Large scale production of Italian glass goes back nearly two thousand years, to the days when the Roman Emperor Augustus (27BC to AD14) decided to encourage a glass-making industry in Italy. But that's another story for our future article on Roman Glass.
The island of Murano is part of Venice, one kilometer across the lagoon from the rest of the city. By the 5th Century AD it had become the main centre for glass making in Italy. Part of the reason for this concentration on one island was the danger to other buildings from fires starting in glassworks. By the 13th century the rich merchants of Venice had grown tired of these fire hazards and banished all glass-making to Murano. This also made it easier for them to control the spread of trade secrets from this important Italian industry.
Glass making continued in Murano until the present day, as anyone who has visited Venice will tell you. For many centuries Venetian glass was the unchallenged best in the world. Many of the techniques were continuations of methods developed by the Romans (mold-blowing; millefiori; crackle glass; spiral trails; etc). However, the industry almost died towards the end of the 18th century and Napolean's occupation of the area caused the closure of most of the glass works. It was built up again from around 1840 onwards, with a strong focus on reproducing antique Venetian types of glass from previous centuries. These 19th century reproductions were just as skilful as the originals and today have a high value as "Historismus" glass.
|The Italian tradition of reproducing anything that is popular continued this century, with beautiful reproductions of Victorian glass, like these small Italian mother-of-pearl rose bowls, which are often mistaken for Victorian pieces.|
Today the Glass Industry in Italy is huge, exporting glass of every kind from mass-produced tableware and souvenirs for tourists to art glass from major studios like Venini. There has always been a tradition in Italy of reproducing any form of glass that the public will buy, and the Italians are very proud of their glass. A Murano label is a symbol of a centuries old tradition, and is usually taken as a sign of quality glass.
But these labels are easily removed, and where the originals they replicated were valuable collectors items, this becomes a problem for dealers, collectors, and curators alike. Johanna Billings has made a special study of Rose Bowls and has an amazing collection, some of which you can see on her home page (http://www.arsh.com/art-glass/collect/bankie). Her article will be invaluable for distinguishing Italian Reproduction Rose Bowls from the American and English originals.
Attention glass collectors: For the past thirty or more years, Italian art glass reproductions have been masquerading as more than 100-year-old Victorian pieces. Can you tell the difference? If not, youd better learn. Otherwise, youre liable to pay way too much for a copy misrepresented as original.
|Italian reproductions are beautiful and collectible in their own right. And, when they first came on the retail market, they were sold for what they were - reproductions. Today, however, they are hitting the secondary market in big enough numbers to cause real confusion. This is unfortunate because the confusion prevents these Italian pieces from being truly appreciated for all they offer.|
Can you spot the repro here (above)? It is the pink one. The significant differences are in the shape, crimp style and glass thickness, to be discussed below.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Italians reproduced many types of Victorian art glass including satin, Mother-of-Pearl satin, Burmese, peachblow, cranberry and other types of art glass. Sometimes these copies can be found with stickers identifying their origin as Murano. Others may come from inland factories. Fortunately, Italian reproductions share a number of characteristics which aid in their identification.
|GLASS THICKNESS. Without a doubt, the glass
on Italian reproductions is thicker than most
originals. Reproduction glass is often as much
as 1/4" thick. You can see the thickness
of this small Italian amberina rose bowl (left).
In contrast, the glass on original pieces is much thinner. Due to the thinness of the glass, original Mother-of-Pearl items tend to bruise more easily than newer examples.
THE FEEL OF THE GLASS. Original pieces with matte finishes are silky soft to the touch. In contrast, Italian copies tend to have a gritty feel. The difference is very slight and sometimes hard to notice for a beginner. To learn to recognize it, handle authentic pieces offered by a reputable dealer. Close your eyes and concentrate on the feel without looking at the piece and you might be able to tell the difference a little easier.
|Once you know what the real thing is
supposed to feel like, it will be easier
to notice the subtle difference in the
feel of the Italian reproductions.
Even if youre not planning to buy right away, dont be afraid to ask dealers to share their expertise.
Most dealers of authentic Victorian glass are willing to educate the public because educated collectors improve the market for them.
