Glass Decorating, Stuart Crystal at The Red House Glass Cone

Glass Decorating, Stuart Crystal at The Red House Glass Cone.

The hot side of the industry in the Red House Glass Cone was where the glass was blown and shaped. The annealed pieces left the shrower washed and inspected for quality as a blank, ready for the cold side of the industry, where some of the innovative ways of decorating glassware, cutting, engraving, etching, enameling, and gilding. This was a means of adding value to a relatively inexpensive item.

As fashions changed so did the designs of the glassware to appeal to their brand market. It was also a clever marketing tool as customers aspired to collect whole sets of a design. We use glassware very differently today but there is still a place for sets of matching glassware. Not just tableware, but also the unique showcase, commemorative and exhibition pieces, including cameo.

Stuarts specialised in sets of glassware including, sherry, liqueurs, brandy balloons, champagne flutes, water sets & tumblers. Hand-made glasses must match to make sets and it was estimated that it took skilled glassmakers seven years of apprenticeship to competently make one glass, and ten years to make two the same.

In the Shrower the heights of the glasses were marked and scribed on a jig, with a carburundum point, then piece was then run through a flame and the surplus glass ‘moils’ was acracked-off, this was returned to the melt as cullett; the top of the piece was then ground level and a flame put a bevel around the top of the glass, this process was later automated. Another jig was used to mark the grid outline from the master pattern to guide the cutters. This grid was painted on using red lead and turpentine.

The Cutting Shop was a long workshop with an overhead central drive shaft, originally steam driven and holding wheels of various sizes to run drive belts. The wheel sizes regulate the speed of the belts which transmits the drive to the spindles on the cutters’ wheels. The frame of the cutters bench was a wooden or iron trough raised on legs with two upright pillars either side set with bearings to fix the spindles into making them easy to change or replace.

Cutting was then done in two stages, the rough cut and the smooth. The cutter looking through the glass to contact the wheel. Rough cutting was on a carborundum wheel lubricated with water; Smoothers used a smooth stone wheel with water.

The piece was then acid polished with a Sulphuric hydrofluoric acid mix which is intensely corrosive, this gave the glass a lustre and a brilliance with the cuts refracting and dispersing the light to give rainbow colours like a prism.

Intaglio is a skill between cutting and engraving to form designs, it is the opposite of cameos raised images, to produce ‘sunken pictures.’ The finish can be left matt or acid polished.

Engraving is the oldest form of glass decoration, originally using a treadle driven work bench, and achieved using a Cu wheel, fitted into a mandrill, and revolving horizontally about 12” above the work-bench. The Cu wheels are lubricated with emery in oil; engravers can have as many as 100 wheels varying in sizes from pin head to 4” diameter to produce intricate delicate designs; rarely polished but left as a matt pattern.

Etching uses hot acid resist wax (beeswax), the glass is warmed and coated with wax, and the design is scratched through the wax using a hard wooden point or steel stiletto, on a pantograph machine exposing the glass, in a repetitive design. The hot H2SO4/HF attacks the Si in and etches the glass leaving a bright surface. Adding ammonia to the acid mix leaves a frosted or semi-bright appearance. This mix is called White Acid. The Pantograph machine is an assembly of cogged centric and eccentric wheels and irregular cams. There can be 1 or up to 6 needle points. The glass is fixed firmly to a turntable, and turned to revolve slowly, the needles trace a set repetitive pattern in the wax.

Enameling wasone of Stuarts most striking innovations between the wars. Producing cheap and cheerful, novelty cocktail sets decorated with spiders, devils, and lucky symbols. The enameling was made using finely ground glass powder, applied to the cold glass, and re-fired at high enough temperature to fuse the glass powder to form a permanent pattern.

Gilding is the application of gold leaf to enhance the design.

Printing on Glass, as branding, used white acid and the design cut into a copper plate., smeared with acid-resist, the raised parts of the plate cleaned and a print of the wax was taken off the plate using tissue, which was applied to the glass; as the tissue was peeled away it left the resist adhered to the glass which was then treated with acid to leave a print on the glass.

Badging, used for trademarks, crests, and coats of arms, is a similar method, starting with an engraved copper plate, a paste containing hydrofluoric acid is applied, the plate is cleaned leaving the active acid in the engraved marks. A tissue print was taken, absorbing the HF and applied to the glass, etching the design to leave a frosted print.

Sand blasting also leaves frosted patterns on the glass. A metal stencil is cut with the pattern, and compressed air used to send jets of fine sand at high speed which abrades the exposed surface of the glass.

Cameo is glass sculpture, an art form from the ancient Greeks and Romans, originally carved on conch shells, and found on ancient funerary urns.

The fortunes of Stourbridge glass were revived in 1876 with the re-discovery of this lost art to reproduce the Portland Vase (Barberini Vase). The blank, a rich cobalt blue overlaid with opalescent white, blown here at the RHGC, under the management of Philip Pargeter, and the design carved by master glass decorator John Northwood.

Statue at The Merry Hill Centre, Dudley, of John Northwood holding his copy of the Portland Vase, 1999.

John Northwood’s copy of The Portland Vase, completed in 1876, now in the Corning Museum NY.

Cameo was successfully marketed as Medallion cameo, on scent bottles and dressing table sets, an unusual panel style of cameo set against a cut crystal background.

Tableware was the mainstay of Stuarts Production, and one of their longest running patterns was Beaconsfield made from 1907 until the Factory closed in 2001. Stuarts was a major supplier of tableware to Shipping lines including Titanic, the flagship of the White Star Line… and with 22000 pieces for Cunard’s Q Mary in the 1930’s. The fine quality finished products leaving the factory packed securely and branded in the distinctive Stuart colours.

Published by Kate Round

My name is Dr Kate Round; I am an outreach presenter and tour guide for Dudley Museum Service In my previous life, I was a research chemist so understand the chemistry of glass having worked on the synthesis of ‘zeolites’ (silica based materials) with my work published in International Journals. I have always lived in the Black Country and have a strong industrial family heritage.

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