Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Written on Glass

Cranberry-cut-to-clear flask.
Given my interests in glass and in the history of writing, it has often crossed my mind that I should tackle a project that combines the two things: a study or collection of writing on glass. 

Unfortunately, such a study must have an incredibly broad scope, covering at least several hundred years (and there certainly are also Roman examples, and perhaps Greek ones as well), and with examples executed in a variety of modes.

Indeed, it seems important for me to at least note that I am accustomed to thinking of various materials as what have been called "writing supports"--the substrates or surfaces upon which writing appears: paper, vellum, wood, stone, metal, chalkboards, and so on. In my simplistic mind, I usually think each writing support has a more or less natural writing technology that suits it: ink is used on paper and vellum; stone and metal are inscribed or engraved; chalkboards take chalk. 

In the case of glass, however, words and characters may be present in the mold that shapes the glass in the first place (for pieces that are molded); they may be etched into the surface with acid; they may be painted or enameled onto the surface; they may be engraved or cut by a stone or metal wheel. 

In the glass I know best, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American tableware and art glass, all of these are actually quite common, and they may be seen in varying degrees of artistry and execution: an attempt to collect examples of writing on glass might quickly grow very large indeed. 

For today's blog post, I just wanted to share one recent acquisition that features two letters in the form of a monogram. The piece of glass is a cut and engraved glass flask, about 6 inches in size. It is cranberry (or gold ruby) in color, and it probably dates, I would guess, to the 1880s, based upon the nature of the piece and the style of decoration.

My first instinct is to suspect this flask is American in its origins, because flasks of this basic size and shape were a very common American production item in the middle nineteenth century, often very colorful and attractive. This example, if I am right about the date, comes from the very end of that tradition, and at the auction where I purchased it, it was tentatively attributed to the Dorflinger cut glass factory, in White Mills, PA (east of Scranton). It's a perfectly plausible attribution: this piece has all the quality that one would expect out of a piece of Dorflinger, and there aren't all that many other candidates for the manufacture of a piece of this quality from this period.

Unless the flask is British or European, that is. Seeing the monogram reads RV or VR, one of my other first instincts was to imagine that one candidate for the person referenced in the monogram might be Victoria Regina, England's Queen Victoria. I would hesitate to suggest that Queen Victoria herself would have needed a monogrammed flask for her liquor, but it is at least possible that this might have been cut as a souvenir of her Golden Jubilee in 1887.

One form of Victoria's VR monogram.
One might compare the form of this monogram, for example, with the monogram found embroidered in the example shown at the left, which is apparently accepted as Victoria's.

Without a crown being present on the flask, it is probably not possible to be certain about attributing the monogram to Victoria, even as a Jubilee souvenir. But the possibility is intriguing, and I should probably add that if VR does stand for Victoria Regina, it is still possible that the flask was made and decorated in America: there has long been a market here for English royal memorabilia.

Perhaps as readers of this blog has come to expect, there are yet-unanswered questions here: but that's part of the fun, I always think.