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Thomas Webb and Co., Stourbridge, England
 Iridised "
Bronze" Glass

Webb's "Bronze" glass was made c.1870-1880s and was iridized. Its style and appearance imitated ancient Roman glass that had a metallic, incandescent sheen. Revi in his classic text "Nineteenth Century Glass" quotes an English trade journal dated August 29, 1878:

"the following commentary by Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, with specific reference to Tho. Webb and Sons 'Bronze Glass' appeared: On a recent visit to Mr Goode's attractive galleries at Audley Street, we noticed a fine selection of the new Bronze Glass, discovered and made by Messrs. Thomas Webb and Sons, of Stourbridge. Its purple bronze surface shines with the hues of the rainbow, such as they appear on molten lead, or on pieces of steel which have been tempered in gradually diminishing degrees of heat.......The shapes are in preference borrowed from Dr Schliemann's finds at Troy and Mycenae, owl faced and curiously lipped vessels predominating....It has already attracted considerable attention at the Paris Exhibition."

webbs bronze vase

Webb's iridized "Bronze" glass with applied Lion decoration.

How Was It Made? 


This splendid vase is an example of the crackled version of Bronze glass that Cyril Manley (in his "Decorative Victorian Glass") called "Brain" glass. The crackled effect pattern was achieved by plunging the glass into cold water to get the crackle, then re-heating, blowing and iridising."

In the actual Webb pattern books, the color is actually called "Green Bronze". Most Carnival collectors would think that the base color of the item is likely to be a deep purple or perhaps black amethyst - but hold it to a strong light source and it can be seen that the base color is bottle green - see the picture below.

 

Applied Decorations 

Various decorative additions can often  be found on the Bronze items, such as applied trails and lion masks (as on this vase - see detail below). Lizards, snakes and frogs were also used!

Charles Hajdamach ("British Glass 1800-1914") quotes the application for the patent that Webb's took out for their "Bronze" glass.

"The glass articles are exposed, while in the nearly molten state after blowing, and before annealing, to the fumes generated by placing chloride of tin, alone or mixed with the nitrates of barium and strontium, upon a hot plate or spoon. During this process the articles are placed in a muffle or chamber into which the fumes are introduced."

It is fascinating to see the links of early iridized glass such as this, with Carnival.


Early ads for Carnival in the Butler Brother's catalogs advertised the glass as Pompeiian - so what's the link to that ancient Greek city tragically buried by volcanic ash? It stems right back to the discoveries of iridized glass in the ruins of Pompeii and also to the finding of iridized glass buried in ancient tombs. The iridescence on the surface of these items was not a deliberate effect produced by the original makers, it was instead brought about by a natural process called "devitrification" (meaning the breaking down or chemical decomposition of the glass) caused by being buried for great lengths of time in moist and often acidic soils.

 

But this was iridescent glass by accident - the production of  iridescent glass by design was to come many centuries later.

 

During the 1800s, European glassmakers were constantly striving for innovation. Manufactured iridized glass was first made in Bohemia and then in England - during the 1870s, the iridized glass was exhibited at international fairs in both Vienna and Paris. Some of the items had patterns - Thomas Webb's "Brain" glass for example, with its crackle effect - but the patterns were not press moulded like Carnival.

 

This early iridized glass was blow moulded and the patterns were made with applied decoration. In the case of the Webb's "Brain" glass, the pattern was achieved through plunging the glass into cold water to get the crackle, then re-heating, blowing and iridizing.

bronze vase detail pf lion

Above: Detail of applied Lion decoration.

Below: the bottle green base colour of the vase.

webb bronze vase - green base colour

A quote from an 1879 American trade journal that was used by Revi in "Nineteenth Century Glass" helps to further illustrate the links and sources of inspiration. An importer and wholesaler dealing in Bohemian glass products reported that they had "just received from Bohemia the finest selection of iridescent glass and Bronze glass ever assembled under one roof . . . In the bronze glass the Pompeiian and antique styles prevail. These are interesting as well as beautiful, specially so as being exact copies of relics rescued from the ruins of the buried city. The iridescent glass goods are of the most perfect finish and graceful shapes, and glitter in the light with all the hues of the rainbow."

Later in the 1880s and early 1900s, various makers took the art of iridized glass to new levels. Among the most renowned of these manufacturers were Lobmeyer, Pallme-Konig and Loetz in Bohemia, Stephens and Williams and Thomas Webb in England, and Louis Comfort Tiffany in the USA. Tiffany had been inspired by the natural iridescence of ancient glass - in particular Roman glass. During his travels throughout Europe he had observed many classical styles and effects. Tiffany patented his first glass-lustering technique in 1881 and his iridescent glass-known as "Favrile" - followed in 1894.  In the method of manufacture of Tiffany's Favrile, salts of rare metals were dissolved in the molten glass and through various stages of re-heating, were brought to the surface to give a distinctive effect. Added to this, Tiffany's glass was then sprayed to give an iridescent effect (usually with various chlorides - different metals gave different color effects). It was hugely popular with specialities like the peacock feather motif and the jack-in-the-pulpit vase. Other American manufacturers followed in his footsteps: Steuben, Quezal and Durand. But their iridized art glass had one drawback for the ordinary man and woman-it was expensive!

When Classic Carnival Glass was first made in the USA around 1907, it was imitating the iridized art glass that had been made previously by famous manufacturers such as Loetz and Tiffany. The ads that appeared in the Butler Brothers' catalogs suggested not only these sources of inspiration, but also the links to the recent archeological discoveries. In 1909 and 1910, early Northwood ads described the groups of iridised glass as Pompeiian Iridescent Assortments. In the body of these ads (which included such familiar items as the Fine Cut and Roses rose bowl) the description of the goods stated: "such effective designs heretofore produced only in the expensive imported goods." Another Northwood ad in 1909 described their iridized range as Bohemian Iridescent - confirming the source of inspiration to be Bohemia, an area formerly part of Czechoslovakia and now part of the Czech Republic.

Fundamentally, however, when Carnival Glass came on the scene it was as a response to the times. Machine technology had been advanced, mass production was the watchword of the era. The processes involved in iridizing glass were well known and the materials were available. But the real key to it all was to be found in the public taste - in what the people wanted. They'd seen the incredibly expensive Tiffany glass and they loved it. They were attracted to its gorgeous, rich patterns and its fabulous iridescence. But they wanted it cheap. They wanted it affordable. Whereas Tiffany's iridised glass adorned the homes of the well-to-do few, the cheaper, mass produced Carnival from manufacturers such as Fenton, Northwood, Dugan, Imperial and Millersburg, reached a far greater buying public. Being rich is not a pre-requisite for the appreciation of beauty. The widespread availability of reasonably priced iridized Carnival Glass gave ordinary people the rare opportunity to grace their homes with decorative objects. Though the glass was mass produced, much of it was also hand finished. In fact, so much individuality was applied to each piece of glass in terms of its color, iridescence or hand finishing, that it is really very difficult to find two pieces exactly the same in all respects. Bowls, plates and other exotic shapes, adorned with peacocks, flowers, butterflies, fruits and dragons - and all in vibrant, shimmering iridescence.
  This was Art for Everyone!

Extract from: "The Art of Carnival Glass".