Distinguishing American Brilliant Period Cut and Engraved Glass from Current Products and Counterfeits

by Gerry LaCroix

The purpose of this paper is to inform members of the American Cut Glass Association (ACGA) and the public, at large, on factors they should consider when purchasing American Brilliant Period (ABP) cut and engraved glass.  Of particular concern is newly-cut glass produced since the late 1980s, cut in rare patterns (see Appendix A) and on various shapes, including some not found in old ABP cut glass, and being sold as old ABP cut glass.  The paper addresses authenticity not quality; although quality can be and is a discriminator in many cases.  Specifically, the characteristics of ABP cut glass are enumerated; and compared to the characteristics of the counterfeits of the late 1980s and the Polish, Turkish, and other European and Asian products now in the American marketplace.  Lastly, this paper explores the possible role of technology in helping to differentiate between true ABP cut glass and impostors. 

Categories of Cut Glass

It is instructive to think of cut glass in the context of the following categories.

First, there is ABP cut glass, i.e., cut glass produced during the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first quarter of the 20th Century.  Various authors, such as Pearson and Boggess, describe this period as extending from 1880-1917 and 1876-1916, respectively.  Suffice it to say that the ABP spanned about 40 years to the end of World War I, at which point it began its decline into the 1920s and 1930s. 

During the ABP, “brilliant and rich cut glass” was made in America (the U.S. and Canada) and in Europe (principally France and Belgium).  The latter was intended both for worldwide export and for local consumption.  Other countries produced cut glass during the ABP, e.g., England, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Russia and Sweden.  However, the characteristics of that cut glass are generally sufficiently different from ABP cut glass so as not to be confused with it.

Thus we have the following sub-categories of ABP cut glass:

1.  Glass cut in America on blanks made in America.  From the viewpoint of the purist, this is what is meant by ABP cut glass.   

2.  Glass cut in America on blanks made in Europe.  This sub-category is generally viewed by most collectors as ABP considering that several cut glass houses, e.g., Hawkes and Egginton, and perhaps many others, imported European blanks both clear and cased.   

3.  Glass cut in Europe on European blanks.  Much of this glass was styled to the rich cut American tastes of the times.  Principal European manufacturers of rich cut glass were the crystal works of Val St. Lambert, Baccarat and St. Louis.  Numerous American wholesalers and retailers (outlets), some of them having their own glass-making and cutting houses, nevertheless imported this European glass for sale as part of their inventory.  Examples include Pitkin & Brooks (P&B), Bergen, and Averbeck.  Although some people balk at designating this sub-category as ABP, there has come to be an increasingly widespread acceptance that it be considered ABP.  Other old European cut glass, e.g., Bohemian, seems sufficiently distinct from the glass produced by American companies that it should be relatively easy to counter any claims to the contrary.   

4.  Glass cut in Europe on American blanks.  It is not known whether such pieces exist.  If they do, it is doubtful that any significant quantity was ever produced.  From a practical matter, this sub-category is more of academic interest than anything else and will not be discussed further in this paper.   

The second category of cut glass is “Newly-Cut Glass”.  Here we have two possibilities:  newly-cut glass on old blanks and newly-cut glass on new blanks.  For this category, it doesn’t matter where the glass was cut or where the new blanks were made.  Cut glass of these types (newly-cut on old blanks or newly-cut on new blanks), mimicking rare and old patterns and shapes, are meant to deceive the unwary buyer.  Hence, the reason for this article! 

Characteristics of ABP Cut Glass

Eight characteristics of ABP cut glass are identified below which can be used, to one degree or another, to help differentiate true ABP cut glass from newly-cut glass.  The characteristics are:

