Burmese Glassware - From the Mount Washington Glass Company to Fenton
By Mary Haberstroh
Burmese glassware was produced and first patented by the Mount Washington Glass Company of South Boston, Massachusetts. This particular style of art glass utilized heating and re-heating methods after being hand-blown to which uranium oxide was added to the gold in the translucent white glass. Once the glass was finished from being fired in the kiln, it was opaque. This metallic blend created the duo-toned glass in pale yellow and pink, but some pieces were made with brighter yellow and orange. The colors blended so well in the center that it became impossible to tell where the yellow ended and the pink began. The actual method of making Burmese glass was patented by Fred Shirley in 1885 although other glass companies in America, as well as England, made Burmese glass. The glassware itself, once completed, was either given a shiny finish or a dull finish, although the dull finish appears to have been more popular when it came to making a profit for Mount Washington. Some of the glassware would then have added decorations of enamel and gold, creating elaborate pieces that are now worth several thousand dollars. Timothy Canty was the head of the Burmese glassware decorating department at Mount Washington and he created beautiful surface decorations with enamel. Two of the most famous designs were made on vases, one of which has two ibis birds flying in the air with the Egyptian pyramids in the background on a pale yellow and salmon pink Burmese glass; the other vase has a decoration of an enameled fish swimming in gold netting, with two smaller fish on the reverse side of the vase, also having a pale yellow to pink Burmese background. Other elaborate designs created on the Burmese glassware were Garden of Allah scenes with camels against a deep yellow and orange background, and a covered jar with a design of English ivy and a quote by Charles Dickens.
Another method of decorating Burmese glass was called coralene. This method entailed gluing small glass beads to the surface of the glassware. The beads would be formed in a number of decorations, ranging from small flowers to rows and outlines of enamel decoration. Vases with these decorations exist and are quite beautiful when near a lamp, as the beads tend to glow in the light.
The Thomas Webb Glass Company of Stourbridge, England, was granted a license to produce Burmese glass under the order of Queen Victoria, who loved the look of the duo-toned glass. Victoria was initially sent a tea service set of Burmese glass designed by Albert Steffin from the Mount Washington company and she became so enamored of it that she wanted the same time of glassware to be produced in England. Thus the Burmese glass produced by Webb came to be known as Queen's Pattern. Burmese glass made in England usually had a matte finish, versus the occasional shiny finish applied to some pieces at the Mount Washington Glass Company. President Grover Cleveland and his family were also recipients of four vases sent to the White House as a gift from the Mount Washington Company.
The procedure for making Burmese glassware was expensive. The average price for a six inch tall crimped vase was $5.50 back in 1887, and a set of a dozen glass tumblers was $3.25 the same year. Mount Washington was unable to keep up with the demand for Burmese glass and eventually had to cease production of it. In 1894, a silver company located next door to Mount Washington, Pairpont, bought the glass company as well as the molds and glass making methods, making it possible for some pieces to continue to be produced.
Both decorative and practical tableware was created with the Burmese glass method. Cups, saucers, drinking glasses, vases, and night lamps were all made by Mount Washington. The design and style of Burmese ware was later duplicated by Fenton, Murano, Gunderson, and other glass companies.
While the method of making Burmese glass nowadays can be easily duplicated through the paint process, the gold and uranium oxide combination produced a unique and superior style of glass in the late nineteenth century that soon became popular with the public. The best way to determine if the Burmese glass is genuine versus imitation is to hold the piece of glassware under a black light. If the glass shines green, then it is genuine, for the uranium oxide content makes the glass shine that way.
Some values of Burmese glassware:
Undecorated Mount Washington 4 1/4 tall vase, circa 1884, $300.00.
Mount Washington hobnail pattern, decorative bell with a stain finish, 5 3/4 tall. Late 19th century. $300.00.
Mount Washington hobnail pattern, water glass with handle, satin finish, 5 1/4 tall. Late 19th century. $360.00.
5 tall Fenton vase with coralene rows dividing roses and leaves, $100.00.
Thomas Webb rosebud vase, late nineteenth century, 3 3/4 tall, $700.00.
Mount Washington vase with Egyptian ibises and pyramids, $10,000.00.
About the Author:
Mary Haberstroh lives in Tucson, Arizona and she is a collector of antique and vintage glass. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org