About Sick Glass

Reprinted from The Hobstar, June 1986

Did you know that most of the American Brilliant Period cut glass that is referred to as "sick" glass can be restored to "like-new" condition?   I'm writing this article to tell about the various forms of internal vessel discoloration, to identify what one should be aware of in purchasing containers and to point out true corrective means that are available to eliminate the cloudy condition.

In looking to purchase cut glass items one is bound to come upon cloudy items.  Most likely these items have utilitarian purposes of holding some form of liquid and they normally include decanters, water bottles, cologne and perfume bottles, rose bowls, and various forms of vases.  The "stains" on these items come as a result of long duration exposure to liquids and they take various forms.  Some stains are thing, white, milky coatings which are usually chemical deposits of carbonates.  Others look similar, but when you try to remove the stain, there is no material to remove.  In this latter case the interior surface of the glass has been attached chemically resulting in a dull milky appearing surface.  The third type disfigurement is one that reveals, upon close examination of the surface, millions of miniature fissures.  This latter phenomenon is correctly referred to as "sick" glass and occurs as a result of improper processing during manufacturing.

There is a general practice to incorrectly refer to all these forms of defacement as "sick" glass.  The reason I make a distinction among these various forms of cloudiness is that there exists corrective action that can be taken on the first two forms;  whereas, the true "sick" glass must be accepted as is.  Luckily, the large majority of cloudy glass falls within the first two categories.

I'd like to point out two techniques that are used by unscrupulous individuals to help sell cloudy appearing items to the unsuspecting.  These techniques make cloudy items appear good, but do not correct the true deficiency.   The first approach is the simple addition of water to an item such as a decanter that masks the adverse condition.  Many of us have been told, "the bottle has just been washed and it hasn't had a chance to dry."  The chance that a wet item won't be cloudy or have some spots on the interior when it dries is extremely remote.   I suggest that one never buy an item that has moisture within it since its true condition is disguised.  If you must buy it, but it with the full realization that it will not be fully transparent after it dries and additional corrective effort will be required.

The second technique used to cover up a milky condition is the application of some form of light oil on the offended surface.  If an individual uses this technique to improve the appearance of a truly sick cabinet piece it doesn't hurt anyone.   However, use of light oil is used to dupe the unsuspecting buyer.

There exists true corrective means to remove the cloudy condition from containers brought about by long exposure to standing liquids.  The first type of cloudiness, consisting of deposits on the interior surface, is most readily removed by soaking in one of the various patented formulations to clean false teeth.  However, to clean such glass I personally use an extremely diluted concentration of muriatic (hydro-chloric) acid to quickly remove the deposits.  Because of the danger involved in using acid I do not recommend this for everyone.  Those that choose this approach should remember to wear protective gear and when diluting the acid always add the acid to the water to prevent any splattering.  The addition of material like lead shot to any cleaning solution helps dislodging the deposits.

In purchasing cut glass, it has been my experience that if a dealer has a cloudy item, the chances that you can easily clean it by soaking in some liquid cleaner is very small.  It stands to reason since cloudiness adversely impacts the selling price of an article, if a good decanter, vase or cologne could simply be cleaned it would have been done prior to it being put up for sale.

Although I have stated that luckily most of the cloudy glass falls into the first two categories, unfortunately very few items are discolored due to purely deposits.  Of the pieces that are sent to me for "cleaning", an extremely small percentage can be cleaned by simply applying diluted acid.  This may not be a true assessment regarding the relative amount of cloudy glass that exists between these two categories, since the articles I receive have probably been given every type of "soaking" possible.  However, this does point out that if you consider the source from which the item is obtained it may provide you an idea as to what type of cloudy condition exists.  For example, an item purchased from an individual would more likely have the deposit type of cloudiness than an item obtained from a shop or dealer.  The latter individuals are probably more familiar with deposit removal and would take the time to remove it if an acid cleaning would suffice.

Cleaning the cloudiness caused by surface erosion (second category) is considerably more difficult.  What one has to do is to polish the interior surface to its original condition.  Basically you must obtain the same result that the polisher did after the 'smoother" finished the external pattern on the object.  The gray mat appearance left by the "smoother" was polished to the brilliant condition by the application of polish and a proper wheel.  Simply stated, the inner surface of the vessel must be polished.  However, since most such items have small openings, the use of a conventional rotating felt or fiber wheel impregnated with polishing compound is not possible.  There are various individuals who are able to polish containers possessing small openings.  Although the process I use is quite simple, setting up the necessary equipment doesn't make it worthwhile for correcting only a few pieces of glass.  Through the years of experimenting, I have successfully been able to "clean" all my items along with numerous pieces for others, both collectors and dealers.  The technique that has been successful for me employs the same principle one uses in polishing semi-precious stones -- tumbling.  However, instead of having the goal of polishing the stones or gems, I polish the inside of the container holding them.  In my case the container is my cut glass item and the stones are lead shot or copper cuttings.

In summary, most of the cloudiness that exists in some of our cut glass can be corrected and brought back to a new condition by use of one of the ways I've described.  Removal of cloudiness from high quality decanters, vases, cologne bottles and similar items surely enhances their beauty and value and is well worth the investment in time or money.  There may be others who would like to try their hand at cleaning and polishing.  If there is enough interest expressed, I will be glad to prepare a follow-up article describing my technique.

(Writer wishes to remain anonymous)


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