Present day glassblowers may use modern machinery, but they are practising an ancient art. Glass blowing is a skill requiring dextrous hands, stamina and a creative mind. At times in history, the techniques of glass blowing were regarded as secrets that only a select few knew how to perform correctly.
A short history of glass blowing
The first evidence of glass blowing was found in Jerusalem in a site dating from between 37 to 4BC. Fragments of glass tubes, small bottles and glass rods were recovered. The glass tubes were sealed at one end, and air was blown through the open end to inflate the tube. This is considered a basic form of glass blowing.
The first widespread use of glassblowing was along the Syro-Palestinian coast during the first century BC. The Roman Empire spread the art of glass blowing with many glass workshops established by the Phoenicians along the eastern border of the Roman Empire, including Lebanon, Palestine and Cyprus, and later glassblowing spread into Egypt.
In the Middle Ages, glass blowing spread to Europe. Venice becoming the major centre for glass blowing, particularly in the Venetian island of Morano where glassmakers produced the finest Cristallo clear glassware.
Glass blowing spread all over the world and fine glassmakers produced pieces in Japan and China.
Done by hand, it was a highly skilled job requiring skilled craftsmen.
In 1903, Michael Owens invented the first bottle blowing machine which automatically made light bulbs. In the 1950s, Sir Alastair Pilkington developed the flat glass method, which is still used to produce most glass panes.
What is glass blowing?
The glassblowing process inflates molten glass into a bubble with the aid of a blowpipe. The glassblower blows into the pipe to inflate the glass and shapes it using various tools, including jacks, paddles, tweezers and shears.
The blowpipes were originally made from clay that could easily break, but these were replaced by metal pipes.
There are two main types of glass blowing: free and mould. In free blowing, the glassblower blows short puffs of air to make the bubble, which they then quickly form into the desired shape. In mould blowing, the molten glass is inflated inside a mould, which forms the shape without needing the skill of the glassblower.
Modern day glass blowing
Plenty of current era glass artists have developed the ancient art of glass blowing to produce works of major artistic value. Glass art pieces by Dale Chihuly, William Morris, and Jack Storms are in high demand. Dale Chihuly is estimated to have sold around $29m worth of glass artwork, including many large scale sculptures.
If your budget does not stretch to purchasing hand blown glass from a major glass artist, you can purchase blown glass items produced on machines. Modern glassmakers create stylish trophies, drinking glass, vases and paperweights at value for money prices. To make these glass items into a special gift, glass engravers add personal messages and images. The person that receives the engraved glassware then has a one-of-a-kind present.