The term ‘vintage’ is used these days for almost anything that isn’t new. Vintage actually means being from a specified time period (which is meaningless without stating the time period). Also it means the best representation or highest quality of that time. The word is taken directly from winemaking (a winemaker is a vintner) and refers to the year in which a wine was “laid down,” or put in wooden casks and stored for proper aging, “vin being French for wine, and age also a French word, therefore “vintage” means literally the “wine’s age.” The word “vintage” should properly be used with a year attached to it, e.g., “vintage 1949. A lot of people, especially on eBay, use “vintage” to hype up whatever they are selling and to make it seem more valuable. For example items are often referred to as ‘vintage era’ or ‘vintage style’, or “vintage reproduction.” I tend to use the term vintage when an item is less than 100 years old. Art Nouveau dates items from the period 1890 to 1910 and Art Deco 1918 to 1940. These descriptions are more commonly identified by the style of the item, rather than the date, with Art Nouveau depicting plants and flowers, insects such as dragonflies and butterflies, and women with long flowing gowns. Art Deco is identified by more fashionable women, chevrons, zigzags, sunbursts and abstract geometric figures. Victorian is self explanatory as dating from the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901.
I use the term ‘Retro’ usually when referring to a 1960-1970s item, however the word “retro” is Latin and should be used only as a prefix, suggesting the past or looking/going backwards.
Technically, nothing is antique until is ‘of a good old age’ (Oxford Dictionary of the English Language). The general classification for ‘Antique’ items is those that are more than 100 years old, although for cars it is 25 years old. In China antique items are more than 500 years old.
Whatever the age or style, if you like something, then it is desirable or collectible.
A recent Harvest Festival gave me the opportunity to highlight my beautiful, unusual, antique or vintage wine related items. Having ‘Annie’s’ allows me to cherish and appreciate things which I might not normally have. Some of those things include two very modern Royal Doulton decanters and a stunning Waterford crystal ‘ship’s decanter’, a beautiful crystal ice bucket, several unusual bottle coasters, a Highland Quaich, and a number of ‘tastevins’ or wine tasters.
A Ships decanter is defined as a glass decanter with a very wide base. These decanters had their beginnings in the early naval sailing ships of the Royal Navy, and it would have been an exception to have found a captain’s cabin without one- from the smallest to the largest vessel. The general shape began to develop sometime in the second half of the 18th century, and nothing much is heard of them until a well known British Admiral by the name of Rodney introduced one at a victory celebration on board his flagship following the famous Moonlight Battle and the Battle of the Saints in 1780 and 1782. His decanters had an especially broad base, some of them up to 12-inches in diameter, to ensure stability when used at sea.
The saucer-like cups were originally created by Burgundian winemakers to enable them to judge the clarity and color of wine that was stored in dim, candle-lit wine cellars. Regular wine glasses were too deep to allow for accurate judging of the wine’s color in such faint light. Tastevin are designed with a shiny faceted inner surface. Often, the bottom of the cup is convex in shape. The facets, convex bottom, and the shiny inner surface catch as much available light as possible, reflecting it throughout the wine in the cup, making it possible to see through the wine. With the advent of modern electric lights, tastevin have very little practical use, although sommeliers often wear them around on a ribbon or chain around the neck as a nod to tradition.
I have marked examples of tastevins from Chateau de Mersault, Michael Wilkes Mandalay, Palais du Papes, William Lawson’s and Bourgogne.
Traditionally the Highland Quaich was used both for a “Cup of Welcome” and also when offering a farewell drink. The Quaich was originally made from the primitive “staved” wood, then later from horn or leather, eventually pewter and silver becoming popular as it became the favourite drinking cup throughout Scotland. Some quaich’s bottoms are made of glass, allegedly so that the drinker could keep watch on his companions. A more romantic quaich had a double glass bottom in which was kept a lock of hair so that the owner could drink from his quaich to his lady love, and, in 1589, King James VI of Scotland gave Anne of Denmark a quaich or “loving cup” as a wedding gift.
At one of our very early auctions, I purchased a lot of cutlery which contained a few pickle forks. I now find them fascinating and search them out whenever possible. On our recent trip to England, I purchased quite a few different forks to add to my collection.
