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Hunter: The Cut Glass Bowl

01/27/12 5:55PM By Edith Hunter
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(Host) According to commentator Edith Hunter, the short days and early darkness of mid-winter provide a perfect setting for the rediscovery and re-use of an old-fashioned type of tableware - that fairly sparkles with light.

(Hunter) Recently, in preparation for a big family dinner, daughter Elizabeth went to the china closet in the dining room to get out dishes for the celery and olives.

I was sitting in the kitchen, in an advisory capacity, when she returned with two long cut glass dishes. I told her that we would also need a really large bowl for the cranberry sauce since I had cooked up two packages of the fresh berries.

She soon came back with a large cut glass bowl, one we had never used. She washed it, and as she dried it I was struck by how it really sparkled in the sun that was pouring in through the kitchen windows.

The celery and olive dishes had been gifts to me from my mother. They had been given to her as wedding presents in 1914. In addition to similar celery dishes, there were a variety of small square dishes, dessert bowls, drinking glasses, a vinegar cruet, and the very large bowl that we would use for the cranberries. I imagine that these had belonged to my husband's Peirce grandparents who were married in 1882.

I had never thought much about cut glass. I didn't know exactly what it was. So when Charlie arrived with his contribution of mixed nuts for the feast, I asked him if he would sit down with my lap top computer and Google "cut glass."

What he came up with was pretty interesting. We learned that "The American Brilliant Cut Glass Period (and this bowl was certainly brilliant) began around 1850 and lasted into the early 1900s." We learned that immigrants from England, Ireland and France helped supply glass houses in the United States with skilled cutters. Their products soon rivaled those of cutters in "the old countries" who, until then, had produced most of the cut glass.

But, we learned, it was the cut glass displays at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 that really launched cut glass in the United States. From then on, American cut glass pieces became popular gifts, especially wedding gifts, and according to Google, "most mid-income to affluent households had a few pieces."

Producing cut glass was a slow process. Facets were cut into finished glass pieces by pressing them against a large rotating iron or stone wheel. The most expensive cut glass has a high lead oxide content which is what gives pieces their sparkle. The Google material goes on to tell how to recognize the most valuable pieces which are still very much prized today.
And as we passed the bright red cranberry sauce in the sparkling bowl around the family dinner table, I had a richer appreciation of cut glass.
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