There is nothing quite like sipping a fine wine from an antique wine glass, it somehow manages to make the wine taste even better. The best antique wine glasses can sell for many thousand pounds and are therefore out of reach for most collectors. If you have antique wine glasses that have been handed down to you through the generations you could be sitting on a small fortune. There are a huge number of designs of antique wine glasses and it is impossible to list them all, but here are some examples.
Glass has been used as the material for drinking vessels since ancient Roman times, if not earlier. Glass is easily cleaned, reusable and hygienic and has never gone out of fashion. Throughout the Middle Ages glass designs became more varied, particularly decorative ones made in German speaking areas.
As with most antiques, the rule is the earlier the date of manufacture the more expensive it becomes. At the top end of the market you will find the beautifully crafted 16th and 17th century Venetian goblets, decorated with filigrana bowls. The goblet was no ordinary domestic or tavern drinking vessel, it was often larger than normal drinking glasses and sometimes with a silver or silver-gilt cover. Goblets were given as presents and occasionally engraved to mark a particular event. They are, therefore, highly sought after today and prices are high.
Very few drinking glasses were made in England before the late 17th century. The Low Countries and Venice were the main areas of industry. However, by 1675 George Ravenscroft developed lead glass and gradually English styles appeared on the scene. The baluster design was one of the earliest examples and was popular from around 1690 to 1720. Many people consider the baluster the masterpiece of English glass making and they have become long-time favourites with collectors, due to the streamlined simplicity of design and purity of the glass.
Baluster glasses are heavy and symmetrical in form. The stems have one or more knops and the feet are either domed or conical, folded to add extra strength and stability. The designs were inspired by contemporary baroque furniture. Knops on early balusters are relatively plain, but more elaborate forms emerged during the 18th century – the ‘cylinder’ and ‘egg’ forms are considered the rarest and therefore the most valuable of these. However, genuine baluster glasses are rarely decorated. If you come across a baluster glass with engraved decoration, it is likely that it was added after the glass was initially made.
Balusters may not fetch as high a price as Venetian goblets, but they still don’t come cheap – you would need to pay several thousand pounds. They attract such high prices because many heavy glasses were melted down after the 1745 Excise Tax on clear lead-crystal, so they are a rare find nowadays.
From the 18th century a large number of English wine glasses are made from lead glass. This is when the modern design of wine glass began to take shape – bowl, stem and foot. One of the most collectable designs are wine and ale glasses engraved with Jacobite motifs, hymns and mottoes about the Stuart descendants of King James II. Look out for engravings such as roses and butterflies – Jacobite symbols, showing that it was made for a supporter of James Stuart and his son, Charles Edward Stuart. There are also oak tree symbols, leaves, thistles, forget-me-nots and daffodils – all identified with Charles II. These glasses are sought oafter by collectors and usally fetch prices from £2,000 upwards.
With the 1745 Excise Act introducing a heavy tax on glassmakers, the weighty knop and double footed designs had to be replaced with something a little more economically sound. What emerged was the air-twist stem – wine glasses were much lighter but still highly decorative. Air-twists often feature diamond-point or wheel engravings of armorials, political mottoes and commemorative themes on the bowl.
The most popular type of air-twist was the multiple spiral, made from up to 12 even filaments. Those stems made with single spirals are known as single-series air-twists and not surprisingly those with two different patterns of spiral are referred to as double-series air-twists. Glasses such as these would have been made for the wealthy, who would have put them to use on a daily basis. They would cost several hundred pounds today.
The popularity of air-twists declined during the mid 18th century when the opaque-twist (or enamel twist) was introduced. Opaque-twists can be easily identified by the presence of solid spirals of enamel – generally in the same formations as the air-twists. At first opaque-twists were entirely white, but after 1765 they were available in various colours, including a mixture of white and coloured, white and air-twist, or occasionally coloured and air-twist. Different colours of glass have varying cooling rates, which makes some coloured rods more fragile. Yellow and blue twists, for example, are much rarer and sought after by collectors than red and green. Whereas a simple opaque-twist stem wine glass can be purchased for a relatively low price, coloured stems can reach thousands.
In 1777 a further government act imposed a duty on coloured enamel glass, which rendered opaque-twists too expensive to produce. Hence the arrival of the faceted stem, whereby glass was cut away in decorative patterns – the perfect solution, as it was not only attractive but also weighed less. Facet-stem glasses have three main patterns of faceting: diamond, hexagonal and flat-cut, popular from about 1780 to 1810. You will occasionally find a glass where the foot has been faceted, but very rarely the bowl. At one time the faceted designs were less popular than air and opaque-twists, but their appeal is growing with collectors and prices are on the increase.
Other coloured glass
From the 1800s English manufacturers also began to produce cased glass wares, inspired by Bohemian and French glass. Look out for these designs because cased glass in good condition is a rare find. The technique of successfully fusing glass of different colours was a difficult task because the colours cooled at different rates, hence their scarcity.
Glasses with coloured bowls and clear stems became popular during the end of the 19th century and were probably manufactured specifically for white wine, which was very popular in the Victorian era. When walking around auctions and fairs you may notice quite a large number of green and cranberry designs as these were the most popular. Other colours such as yellow, blue and amethyst are much rarer.
If you want to start collecting antique wine glasses you will be spoilt for choice and while you can pay thousands of pounds for a single glass there are many antique wine glasses that can be picked up quite cheaply.