Treasures: Butterfly pieces unusual, but not unusual enough to be worth a lot

This glass celery dish was cut using a machine process and finished by a workman. It is probably worth less than $50.

This glass celery dish was cut using a machine process and finished by a workman. It is probably worth less than $50.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I was wondering if you could tell me about my glass dish. It was given to me back in the late 1950s by a couple who were downsizing. I was attracted to it because I have never previously seen butterflies used in cut glass before. I would appreciate any information you might be able to give me.

Thank you,

M. A. W.

Dear M. A. W.:

There is cut glass made by the laborious process of taking a blown glass blank and then decorating it by cutting V-shaped furrows into the surface using copper wheels, sand and water. The resulting grooves were cloudy initially and had to be polished until the cuttings sparkled like those found on precious gemstones.

This required skilled craftsmen, but unfortunately, the piece in today’s question was not made using this time-consuming method. Instead, the glass was pressed into a mold that produced the pattern of the large leaves and stems that are found on either end of this celery dish.

The clear spots in the large flowerlike images and the spots on the butterfly’s wings were also pressed into the surface by mechanical means. So, the dish was already decorated to an extent when it passed to a workman who quickly engraved in the straight lines that make up the rest of the flowers and the butterflies.

What all this means is the celery dish is part pressed, part cut. It also means it was made after what is generally called the American brilliant period of cut glass, which was approximately 1880-1910, a time when glass was intricately cut the way a jeweler might fashion a jewel.

Such pieces were expensive to create. American brilliant period cut glass required very skilled workmen, as well as lots of time. And glass companies were interested in finding a way to cut costs and make their products more affordable to the buying public. Starting about 1900, cut glass patterns started becoming simpler. As World War I approached, the whole process became simplified using the pressed/cut method described above.

We tend to think of this as being the flower period of cut glass. It was very popular during the late 1910s and ’20s. The pressed-in leaves can be found on pieces made by any number of companies, and the flowers made from simple, straight etched lines are ubiquitous or omnipresent.

Pieces with butterflies are pleasant and a bit unusual, but not unusual enough to make them especially valuable. Cut glass in general seems to be out of favor with a wide variety of collectors at the present moment, and these later production pieces seldom (if ever) fetch significant prices. Rare and unusual examples of American brilliant period cut glass can still bring nice money, but not anywhere near the sums realized 10 years ago.

On the current market, this attractive, circa 1920 celery dish would probably sell at auction in the $10 to $30 range and retail for less than $50. Yes, we have seen similar pieces on the web priced in the $165 range, but we think that is wishful thinking and not real world.

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