Glassmakers Shift Pattern, Pay and tools – Part II
Glass making in Stourbridge in the century from the 1850’s was a flourishing and extremely successful industry, with many family-run businesses. Names that we remember that have now long gone from our streets, Stuart Crystal, Royal Brierley Crystal, (Stevens & Williams), Webbs, Corbett’s, Richardsons, to name a few
Although it was an industrial process, the glass was handmade. It is an art form like hand-made pottery, where pieces are free formed, blown and fashioned to perfection. Glassmakers needed hard earned skills and dexterity to produce delicate lead crystal tableware in the dark, hot, and bustling conditions of a Victorian factory floor. The Difference between pottery and lead crystal, is the working temperatures, it means they needed tools, used as extensions to their hands to fashion the molten metal into its fine precise shape before it cooled and hardened.
The glassmakers bench known as the CHAIR was position opposite to the pot of metal, the temperature of the metal was at the top of the working range of glass around 1150deg C.
Each glassmaker had his own tools that were carefully selected cleaned and laid out at the start of their move. Glassmakers toolmaking was ancillary industry in Stourbridge, Notice the bucket of water, to soak the wooden tools, and newsprint.
The main tools used by a glassblower are a blowing iron a hollow tube like a straw and a punty iron (from pontil meaning bridge), similar to a blowing iron but solid, the irons are kept hot ready to gather the metal.
The marver, from the Italian for marble, as is a cool smooth table for shaping the glass,
Glass is gathered on the blowing iron, which is around 5ft long, to stop heat transfer to where the glassblower held the iron; and the gather is blown to inflate
To shape the glass, it must be in the working range between 700 deg. and 1100 deg. C
Hotter than 1100 deg. C and the gather of glass is too runny to manipulate
Cooler that 700 deg. C and the molten glass starts to harden.
Watch a glassmaker working and they are continually reheating the glass in the Re-heating Chamber or Glory Hole. The glass can be free blown or blown into a mould to take on the shape and design of the mould.
The marver is also used to gather colours, in the form of ground glass or frit by picking it up off the marver and reheating to fuse the colours. The gather is then further inflated and shaped.
A shaped block is a wooden tool used to smooth and shape the glass, soaked in water before use, it creates a layer of steam as the molten glass is shaped.
These would often be made by the glassblower, at home from a fruitwood found in his garden. Fruitwood holds a lot of moisture to resist burning.
Making the tool to suit the size and shape of the pieces they needed to make helped them to work more quickly and more accurately. Glassware usually formed part of a set meaning they needed to be the same size and shape. This tool is used at the beginning stages of glassmaking before the glass is inflated.
Jacks are made from two metal blades that connect at the handle. Used to manipulate the glass. The tips of the jacks are used to ‘drip’ water onto the piece, to create a line of weakness to allow the piece to be ‘cracked-off’ the blowing iron after the punty has been attached to the base
A glassmaker will use a wad of wet newspaper to help him to shape the gather of glass. Wet newspaper is the ideal material for this task, it protects the glassblower’s hands from the heat because it is non-porous so allows no hot steam to escape. The glass glides on a cushion of steam and the paper does not burn. Material such a cloth or leather would not work because it is porous. The handles of the metal jacks are used to flatten the base of the piece.
Glassmakers callipers or dividers are used to check the circumference of pieces to ensure they are the same size as the other pieces in the set. Parrot nose shears/Diamond shears are a scissor-like tool with a diamond shaped blade. Used as shears, the four-sided blade allows for a more compact and rounded cut of hot glass, leaving less of a tool mark than a two-sided, straight shear. The ‘parrot like’ beak at the end is also used to steady the punty/pontil iron as it attaches to the base and a line of weakness made before cracked off the blowing iron.
The Soffietta is used to inflate a glass vessel after it has been taken off the blow pipe.
Smaller gathers of glass on a bit-iron add trails of hot decoration to a piece, guided by the shears. Straight Shears cut the molten glass. Excess glass is trimmed off to create a smooth edge. Before the opening, left by the blowing iron, is widened.
Parchoffi are similar to metal jacks, but are made from wood or graphite. They do not leave marks on the glass the way a metal jack does. The blades of jacks and parchoffi are used to widen the mouth of the opening in the glass.
Wooden paddles kept soaking are another homemade tool and used boh help shape a piece and to shield the gaffers from the heat.
Tweezers allow the glassworker to manipulate hot pieces of glass. Their long, narrow construction makes them easy to manoeuvre when sculpting small pieces of molten glass.
The bit-iron again brings small gathers of glass to add handles to jugs, stems & foot to stemware. The terms used by the glassmakers for the amounts of glass that a gaffer needs include gather, bit and gob.
Crimps are a tool used to add decorative elements to glass. Available with various patterns and textures. Hot bits of glass are squeezed between the textured surfaces of this tool, leaving patterned indentations.
When completed, the piece is then cracked off the pontil iron ready for annealing
With Stemware, a stem & foot are added and a folded board for foot-making, another home-made wooden tool to help the glassmaker add the foot to the stem of a glass. The footboards are used to squeeze a gather of glass added to the bottom of the stem (or ‘leg’) whilst rotating the iron quickly. Different sizes on the board kept the size consistent. the charred marks inside the board show which size was used most often.
A folded rim on a foot strengthened the foot and prevented chips. A folded foot is made by adding a bubble of glass to the base of the stem, a hole made in it and the edge folded inwards (or more rarely outwards) before opening the bubble out to make the foot. This was superseded in the early 19th century by making a foot from a solid gather and shaping it by squeezing it, a precursor to the footboard technique.
The Beaconsfield shape was always in production, and at the end of their first turn of 6 hours, they would have made at least 80 pieces by this process, to earn the minimum wage.
Next time we will meet the designers both in-house and commissioned who made sure that Stuart Crystal Products were both desirable and at the forefront of fashion.
With thanks for advice to: Mark Taylor