A Fragile Heritage
Cambridge - Wednesday 6th September 2017
Aspects of Historic Glass
article posted 3 Apr 2017
Andy McConnell is one of Britain's leading authorities on glassware of all types,
and his books have covered the subject from 1650 to the present. He was the first glass
specialist recruited to BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow, for which he has now recorded
ten series. He lectures widely on glass and writes for journals as diverse as The Times &
Daily Telegraph, Country Life, Homes & Antiques & Glass Circle News.
His 550-page opus, "The Decanter, An Illustrated History of Glass from 1650",
covers the 'antique period', whilst the research for his more recent "20th Century
Glass" led him on a voyage of discovery across Europe. This quest, involving visits
to glassworks in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Venice, has resulted in
his richly illustrated book, "20th Century Glass".
Andy owns around 25,000 pieces of glass and 20,000 glass-related images. He welcomes
Study Day groups of up to 50 to Glass Etc, at Rye, East Sussex, the site of his
The Scent bottle
the Jewel in the Glass Crown
Scent bottles have always commanded greater designer attention and been lavished with
finer craft skills than any other vessel. This inevitably meant that despite their mini sizes,
the best have also ranked amongst the most prestigious and expensive. Small glass flasks
for scents and oils have been formed for around 3,500 years. In ancient Mesopotamia,
they were shaped by coiling molten glass, like plastisene, around appropriately formed
dung cores. Even using these primitive methods, Middle Eastern and Greek glassmakers
achieved extraordinary results. Happily for both perfume manufacturers and their
customers, over 2,000 years have elapsed since the birth of glass-blowing, meaning
that bottles longer are no longer formed using desert animal poo.
The shift of the centre of the glassmaking world from Arabia to Europe with the fall
of Damascus in 1405 ignited and inspired the European glass industry by boosting local
skills. Renaissance miniature, high-end flasks for oils and fragrancies in precious metals,
rock crystal and glass still gleam with timeless quality and wealth. Glass remained the
exclusive preserve of the mega-rich for centuries, and it wasn't until the 20th that
industrialisation democratised its ownership by making it affordable to working people.
By the 1960s, even Woolies and the Avon lady sold scent bottles.
This talk traces the stylistic and technological advances that have marked the history of
glassmaking and the scent bottle from the days of the Ancients and Rome, through the
18th century and Victorian eccentricity to the present day.