Collecting late 18th century/early 19th century drinking glasses is a good place to begin a collection of blown table glass, as quality examples can readily be found at reasonably inexpensive prices ($75-$200 range). Many wines of this period come in roughly the same size and accommodate a measure referred to as a dram as opposed to goblets, rummers, ale flutes and other stemware.
Most stemware of this period is free-blown and often retains a primitive quality that includes bubbles, potstones, annealing lines, and other imperfections that are appreciated as part of the experience of collecting early blown glass. The underside of the foot is the first place to look. During the process in which the glass is created, it is attached to what is called a pontil rod (or pontil iron). The stem is then added and finally, the bowl is attached. After completion, the glassmaker detaches the glass from the pontil iron and a rough mark is left on the underside of the base. Nearly all American and Bohemian manufacturers of this period left the rough pontil mark in place. Anglo-Irish makers often removed the mark by polishing the underside of the base, leaving a small smooth spot on the underside (referred to as a polished pontil mark).
The earliest wines retain what is generally referred to as a folded-foot. In this form, the foot of the glass is turned under to provide a double thickness, providing both strength and lighter weight. Only the edge of the foot rim is a double thickness leaving a hollow space in the area around the pontil mark. This type of foot originated with British makers who sought to create the lightest possible wine glass, as the British Crown derived revenue from all glassmaking. Tax was derived from the weight of the melted glass in a given pot, so the lighter the glass, the more that could be produced from the same melting pot. Folded-foot dram glasses are less common in today’s market and tend to be about 50% more expensive. They were produced by British, Bohemian and American manufacturers. However, American and Bohemian makers were less concerned with the weight of a glass, so their examples can often be heavier.
The bowl is the next place to look. The most common form has a cylindrical bowl with canted sides, often called a bucket shape. This type of bowl was produced throughout the period. One will also find round, ovoid, and tulip shape bowls. Many of these types will have single or double knops on the stems. The trumpet shaped bowl was most popular from around 1790 to 1800 and is most often found without a knop on the stem. Finer examples of the trumpet wine will have panel-cut or notch-cut stems.
Many glasses are decorated with copper wheel engraved designs that range from figural to stylized swag and tassel motifs. Engraved examples are more desirable and figural or designs including the date tend to be rarer and are therefore more expensive.
Country of origin is often difficult to pinpoint because the skills of glassblowers that emigrated to America from England or Bohemia were brought with them and the end product can nearly identical. Anglo-Irish glasses are often more perfect in texture and appearance than many American and Bohemian examples. American wines can sometimes have a more flint-like or gray color. American and Bohemian examples are more likely to retain a rough pontil mark.
Beware of fakes. A period glass generally has lead content and is referred to as flint glass. These glasses will always ring when tapped with the end of a pencil. There should be wear around the base of the foot rim. Two hundred years of wear is usually apparent to the naked eye. Too many bubbles in the glass can often indicate a reproduction. A very heavy glass can often (but not always) be suspect. Pairs of wines and glasses in sets are generally not identical and retain variations in both size and height. Rest a ruler across the top of several wines in a set. If all are identical in height and diameter, be wary.
When purchasing your first dram glasses, be aware of good form. Buy a glass that is pleasing to you in both form and texture. Revel in the imperfections inherent in this stemware. Watch out for rims that have been chipped and then ground down by a glass repairman. Ground rims can easily be felt and reduce the value of the glass by up to one half. Remember that a folded foot makes for a more valuable glass. Engraved or cut decoration further increases the value. Always handle the glass and evaluate weight, construction, rough pontil mark and decoration in a tactile way. Buy the best that you can buy for the money that you have to spend. And…don’t be afraid to use your recent acquisitions for a special toast to a new area of collecting.
Note: This Focus has been adapted from an article from New England Antiques Journal originally published in February 2002.
AMERICAN GLASS, George P. and Helen McKearin, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1941, 1948. (Still in print).
ENLISH, SCOTTISH & IRISH TABLE GLASS, G. Bernard Hughes, Bramhall House, New York, 1956. (Out of print, but still available in used bookstores).