SEMI-GROUND PONTILS. Authentic Victorian pieces are generally found with either a rough pontil mark, or a ground or polished pontil. Italian reproductions, on the other hand, usually have semi-ground pontils. Parts of the mark will be rough and other sections will at least appear to be ground smooth. (I've had it argued to me that Italian pontils are really not ground at all. Regardless they APPEAR to be partly ground.) Their pontils will look as if an attempt was made to grind them only so that the pieces would sit level.
If you know what shapes, colors and sizes were made originally, spotting reproductions will be that much easier.
The rose bowl on the left is Mt. Washington peachblow color combination (which shades from a delicate rose pink to powder blue gray).
The main type of peachblow to be reproduced by the Italians is this Mt Washington color combination.
These reproductions are much darker in color than the original Mt Washington peachblow, and are often characterized by a band of purple dividing the two colors. This band is not found on originals.
Mt. Washington did not make rose bowls in its Burmese line. Thomas Webb did make Burmese rose bowls, but most of these are 3 tall or smaller, making a 5 Italian Burmese rose bowl suspicious from the very start. Reproduction rose bowls, like other Italian copies, have a rather distinctive shape themselves. Produced in both 3 and 5 sizes, they tend to be rather long and egg shaped.
|Another typical Italian reproduction shape,
found most often in Mother-of-Pearl glass,
is a squat rose bowl on frosted toes, like
the one on the left.
This form imitates the shapes often found on
English glass by famous firms such as Webb
and Stevens & Williams. However, authentic
English pieces in this shape were seldom made
of Mother-of-Pearl glass.
If in doubt, look for a gritty feel to the glass, a half-ground pontil or a lopsided prunt covering the pontil. Sometimes the pieces themselves are lopsided, with one side sitting slightly lower than the other.
CRIMP STYLE. Where the shape leaves off, crimp style takes over as a means of identification. On rose bowls, baskets, toothpicks and many styles of vases, Italian crimps look as if they were pinched, like a cook would pinch pie crust to make the fluted edges. The crimps are frequently uneven and pointed or a bit square. In contrast, authentic Victorian crimps flow softly into one another and all are generally softly rounded.
In addition, Italian rose bowls can be found with anywhere from five to 12 crimps. Authentic pieces generally have an even number of crimps, usually six, eight or 12. If you find one with five, seven, nine or eleven, beware.
The exceptions to this rule (aren't there always
exceptions?) are Libbeys 1893 Worlds
Fair peachblow and some Mt. Washington rose bowls.
World's Fair peachblow pieces were intended to be inexpensive souvenir pieces, so less attention was paid to quality than with Libbeys regular lines.
The example on the left is a genuine Victorian piece even though it has seven crimps.
In the case of Mt. Washington, many rose bowls were intended to have nine crimps and can be found consistently with nine crimps. When in doubt, consider all the characteristics of the glass, not just the number of crimps. If the crimps flare out rather than turning in, a U-shaped line can often be seen in the glass under each crimp. Authentic pieces will have no such line.
COLOR. Burmese and peachblow reproductions are easily identified by color. Authentic Burmese shades from a rose pink to golden yellow.
|Some of the reproduction Italian Burmese items have good color, but often the colors appear rather drab in comparison to those found on original pieces. Reproductions often change color abruptly enough to form a line between one color and the next. In addition, you will often see striations of color throughout reproduction pieces, like the example on the left. Their pontils often look like marbled, with both pink and yellow visible. Authentic pieces will have no such striations.|
Reproductions of both Burmese and peachblow often
change color quickly,where the colors on authentic
pieces simply fade into one another almost imperceptibly.
Mt. Washington peachblow looks like the colors were created by pink and blue-gray powder dusted on the piece from opposite ends until they met in the middle.
Satin reproductions are not particularly common and pink is the main color to show up. It is often very dark pink at the top and nearly white almost immediately below.
|Blue is the most commonly found color in reproduction mother-of-pearl, where yellow was the most common Victorian color to be found in this kind of glass. The Italian yellow, like the one on the left, is considerably more lemon than authentic Victorian yellow, but the Italian blue and pink colors are very close to colors found on old pieces. You will also find reproduction mother-of-pearl in many unusual colors, such as royal blue, green, orange and rainbow, which are extremely rare in authentic mother-of-pearl.|
Authentic rainbow pieces, when they do show up on the market, are characterized by very soft muted colors. Reproductions, in contrast, have well defined colors.
