A guide to collecting engraved crystal stemware

A guide to collecting engraved crystal stemware

Manufactured for over 400 years and gracing the tables of owners for just as long, antique engraved crystal stemware is treasured and collected for its age, beautiful light-reflecting qualities and value. Whether the stemware is engraved, etched, cut or enamelled, the value of antique pieces can make collecting them extremely desirable. With examples from a century or more ago fetching up to £3,000 for a single glass, knowing what to look for when starting a collection is crucial.

Crystal stemware versus regular glassware

Crystal stemware differs from glassware in the fact that crystal has had lead added to it. This gives the crystal strength and resilience, enabling it to be moulded and spun into much thinner shapes than regular glass.

The addition of lead also results in a brilliant sparkle, especially when cut, engraved or etched. Although heavier than glass, crystal is a lot smoother and as it is manufactured at a lower temperature, intricate patterns are easier to craft, adding to the distinctive sparkle.

The different features of stemware

Coming in many different sizes and shapes, stemware features are usually described by the bowl, the stem and the foot. Some examples include

• Baluster – a stem that thickens towards the foot
• Bucket bowl – featuring a very wide mouth
• Air twist stems – introduced to make the glass lighter
• Facet cuts – cut away sections on the stem
• Knobbed stems – designed to make it easier to hold a glass

Identifying genuine crystal stemware

If a manufacturer’s mark cannot be identified when checking antique crystal stemware, there are a number of methods that can be tried, though the results may vary in accuracy.

Start by gently tapping the glass. Crystal should produce a delicate ‘pinging’ sound, while glass will have a dull sound. Hold the glass up to a bright light, remembering that only crystal will refract the light into a prism of rainbow colours. Wet a finger and run it around the rim of the stemware, and a clear, musical tone will be heard with good crystal. Experts in antique crystal stemware should be able to identify makers by the different cuts, engraving patterns and etching styles used.

Caring for antique crystal stemware

Protecting and preserving antique crystal is simple and needs no specialist knowledge or equipment. As crystal is porous, make sure any leftover wine is rinsed immediately and not allowed to sit in the glass overnight. Always hand wash in mild soapy water, and never put crystal in the dishwasher. To protect the rim from getting chipped while washing, place a tea towel in the bottom of the sink, and to increase the sparkle of crystal stemware, add a small amount of white vinegar to a final rinse. Always dry crystal items immediately with a soft, clean towel and put them away safely.

Keep crystal away from extreme sources of temperature, such as a windowsill or above a radiator, as the constant contraction and expansion may cause itl to crack.

Antique engraved crystal is a delicate and precious material and, with special care, should last and give pleasure for many years to come. You never know – the engraved crystal stemware bought today could end up being the antique crystal stemware of the future.

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