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American Glass and Crystal History

crystal bowl The firstglassproduced in the Americas was in Mexico in 1535 and Argentina in 1592. Neither of these glassworks were popular due to the small population and lack of demand. Virginia was the first English colony to startglasswarein 1608 near Jamestown. However, the Jamestown glassware closed after only a year. The Dutch operated two glassworks in the 1650's in New York (New Amsterdam at the time). We know very little about the glass made in these early glass operations.

crystal decanterThe demand forglass itemsincreased until in the 1730. First sucessfull American glassworks was at Wistarburgh, New Jersey, built in 1738 by Caspar Wistar. They started manufacturing bottles and window glass the next year, and they also made tableware, but it was not marked so it is hard to identify. Another successful early American glassmaker was Henry W Stiegel, who established three glassworks in Lancaster County, west of Philadelphia. He produced window glass and bottles and competed with the imported luxury glass of that day. And the third early glassmaker was John F. Amelung, who purchased a glassworks in Frederick County west of Baltimore around 1784 and named it the "e;New Bremmen Glass Manufactory"e;.

crystal decanterBritish strongly opposed these early American ventures. It was not until the Revolutionary War in 1783 followed by the war with Britain in 1812 together with the trade embargo on British goods, that American glass manufacture really took off. Between 1790 and 1820 some 63 glasshouses were set up. Protective tariffs were introduced in 1824 and about half of this wave of glass-houses survived into the 1830's.

In the first half of the 19th century the population of America grew from 5 million to 23 million, and the market for glass items significantly increased. Glassmakers introduced new manufacturing methods to increase production and meet the ever-growing demands. As a result, mold-blown glassware became very prevalent in American households.

crystal water jugAbout the middle of the 19th century the glassworks in Eastern America switched to luxury, cut, leadcrystal glassso they could more easily pass on the higher costs of manufacture. There followed several phases of popularity for cut glass (the Brilliant period). This gave way eventually to the Victorian vogue for colored glass and elaborate decoration. By the turn of the century "e;Art Nouveau"e; style had replaced Victorian and had become very popular in America. Glass artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frederick Carder, Arthur J. Nash, and Victor Durand made beautiful art glass pieces that are highly prized today.

In 1910 mass-production of cheaper glass became prevalent because of the drastic growth of population. Now that servants could buy imitation Tiffany glassware, the original Tiffany's art glass became less popular. Companies like Fenton Art Glass became strong during the Carnival Glass era (1910 to mid 1920's) and are still producing large volumes of collectible glass today.

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