Cut and pressed glass

By Paula Kirwan


There are many beautiful pieces of glassware that catch your eye when walking through GasLamp.  Although many collectors can identify a piece just by looking at it, the rest of us admire the beauty but may not know exactly what we’re seeing.  Especially confusing is determining the difference between cut and pressed glass.  The look is fairly similar, but on further examination, there are some differences.


These differences start with the manufacturing process.  Both cut and pressed glass have similar beginnings when they are created.  Both start out as molten glass pressed into a mold, but the molds are significantly different.  A pressed glass mold imparts the design directly onto the molten glass, which is then cooled and removed from the mold.  A cut glass mold produces a blank shape, and after the glass is cooled, the design is carved into the glass (photo, right; cut glass pitcher, $250 at Booth B-134)..


The molds for collectible pressed glass (also called Pattern glass) consisted of two to four pieces, depending on the size of the object.  Once the mold was fired, it was pulled away from the glass with the design embedded into the glass. This type of manufacturing allowed for mass production of consistent, beautifully designed glassware.  Pressed glass nearly always shows the mold marks, a very thin raised line caused by glass filling the very small gap where the mold parts came together. 


Using a rotating iron or stone wheel, the patterns in old cut glass pieces were cut by hand after the basic shape had been molded.  Because the design was individually applied by an artisan, you may find very minor variations in the pattern, which are visible only upon close examination.  These are not flaws, but an indication that the designs were not machine made.


Remember these basic differences to help you distinguish between the two types of glass:  Pressed glass usually shows the mold marks, or seams. The photos, left, feature a pressed glass bowl in which the seam may be seen in the close-up picture (pressed glass bowl, $150, Booth B-221).  In cut glass, the seams are usually polished out during the design cutting process, or may even be incorporated into the design.  The designs in pressed glass are rather smooth, while cut glass will feel “sharp” in comparison.  


Usually, a cut piece will have more sparkle and will be exceptionally clear due to the lead content of the glass, but if the piece is slightly grayish or bluish in color and not quite so clear, it is probably a pressed piece.  Feel the proportionate weight.  The heavy piece will probably be the cut one, as thicker class was needed for hand cutting, whereas pressed glass required only a thin layer in its molten state to flow into the mold to create the pattern.


Serious collectors can usually identify specific pieces by manufacturer, design or manufacturing method.  But if you are a casual buyer, these hints are your first steps in helping to determine the type of glassware you examining. 


Remember that items in an antique store are generally one of a kind, so if you are considering a piece that appeals to you because of its particular beauty or design, and if you think the price is right, go for it. Then, as you enjoy it in your home, you can decide if you want to do further research to determine the manufacturer and time period of the piece.  Maybe it will even inspire you to become a serious collector!





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