Vaseline Glass

By Paula Kirwan

 

As a dealer at Gaslamp, I’m always seeking interesting items to put in my booth.  As a customer and collector, I am also constantly looking for the next “treasure” to add to my ever-growing display of Noritake.  Lately, however, I have also become very attracted to the “glowing” green of Vaseline glass – and I think I’m on the verge of starting a new collection!

 

Also known as uranium glass, it glows bright green under ultraviolet (black) light due to the uranium oxide added to the glass in its molten state.  The nickname “Vaseline” was used to describe the glass starting in the 1920s, as the color was perceived to be similar to the appearance of Vaseline petroleum jelly that was being manufactured at that time.

 

Uranium oxide was first used as a coloring agent in the 1830s.  A variety of companies produced uranium glass, including Adams and Co., Steuben Glass, Cambridge Glass Company and Baccarat.  Companies produced an endless variety of Vaseline glass dinnerware places, such as wine servers, water pitchers, mugs and butter dishes, along with more decorative shapes such candlesticks and paperweights.  The photo, above right, features a marmalade dish from the Victorian era, during which time such vessels made of Vaseline glass were popular. (Photo from www.vaselineglass.org.)

 

Manufacturing continued through the Victorian and Art Deco periods and thereafter until 1943, when the U.S. government halted its production as uranium became a heavily regulated substance.  In 1958, uranium oxide was deregulated, and the production of Vaseline glass resumed.  This time, however, producers used depleted uranium in place of more radioactive natural uranium.  Different companies called its distinctive color different names, including citron, jasmine, golden green, mustard, Florentine and canary.

 

Vaseline glass is still produced in limited quantities today, as uranium is a highly regulated and expensive ingredient.  Current manufacturers include Fenton Glass, Boyd Crystal Art Glass, Mosser Glass and Summet Glass.  These modern pieces are decorative and are not intended for use as dinnerware. (Photo, left, five Hazel Iris glasses at GasLamp Too Booth T-504 for $65.)

 

Over the years, Vaseline glass had a bad reputation because of questions about the risk of radiation poisoning.  While it does give a positive reading on a Geiger counter, many regulatory agencies have investigated to see if, in fact, this glass is harmful.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission studied the health risks in an official 2001 report, and it agreed largely with what collectors had been saying all along – radiation from the glass was equally (or, in some cases, even less) harmful than the background radiation levels we are exposed to every day. 

 

Unless they are very special pieces, Vaseline glass items are still affordable.  Prices can range from hundreds of dollar to less than $25.  Be aware, however, that there are pieces out there that may be misrepresented as Vaseline glass, sometimes intentionally, but mostly in error.  The only way to truly know if a piece is authentic is to see it under a black light.  If it glows a vibrant green, you know it’s really Vaseline glass. 

 

I have seen displays of glowing Vaseline, and it is a beautiful sight, indeed.  Won’t you join me in a journey to start a collection of this unique glass?

 

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