Antique pressed glass has been widely collected since the 1920s. The number of pressed glass pieces available makes it easy to build a niche collection.
Pressed glass first appeared in 1825, with glass makers using a technique invented by John P. Bakewell. At this time, pressed glass was manufactured by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Massachusetts. The glass was pressed into mold and forced into all the patterned crevices and dips by using a smooth-surfaced glass plunger. By the late 1820s many glass studios were using this method of pressing glass, rather than the more expensive cut-glass methods. In 19th century America, pressed glass was made in vast quantities. It was much cheaper and much faster to produce.
Pressed Glass vs Cut Glass
Pressed glass is very similar in appearance to cut glass and it’s really a little sister to cut glass – the sister who wants to imitate the other, but soon develops her own personality, which is what happened to pressed glass.
The edges of pressed glass have a rough texture, not as sharp as the edges on cut glass. And the mold lines are generally visible on the surface.
The Early Days of Pressed Glass
In the early days of pressed glass from about 1825 to 1840, the products of pressed glass were known as Lacy Glass. The designs were finely-detailed and intricate with a stippled background of embellished dots on the inside or underside of the piece, which gave it a lacy appearance as well as the sparkle of cut glass. The deliberate stippling was added to hide the flaws which resulted when the hot glass was added to the cold metal mold. But when glass makers found a way to keep the mold warm, lacy glass gave way to pattern glass.
Objects made with the stippling technique included salts, candlesticks, plates, pitchers, creamers and nearly anything decorative that could be made of glass – even fancy window panes.
Mid 19th Century Pressed Glass
In the mid 19th century, pressed glass came to be known as pattern glass. Stippling was still used in most pieces, but not as a full background. Colored glass was finding it’s way into the market including amber, blue, green and amethyst. These early colored pieces are highly sought-after today with some pieces costing well over $100. Designs inspired by nature were popular and there were numerous pieces made with leaves, flowers and butterflies. Geometric patterns because popular as well with the addition of strong borders.
Late 19th Century Pressed Glass
By the 1880s, pressed glass had transformed again. Opaque or Opal glass, first created in 16th century Venice, was brought into the glass maker’s studios of 19th century America. Today, collectors know this glass as milk glass. Milk glass is made with the addition of bone ash to form that milky appearance, but many colors were produced.
Other types of pressed glass that showed up in the late 19th century included vaseline glass. The glass makers also began to incorporate colors mixed with clear glass, making the piece two-tone.
Collecting Antique Pressed Glass
The late 19th century brought mass production and with it lesser-quality glass used in the making of pressed glass objects. The patterns were considered lovely, but the poor quality of the glass showed in the objects as dull and the pieces became heavier and less refined. The earlier pieces are, of course, rarer and more expensive today. They are high on the pressed glass collectors want lists.
Prices vary greatly due the enormity of pressed glass types, as well as rarity within each type, quality, design, and style. It’s possible to pick up a late 19th century pressed glass cabinet plate for as little as $20 at flea markets or yard sales. But the same plate could be priced at $130 by a dealer in the know. The best way to collect antique pressed glass is to find a niche, whether small match stick holders, colored glass jugs or early lacy glass or pattern glass plates. Any niche will make a fine collection, increasing in value as a whole.