Why Murano Glass Is So Collectible

For nearly 700 years this glass has been impressing.

If you’ve ever been to Italy then you’ve no doubt been tempted by some collectible glass to take home as a souvenir. If you’re willing to risk it being broken in your luggage then it could be a prize you cherish for years. There is a bustling market for Murano glass, which is made only in Venice, around the globe. But, this type of glass can be very expensive. So what makes this stuff so collectible? Let’s break it down.

Murano Glass
Swirled chalcedony-aventurine glass container from the late 17th or early 18th century. Via: Vassil/Wiki Commons

The craft is centuries old, with the methods used today being very similar to how it was done hundreds of years ago. This connection to the past in one reason why this glass is so expensive. Rather than allowing modern machines to produce glass much quicker and cheaper, the handmade pieces reflect a slower process and one that requires years of training. Arts like these don’t come cheaply.

There are variety of styles that fall within the Murano milieu, but all of them are made to high standards and this also contributes to their price and collectibility.

goldstone Murano glass decanters
Via: Vassil/Wiki Commons

Among the styles that are most recognizable are goldstone, which looks like bits of gold floating in stone, and millefiori, which means “thousand flowers” in Italian. But, they are also known for their mirrors of curved and etched glass, as well as huge, colorful, delicate chandeliers spilling with flowers and ribbons.

The huge variety of techniques embodied in the phrase “Murano glass” has also contributed to the desire to own a piece of this storied glass.

Murano glass chandelier
Chandelier from the 16th century Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. Via: Sailko/Wiki Commons

Glass makers from the Venetian island of Murano have also been making very special glass beads since before Christopher Columbus discovered North America.

They were so highly-prized that they were used as currency and made their way all over the globe in an era when the global economy was still in its infancy. Case in point, there have been blue Murano glass beads discovered in Alaska that actually predate Columbus.

The beads were found at Punyik Point, an archaeoligcal site in Alaska that shows a number of ancient features such as pit houses. The beads were dated to between 1440-1480 using carbon dating. Researchers suspect that the beads were taken along the Silk Road and ended up in Russia where they were ferried across the Bering Strait (at its narrowest point only 52 miles wide) to Alaska by a trader. These Murano trade beads are the oldest European artifacts ever found in North America.

19th century  millefiori bowl from Murano
19th century millefiori bowl with tiny faces amidst a sea of blue swirls. Via: Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the most important features of Murano glass is that this art form brought art glass -with limited functionality- to the forefront of the art world. They were first designed in the 13th century to be displayed in the houses of wealthiest families of Italy and that provenance still holds power today.

The uselessness and impracticality of the majority these items is part of what gives them value. They exist to be admired, cherished, and kept safe. And, despite the fact that they are not made to be durable, yet somehow have stood the test of time.