1.  Blank Quality 
a.  Old blanks were formed by hand:  blowing, rolling, etc., or by blowing into a mold.  Some new round blanks are thicker in the middle and flatter toward the edges than old blanks.  
b.  High quality old blanks have a water-white clarity.  None or few bubbles or carbon flecks, and none or few unfused pieces of sand (seeds) are embedded in high quality old blanks.  Some blanks used by Tuthill were steel gray in clarity. 
c.  Old blanks are thick and heavy.  New blanks are often either too thick or too thin when compared to the old blanks. 
d.  The shapes of new blanks sometimes differ from the shapes of old blanks. 
e.  Several American companies imported large quantities of European blanks, principally from Val St. Lambert and Baccarat. 
f.  A few American companies made their own cased or overlay blanks.  However, it is probably the situation that most cased or overlay blanks were cheaper to import rather than being made domestically. 
g.  It has been observed that new glass when stored in display cabinets (and away from dust) will nevertheless exhibit a fine white powder on it surface over time.  The true old glass does not show this white powder.  It may have done so when it was young.  Accordingly, collectors are advised to examine pieces in their inventories, particularly if they fall on the list of known counterfeits (see Appendix A), to see if the surface has the fine white powder.  If white powder is found, the piece(s) should be examined in detail looking for discrepancies in pattern or cutting flaws.  Also, the piece should be examined in the dark on a black fabric using a fluorescent black light.  If the piece(s) fluoresces dusty rose in color, then it is most probably a late 1980s-type forgery. 

2.  Cutting Quality 
a.  Old blanks were cut with stone or carborundum wheels.  Newer blanks are cut with either carborundum or diamond wheels. 
b.  Cutting leaves track lines.  In the case of carborundum wheels, the track lines show up as disconnected line segments not perfectly parallel, unless totally removed by the smoothing and polishing processes.  In the case of diamond wheels, the grooves consist of solid parallel grooves or narrow bands.  Diamond wheel cuts have a sharper entry point and softer exit point; but the distinction may disappear if the diamond wheel cutting is followed by smoothing and polishing. 
c.  Old glass cuts were smoothed with pumice and felt; and then wheel-polished (wood, cork or felt) or acid-polished.  New pieces are acid-polished; few are wheel-polished.  The acid polishing diminishes the track lines but does not remove them completely.  As a result, the track lines can be observed under close visual examination.  If the glass cuts are smoothed with felt and pumice, the track lines are completely obliterated. 
d.  Most old pieces have deep major miter cuts.  Some new pieces replicate the depth of cutting of old pieces; others do not. 
e.  The patterns of old pieces are true to patent drawings, catalog drawings, ads, etc.  However, bona-fide variations are known:  experimental pieces, one-of-a-kind pieces, etc.  Some new pieces have been noted to have pattern errors. 
f.  A few European companies (principally Val St. Lambert) either copied or were licensed to produce American patterns, e.g., Bergen’s “Crescent”, Averbeck’s “Florida”, Libbey’s “Harvard”, and Fry’s “Elsie”.  American companies did not hide the fact that they were selling imported glass, e.g., European engraved glass was sold in Dorflinger’s New York store; P&B sold imported cut glass as witnessed by the offerings in their catalogs.  
g.  At least one current manufacturer (William Yeoward Crystal, of England) produces jugs, vases, tumblers, etc., in a pattern called “Chloe” which resembles Hawkes’ “Basketweave” pattern. 

3.  Fluorescence 
blacklight a.  It is estimated that 90-95% of old pieces fluoresce lime-green when exposed to fluorescent black light in a dark room.  The intensity of the lime-green may vary from a strong apple green to a tinge of green.  Some old pieces do not fluoresce at all including blanks used to cut Hunt’s “Royal”, late Libbey pieces and some of Meriden’s “Alhambra”. 
b.  Some old pieces have been reported to fluoresce pink, purple or orange.  The pink or purple is most probably a reflection from the fluorescent black light itself and not actual fluorescence.  Some people see the lime green as more of an orange color. 
c.  New pieces tend to fluoresce dusty rose or not at all. 
d.  The specific fluorescent black light to use is the General Electric (GE) F15T8 Black Light Blue (BLB) bulb which has a relatively long wavelength of 365 nanometers (nm).  This bulb has a rating of 15 Watts and is 18 inches long. 

4.  Signature 

a.  Many old pieces, namely those produced before 1895 and some after 1895, were not acid-signed.  Instead paper labels were attached to the pieces indicating the manufacturer or retailer.  As one might imagine, few pieces have survived with their original paper labels intact.

b.  A few cases are known where a U.S. manufacturer’s label has been attached to a European manufactured article. 
c.  If signed, old pieces generally have a clear and crisp acid-mark signature.  New pieces if signed sometimes have a very poor or smudgly-looking signature. 
d.  Occasionally, new pieces have the wrong acid-mark for a particular company’s pattern. 
e.  Of course, some glass companies (e.g., Meriden) never signed their glass. 

