The National Glass Collectors Fair

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English Pressed
Glass Exhibition

The following article discusses some of the English pressed glass featured in an exhibition at the Cambridge Glass Fair (22 February 2009).

The article is written by Philip Housden, who also curated the exhibition. This article first appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Glass Association's regular publication, the Glass Cone.

English Pressed Glass

by Philip Housden

An aesthetic green 'New Bowl' (pat.1407) by Sowerby.
An aesthetic green 'New Bowl' (pat.1407)
by Sowerby. Circa 1879

Variety of shape, design and colour, together with an admiration for the skill of the mould makers are the elements that attracted me to collecting English Victorian pressed glass and have maintained my interest over the past 15 years.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a flourishing of design ideas and production methods. Some pressed glass factories were short-lived. For example, W. H. Heppell & Co. of Gateshead was only in business for 10 years. They had novel designs that fortunately lived on beyond the factory's life as their moulds were bought by George Davidson & Co. in 1884. Some factories leave us (to my knowledge) with no surviving catalogues of their products, the prime example being Henry Greener & Co. of Sunderland. They made unusual items such as clock surrounds, tea pot stands and lustres which fortunately can be identified by their trade mark. Other makers such as Sowerby have left us with a much better picture of their products.

The upshot is that these Victorian entrepreneurs have bequeathed us a rich legacy of items for the antique collector of today. Whilst much of their production was
Opalescent duck by Molineaux, Webb & Co.
Opalescent duck by Molineaux, Webb & Co.
utilitarian in nature there was also an emphasis on design and colour of items that were clearly intended for decorative and display purposes. Design and colour of English Victorian pressed glass was the inspiration for my foyer display at the Cambridge Glass Fair on February 22nd 2009.  I selected around 65 items which were representative of the tremendous range of colour and design that came from factories based in the Newcastle and Manchester areas.

One cabinet I devoted entirely to the production of Sowerby's Ellison Glass Works which was in Gateshead. For sheer variety of colour and design Sowerby was unsurpassed. The detail and intricacy of some items is a testament to the skill of their mould makers, whose abilities seem to be largely overlooked. Putting together 30 items from one company, made largely in the 15 years between 1875 and 1890, was the best way to demonstrate the
An amber 'Judy' by John Derbyshire. Circa 1875.
An amber 'Judy' by John Derbyshire Circa 1875
tremendous vitality of the business during those years. A couple of the rarely seen items I included were an aesthetic green 'New Bowl' (pat.1407) and a common green swan dish (pat.1398).

In the second cabinet I displayed items from eight other manufacturers and a couple of items of unknown attribution. The colours and designs of these items were selected to complement and supplement those from Sowerby.  Although many of the factories copied each others’ designs and colours some were unique to one producer, such as Edward Moore’s “caramel” and an amber ‘pearline’ from Henry Greener, examples of which I included. 

Some of the more rarely seen items were a blue opalescent duck from Molineaux, Webb & Co. of Ancoats and a deep amber 'Judy' from John Derbyshire of Salford.

The display was a testament to lost skills and a time in our history when inventiveness and confidence flourished.


Article Written by Philip Housden

Philip Housden has been collecting and dealing in pressed glass for many years. He is extremely knowledgeable about this type of glass and as a regular exhibitor at both the Cambridge Glass Fair and the National Glass Collectors Fair, he is always willing to help collectors with questions about English Victorian pressed glass.


Please note that the content of this article is the sole intellectual property of the author. No reproduction or reference to the text of this article may be made without the express permission of the author.

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