We eat most of our food with a knife, fork or spoon and some of us might remember getting confused about which fork to use when sitting at a formal table setting – relying on the principal of “starting at the outside and working in”.
Some of the forks I now have bring confusion to a different level altogether. Although they are all beautiful, I still have no idea what some of them are used for.
The ones I can identify include meat forks, pickle forks, an ice cream fork, fish forks, bread forks, beetroot forks, fruit forks, and oyster forks.
My most prized possession is a fork I bought at a huge antique market in Detling in the UK (right at the bottom of the picture with tag attached). The tiny cardboard tag was attached to it by a piece of string with the handwritten words : “I “looted”! this fork – going through YPRES in 1915, when the whole city was blazing and being v. heartily shelled by the Huns” – gives you goosebumps doesn’t it?
There are numerous descriptions of glass for example art glass, stained glass, coloured glass, tiffany glass, carnival glass, uranium glass, frosted glass, etched glass and crystal, and while all crystal is glass, not all glass is crystal. The basic difference is the lead component of the glass, however this varies from country to country so there is no a common rule that can be applied.
Excerpts from the Buying Guide on the Ebay website help explain –
”Overview of Glass and Crystal
………For starters, most people are not aware that “crystal” actually refers to “lead glass.” Below is a quick chemical composition lesson as well as the different types of glass and crystal that can be found on the market.
…… Glass, as a raw material, normally refers to the soda-lime, which makes up over 90 percent of all the glass that is manufactured today. Soda-lime glass is made from lime, soda, and silica. This is the most typical kind of glass for light bulbs, windows, tableware, and figurines, among others. Because its components are readily available in nature, it is also the most inexpensive. Borosilicate glass, or Pyrex, is composed of silica, boric acid, soda, and other additives. This kind of glass is often used in the laboratory and the kitchen since it is corrosion- and heat-resistant. Fused quartz glass is made from melting organic quartz crystals in at high temperatures. This type of glass is typically used for laboratory equipment, halogen lamps, and high-end cameras.
When most people talk about bringing out the “crystal,” they are often referring to a type of glass that is made from silica, lead oxide, soda or potash, and other additives. Lead crystal is prized for its durability and decorative properties. It is referred to as crystal because, years ago, the Italian term “cristallo” was used to refer to Murano glass imitations. In the U.S., glasses with a lead monoxide content of 1 percent are automatically categorized as crystal. In Europe, on the other hand, crystal is defined as glass with a lead content that ranges from 10 to 30 percent.
How to Distinguish Between Glasses and Crystal
Aside from the chemical composition, some of the key differences between glass and crystal are thickness – Compared to glass, fine crystal may be thinner or more decorative because the lead content lowers the working temperature of the glass, making it easier to sculpt and allowing it to be more ornately decorated compared to glass. However it also makes the crystal more fragile, breakable, and prone to scratches.
Glasses, especially those made from soda-lime, are cloudy even when held up against the light. Crystal, on the other hand, is known for its clarity. The higher the lead content in crystal, the greater the clarity.
Similar to clarity, crystal’s refractive quality also has a great deal to do with its lead content. Fine crystal, particularly if it has a lead content that ranges from 36 to 70 percent, sparkles in direct sunlight. Optically clear crystal, another type that contains lead, goes a step further and is polished until it is blemish- and distortion-free. This type of crystal is known for the rainbow prisms it creates when placed under the sun. Glass, on the other hand, is more opaque.
Crystal is typically cut and polished in a precise manner. Additionally, it is also smooth to the touch. In contrast, glass tends to be brittle and sharp. One way to tell if a piece is crystal or glass is to feel the facets and overall design of the item. Crystal is much smoother than glass.
Another key difference between glass and crystal is the sound that it makes when tapped. Crystal produces a ringing sound like a “ping” when it is clinked. On the flipside, glass makes a low sound like a “thud.”
And finally, crystal’s lead content also plays a crucial role in its weight. Because lead is a dense metal, crystal is naturally heavier than glass. Glass is often lightweight to hold, while crystal has a solid feel.