In glass processing, countless techniques have captivated artisans and enthusiasts alike. One such technique, silvered glass, has a rich history dating back to the mid-19th century. Conceived by F. Hale Thompson of London in 1849, this method revolutionized the industry and eventually led to the creation of exquisite objects like thermos bottles. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating story behind silvered glass, exploring its origins, the process involved, and the subsequent impact it had on glassmaking across several European countries.
The Genesis: F. Hale Thompson and the Birth of Silvered Glass
Silvered glass originates from the inventive mind of F. Hale Thompson, who worked at E. Varnish & Co. in London. It was in 1849 that Thompson first conceived the technique, laying the groundwork for a remarkable transformation in glass processing. His experiments involved a revolutionary approach to creating double-walled glass objects with a silver nitrate solution inserted between the layers.
Unveiling the Technique: Mercury Glass
Thompson’s breakthrough caught the attention of William Leighton, who worked at the New England Glass Company. Recognizing the potential of the silvered glass technique, Leighton patented the process in 1855. From there, the technique gained momentum, and it became commonly known as “mercury glass” due to its resemblance to the element.
Creating silvered glass involves carefully inserting a solution of silver nitrate inside a double-walled glass object. To prevent oxidation, the entry hole is sealed with a glass bubble. This ingenious method ensures the preservation of the silver layer’s brilliance and durability over time.
Beyond Borders: The Global Expansion of Silvered Glass
The success of silvered glass quickly transcended national boundaries. Over the next thirty years, Belgian, French, English, and Italian firms acquired the technique, incorporating their unique craftsmanship and style into their production.
Belgian firms embraced silvered glass, infusing it with their renowned attention to detail and precision. French artisans added their touch, elevating the technique to an art form with exquisite designs and intricate embellishments. English mastery in silvered glass production showcased their commitment to craftsmanship and quality. Meanwhile, Italian creativity and innovation flourished, leading to new interpretations and applications of the technique.
Aesthetics and Variations: Etching and Colored Coatings
Silvered glass offers a versatile canvas for artistic expression. Artisans have explored various techniques to enhance its aesthetic appeal. One such technique is etching, which involves adding texture and depth to the silvered glass surface. Etched silvered glass objects exude elegance and sophistication, captivating viewers with their intricate patterns and play of light.
Another way to enhance the visual allure of silvered glass is through coloured coatings. By applying translucent or opaque coatings, artisans create a stunning interplay between the silvered layer and the colours. This technique allows the silvered glass to showcase a spectrum of hues, adding vibrancy and depth to the finished product.
Silvered glass stands as a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of glassmakers throughout history. From F. Hale Thompson’s pioneering work in London to William Leighton’s patent and its subsequent adoption by various European countries, this technique has left an indelible mark on the art of glassmaking.
The mesmerising beauty of silvered glass objects, whether etched or coated with vibrant colours, continues to captivate and inspire artisans and collectors today. As we appreciate the rich heritage of this historical technique, we can also look forward to witnessing its modern interpretations and adaptations in the ever-evolving world of glass processing. Silvered glass, with its timeless elegance and allure, will continue shining as a cherished art form for generations.
Terraroli, V. (Ed.). (2002). Skira Dictionary of Modern Decorative Arts: 1851-1942. Milan, Italy: Skira.