The piece on the right is an Italian reproduction
of a plated amberina rose bowl, but it must be a
reproduction because originally this color was
not used for rose bowls.
You can also see the thick glass and pointed/square crimps on this example.
PATTERN. Mother-of-pearl satin glass is the most prolific of the Italian reproduction glass types, especially in the diamond quilted pattern. Although other patterns were made, it seems herringbone is the only other pattern that shows up with any frequency.
|The diamonds on Italian quilted mother-of-pearl glass tend to be larger, like those on this blue reproduction, than those found on authentic Victorian pieces. They are often also somewhat elongated, compared to originals, which are wider and more square. The lines which make up the patterns are also generally much wider on reproductions than on originals.|
DECORATION. Italian reproductions are seldom decorated with painted or enameled designs, though a Mary Gregory-type decoration can sometimes be found. Italian pieces are more likely to be decorated with applied glass. Petal feet and handles, usually in frosted glass, are rather common.
The pretty lavendar rose bowl above left and the clear blue one on its right both have an applied rigaree around the base, which is the biggest clue that they are Italian reproductions. This kind of rigaree was applied to some English Victorian glass, but not usually to rose bowls. Italian reproductions from the 1960's often feature a rigaree around the base or around the middle.
When applied glass foliage appears on the body of a reproduction piece, it usually spirals around the piece, counterclockwise from bottom to top and the stem is very straight. Applied glass foliage on Victorian pieces is not usually straight, but more random like a real tree branch or stem would be.
Don't be fooled into thinking this is
a piece of Quezal or Tiffany. It is definitely
a 1960s Italian piece. Even if it was signed,
the signature would be a fake. Note the shape,
the thickness of the glass, and the crimp style.
At the top of this page there are two rose bowls, a green and a white mother-of-pearl. The reproduction is the green one on the left. Note the elongated shape, the uneven, pointed crimping, the elongated diamonds and the width of the lines making up the pattern.
In comparison, the shape of the authentic Victorian English example is rounder with softly rounded crimping. The diamonds are more square and the lines making up the pattern are considerably smaller. In addition, you'd be hard pressed to find an authentic example in green mother-of-pearl satin.
Of course, its important to note that no single characteristic guarantees a piece is old or new. Sometimes authentic Mother-of-Pearl glass can be rather thick, for instance. In this case, it is important to examine the piece for other characteristics, such as the feel of the glass, the pontil and the decoration. All characteristics considered together will provide the big picture and lead to a proper identification.
Some dealers may honestly not know the difference, or may not care to know. Regardless, few sellers offer them as reproductions. Its up to you, the buyer, to know what is really being offered. Below are some more examples of Italian reproduction rose bowls.
There are many other shapes of Victorian glass that have been reproduced as you can see from the pitcher and the bell amongst the photographs below.
This Victorian herringbone mother-of-pearl rose bowl (below) has uneven crimps. But they are round, not pointed. Plus, the overall shape is spherical, the glass is silky smooth and the pontil is completely rough. This piece is attributed to Mt. Washington.
The rose bowl below is a good one to show glass thickness on the authentic pieces. This piece has all the characteristics of authentic Victorian mother-of-pearl glass. It is thin, spherical in shape with even rounded crimps, a silky smooth feel and a completely ground bottom.
These two blue mother-of-pearl swirl rose bowls are attributed to Mt Washington. The crimps on the one look a little pointed, but the pontil is polished. Swirl is not a mother-of-pearl pattern found very often in Italian reproductions.
The glass below appears thick, the diamonds are elongated and the lining is bright white. But this is not an Italian reproduction. It is actually an authentic Victorian piece, probably English. Two things give away its identity. The first is size. At 2-1/4" tall, it is smaller than the Italian reproductions. They Italians made only two sizes, a 3-inch one and a 5-inch one. The second is the crimping. The crimps are rounded and even, unlike their Italian counterparts.
And here below are several more Italian reproductions:
For more information on Glass Rose Bowls, see the author's book.
Click on the book cover below to read more about each book.
If you are looking for collectible glass rose bowls, you can usually find pieces on offer on ebay.
Click here to see glass rose bowls currently for sale.
INFORMATION about Pirelli Glass!
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