Treasures: Berry Bowl is not True Cut Glass

This berry bowl looks like it was cut by hand, but most of it was not.

This berry bowl looks like it was cut by hand, but most of it was not.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

Enclosed please find photos of a glass bowl that is probably from the 1930s. I believe it may be crystal. It is 8 1/2 inches in diameter and every inch of the outside is cut. Is this bowl worth consigning for auction?

Thank you,

C.A.H.

Dear C.A.H.:

Let us address the crystal issue first. When this term is used in reference to glass, we assume lead crystal is what is really meant.

PbO, or lead oxide, is added to glass to improve its appearance, clarity and workability. Most common glass of the modern era has been made using a formula composed in part of soda-lime, and is generally cheaper than the products using lead in the manufacturing process.

Lead or crystal glass is also known as “flint” glass. Most cut glass of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was made using this type of raw material. Crystal can contain between 18 and 40 percent lead oxide, but when the word crystal is used today, it generally refers to glass that is 24 percent lead oxide.

There is no way to tell just from looking at the photographs supplied by C.A.H. whether or not the piece of glass in today’s question is true crystal, but we can say for absolute certain that every inch is not cut. Only a small percentage of the design on this glass berry bowl has actually been cut, and this includes the crosshatched diamonds on the sides, the flowers and the lines in the inner circle around the pontil on the bottom. The rest of the decoration may resemble cut glass, but it was actually pressed into the surface using mechanical means.

Cutting glass by hand is very labor-intensive and requires skilled craftsmen, and by the time in which this example was made, it was just too expensive to be completely done by hand. The process used to make C.A H.’s bowl started by blowing or injecting molten glass into a mold and then adding the few details mentioned above by etching essentially straight lines onto the surface to form the flower heads and the various areas of crosshatching.

This did not require a specially skilled laborer who would have sat at a grinding wheel for hours cutting in the desired designs. The cut glass made during the American Brilliant period (approximately 1880 to 1910) was all hand cut, but the intricate designs became more simplified as time got closer to the dawn of the 20th century because the cost of executing these cut pieces rose dramatically.

This circa-1925 piece is what some people call “flower period” cut glass because almost all the pieces were decorated with flower heads similar to the ones found on the bowl. The walls on the bowl are too thick to allow the cutting process associated with true cut glass.

Over the past 10 years the price of most cut glass has declined and the value of this piece at retail is probably less than $65 at the present moment.

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