RIAM does several estate or downsizing house calls per week, and while each visit is unique, one thing remains remarkably consistent. In preparation for the visit, virtually everyone covers their dining room table with dozens of pieces of unwanted glassware. It’s hard to understand why we and our ancestors all had such an obsession for saving every piece of glass we ever got, but in any event we now collectively have more second-hand glass items in our possession than anyone could ever use. With such a dramatic imbalance in supply and demand, only the finest examples of glassware are valuable to future generations.
Very old glass is quite rare
Mesopotamians were known to be making glass as far back as the 2nd millennium BCE and glass production has continued in one form or another ever since, though in all likelihood any glass you have was made in the 20th century, possibly the later 19th century. The simple fact that it’s so fragile makes the chances that you have anything older quite slim. That said, if your ancestors were vigilant caretakers of such things, almost all glassware from the 18th century or earlier has value (though certain more common forms like bottles still may not be worth very much).
How to tell if your glass is valuable
Here are some clues to help you determine if your glassware might be valuable. First, look at the bottom. Is there a pontil (belly button)? That tells us it was hand blown. Are the bottom and/or top ground mirror-smooth around the rim or across the entire surface? This indicates higher hand-finished quality. Is the glass colored, stained, cased (multi-layered), fused (several pieces melted together) or otherwise decoratively treated? These variants are usually worth more than their clear counterparts.
Now give the piece a “ping” with your fingernail. Does it ring like a bell? That tells you that it’s either flint glass or lead crystal – both better than common silica glass. If the glass has cuts or patterns, feel to see if they’re sharp or smoother to the touch. The best glass will be uncomfortable to grab tightly. Signed glass is better than unsigned.
Once you cull out the jelly jars, mismatched wine glasses and florist vases, have an antiques dealer look at the rest. The best examples will always be in demand.
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