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Antique Spotlight: Cut Crystal

Glasses, bowls, vases, perfume bottles — that’s just some of the things you’ll find elaborately designed in the world of collecting cut crystal. Undoubtedly beautiful and often passed from generation to generation, cut crystal offers much to love for antique aficionados.

Antique Spotlight: Cut Crystal

Photo credit: Retro Art Glass

How old is it? According to Kovels, cut glass actually dates back to ancient times — taking different designs based on the time period. The cut crystal that’s really popular with collectors was most often made in the “brilliant” period of glass, between 1880 and 1905, though cut crystal was made after that as well.

Why did it become popular? As with many things, the allure of luxury made cut glass popular. It exuded elegance with its handcrafted, geometric designs — which sparkled perfectly when reflecting light and made any dinner table shine. The American Cut Glass Association explains that expositions in Philadelphia (1876) and Paris (1889) showcased the talent of American glass designers, which really boosted an industry in America that had long been monopolized by European designers.

Antique Spotlight: Cut Crystal

Photo credit: Live Auctioneers

Is it tough to find? Generally no, but you will have to weed out clever reproductions and will likely find pieces that aren’t in great condition. The glass itself is delicate and sensitive to heat, so there is definitely reason to inspect pieces carefully for wear and tear.

How much does it cost? It’s not uncommon to find items around the $50 range, especially individual glasses or smaller bowls. The price could be even cheaper depending on the size and condition of the pieces, while pitchers and larger items definitely get into the hundreds of dollars. Oftentimes items come in sets, which will raise the price even more.

Antique Spotlight: Cut Crystal

Photo credit: eBay

What are some identifying features?

  • Manufacturer’s mark: This is a great way to identify when the piece was made. Not all cut crystal has a mark — so don’t assume it’s a reproduction if it doesn’t have one. About says that some rarer, earlier pieces didn’t have marks because American designers wanted to pass them off as European, since European glass was initially more sought after, while companies like Meriden just didn’t sign glass at all. eHow explains that a signature or name is often on the bottom of a piece, so look for that first.
  • Pattern: The more ornate the pattern, the more valuable it likely is. Elegant, geometric patterns were the signature styles of the Brilliant period, though even simpler designs are valuable if the cut crystal itself is very old.
  • Size: Bigger pieces are more valuable, especially if they are elaborate and in good condition. Punch bowls, vases, lamps, and the like should definitely not be passed over — just make sure to look carefully for damage.
  • Damage: As we mentioned above, it’s important to look for chips, cracks, and other damage. Run your fingers over the design to help find rough spots, since just looking at the piece often isn’t telling (because of the intricacy of the design).
  • Fluorescent light test: The ACGA offers this trick, which works with most (but not all) antique cut crystal. About 90% of pieces will “fluoresce” lime-greenish when exposed to a black light in a dark room. Some tend to fluoresce pink, purple, or orange as well. It’s not foolproof, but something to try.
  • Sound: Not sure if it’s real crystal? Tap it and see what sound it makes. Crystal will make a very distinct “ping” or “ring” sound when tapped or flicked with a finger.
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