5.  Wear Marks 
a.  Most old pieces have wear marks (scratches, abrasions or small nicks) on the bottom and on the inside face.  New pieces do not show signs of wear. 
b.  A few old pieces that were put aside, never used and carefully stored do not have any wear marks.  However, many old pieces have been repolished and otherwise repaired to make them appear brand new. 
c.  The random scratches on the bottom of items distinguish them from newly cut items.  Attempts to fake the random scratches do not yield the truly random arrangement of lines produced with age. 
d.  If signed, old scratches will go through old acid-marks.  New acid-marks show old scratches filled with acid. 

6.  Provenance 
a.  Some old pieces have a provenance indicating that the piece has been passed down from generation to generation.  This is particularly true for pieces that have been in a family since first bought, pieces whose history can be traced reliably, or extremely rare one-of-a-kind pieces. 
b.  In general, old pieces do not come with a provenance; and if they did, their provenance could easily have been faked. 

7.  Blank Manufacturer, Cutting Shop and Cutter “Style” 
A few experts are able to narrow the source of a particular piece by the quality and shape of the blank, and the style of cutting.  In a few cases, some can even identify the cutter! 

8.  The “Feel”  

When everything seems “just right”, i.e., with all or nearly all of the ABP cut glass characteristics above, then it probably is right! 

Other Considerations

Engraved Glass

There are no known pieces of counterfeit engraved glass such as Hawkes Gravic, Sinclaire engraved glass, or Tuthill engraved glass.  Having said this, it is worthy to note that the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts sells new versions of Dorflinger’s Kalana Lily. 

Silver Mounts
There are no known counterfeit pieces of old cut glass with silver mounts. 

Potential Role of Technology

It is not clear that technology has a role in this area. Many (several dozen) glass formulations were used during the ABP and later.  It would be a major task to identify the spectral qualities of the many formulations and arrive at a control set.  Moreover, if the make-up of such a control set were known, it would be relatively straightforward for the determined counterfeiter to add the proper ingredients to a pending glass mixture to replicate the spectral qualities of one of the control set formulations. 

Perhaps, one should be guided by the state-of-the-practice in other fields such as numismatics, diamonds, and art.  There the reliance has been on the consensus of experts. 

For example, the rare coin industry has set up “services” such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) which, for a fee, determines the authenticity and grading quality of coins submitted to them.  These are then given a control number and encapsulated in a tamper-proof container with the relevant information on type of coin, grade, etc. 

The diamond industry issues certifications and laser inscriptions on the diamonds themselves.  Perhaps such a technique could be applied to an unobtrusive part of a piece of rare and expensive cut glass. 

A possible approach, subject to further research and building on the above ideas, might be to “fingerprint” the rare pieces by capturing their unique statistics and characteristics, such as weight, specific measurements, spectral signature, degree of clarity, etc.  A comprehensive “fingerprint” of this sort, once established for pieces judged to be genuine, would be virtually impossible to counterfeit. 

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it can be concluded that there is no single characteristic other than a reliable provenance (rarely available) that can be used to discriminate ABP cut glass from newly-cut glass.  Rather, it is the overall assessment that is the best indicator. 

Cut Glass Characteristic ABP Cut Glass Newly Cut Glass
Blank Quality Hand made
Generally of high quality
Thick and heavy
Hand or machine made
Often too thin or too thick
Some unknown shapes
Cutting Quality Stone or carborundum wheels
Wheel or acid polished
Major miters deeply cut
Carborundum or diamond wheels
Usually acid polished
Some deeply cut
Some pattern errors
Fluorescence Generally lime green or none Generally dusty rose or none
Signature Clear and crisp Sometimes poor or smudgy
Occasionally wrong signature
Wear Marks Some or none Usually none
Provenance Only if reliable May have fake provenance
Shop & Cutter "Style" Up to the experts Up to the experts
The "Feel" Overall assessment Overall assessment

There will be cases where not all of the characteristics come into play, e.g., not all American blanks have a water-white clarity, not all major miters are deeply cut, not all American blanks were hand polished, not all American blanks fluoresce lime-green, not all pieces have wear marks, etc.  However, if the preponderance of these factors indicates ABP cut glass, then there is a high assurance (but no guarantee) that the pieces are indeed ABP cut glass. 

Also, if a piece appears to be ABP cut glass and is relatively low-priced given its overall excellent condition, then it probably is genuine ABP. 

To make their efforts worthwhile, the counterfeiters focus on selling newly-cut glass that will command a high price on today’s market, say more than $1000 each.  Thus, if one is considering buying a relatively high-priced piece of cut glass, it is prudent to know who you are dealing with and his/her reputation in the trade. 

Some dealers/sellers offer a Certificate of Authenticity.  Others sell from venues where the pieces have been vetted by experts.  All dealers participating in ACGA-sponsored events subscribe to the ACGA Code of Ethics. 

Gerry LaCroix
Research Coordinator

 

Contributors:
Nick Boonstra
Chet Cassel
Fred Coveler
Mike Manginella
Steve Mey
Dick and Joan Randles
David Rose
Maurice and Ruth Reece
Charles Schrock
Gray Sexton
Tony Taylor

Appendix A

Old ABP Cut Glass Patterns Known To Have Been Counterfeited.

Extracted from Reference 2, The Hobstar, January 1990 with updated pattern names, where applicable. 

Pattern Name Manufacturer   Pattern Name Manufacturer
Aberdeen Jewel   Imperial Libbey
Alhambra Meriden   Isabella Libbey
Arabesque Hoare   Jewel Center Hobstar Jewel
Arabian Egginton   Kensington Libbey
Assyrian Sinclaire   Marcella Libbey
Aztec Libbey   Morello (a.k.a. Drape) Libbey
Byzantine Meriden   Nautilus Hawkes
Calve Egginton   Panel Hawkes
Clover Hawkes   Panel & Pillar Hawkes
Cluster Egginton   Persian Egginton
Columbia Libbey   Pueblo (a.k.a. Concentric Circles) Hawkes
Comet (a.k.a. Lennox) Libbey   Queens Hawkes
Coronation Hawkes   Rex Tuthill
Croesus Hoare   Russian Egginton
Crystal City (a.k.a. Wedding Ring) Hoare   Shell Tuthill
Du Barry Quaker City   Theodora Meriden
Genoa Egginton   Willow (a.k.a. Lattice & Rosettes) Hawkes
Good Luck Bergen   Trellis Egginton
Grand Prize Libby   Waldorf (a.k.a. Quatrefoil & Rosettes) Clark
Grecian Hawkes   Wheat Hoare

 

Appendix B

References

1.  ACGA Convention New Orleans, “… new fake Cut Glass pieces sold in the last 8 to 10 years …”, July 1989
2.  Information from the Authenticity Chairman, “… new pieces in named patterns …”, Max Redden, The Hobstar, January 1990
3.  “The Use of Blacklight to Identify Old Cut Glass”, Rex R. Campbell, PhD., The Hobstar, April 1990
4.  “How Acid Marks are Forged”, reproduced from the Antique & Collectors Reproduction News, The Hobstar, January 1995
5.  “Eliminating Striation Harassment in the Workplace”, Dave Dorflinger, The Hobstar, March 1995
6.  “New Cut Glass Spreading Out”, Gerard A. Johnson, The Hobstar, May 1995
7.  “Appraising Rich Cut Glass”, O. M. Crofford, The Hobstar, October 1995
8.  “Avoiding New Cut Glass”, Walter Poeth, The Hobstar, April 1997
9.  Member’s Communiques, “… the difference between American and European style of brilliant period cut glass …”, Kenneth Braunstein, The Hobstar, September 2005
10.  Briefing on Miter Cutting Characteristics by Mike Manginella, Brilliant Weekend, November 2005
11.  “Ultra Violet Fluorescence in Glass”, reprinted by permission of Dba Antique Publications, The Hobstar, November 2005
 

 

 

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