three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair

October 2015

British opalescent glass

We are always pleased with the quality of our in-fair exhibitions and the display for October 2015 promises to be no exception; in fact, we are especially looking forward to this one and we know our visitors will feel the same way!

From a collection of over 160 glasses, slowly built up since 1972, the opalescent glasses that will be exhibited at the Cambridge glass fair at Knebworth this October will number near fifty pieces. The attraction has been their delightful design, simple yet creative, alluding to historical glasses, or of contemporary lines with reference to the Arts & Crafts movement.

Tall blue ribbed opalescent footed vase by Kempton.

The surface brilliance, rim shapes from ‘throwing’ the forming glass and the metallic-like ring on tapping all go to make the James Powell & Sons opalescent glasses particularly appealing.

Since the publication of ‘Whitefriars Glass, James Powell & Sons of London’ (1995) by The Museum of London and ‘Whitefriars Glass, The Art of James Powell & Sons’ (1996) by Lesley Jackson, accompanying the exhibition at Manchester City Art Galleries, glass that had been known by dealers and collectors alike as ‘Vaseline’ glass – due to similarities in colour and refractivity - have since been called ‘Straw Opalescent’ and ‘Blue Opalescent’.

Many of the glasses chosen for this exhibition were produced by Whitefriars, particularly the designs by Harry Powell in the 1870’s, but straw and blue opalescent glasses were also made by Thomas Webb, Stuart & Sons and Richardson’s from Stourbridge, Kempton & Sons and Walsh Walsh. A number of the pieces from the glasshouses of Stourbridge were similar (not only the opalescent glass!) thus making it difficult to attribute them accurately. This issue was investigated by Lesley Jackson in ‘Whitefriars Lookalikes’ in The Journal of the Glass Association 5, 1997, and also by Nigel Benson, in ‘Arts and Crafts Glass – Not only Powell’ in the ‘Antique Collecting’ magazine, March 2014.

Stuart opalescent thrown-rim footed vase with trailing.

The colours of ‘straw’ or ‘blue’ change in different lighting, the straw opalescence varying from a greenish hue in direct light to orange in transmitted light.

The light variation also plays on the opalescence which has been produced with the addition of uranium to the glass batch. Once the glass is made, the clear glass is reheated under controlled techniques, creating the ‘vaseline gel’ appearance in the chosen areas. The craftsmanship to produce matching pieces was exacting, yet there were always variations in the positioning and depth of the opalescence in the items.

On show are smoke shades, tapersticks, posy vases, small and large ornamental vases, wine glasses, water/cordial tumblers, jugs, rinser bowls for fingers and wine glasses, fruit bowls, matching dishes for the rinsers, dishes for sweetmeats, side plates and ornaments. Chosen by the collector for their variety, opalescent glasses, though disappearing from the market, are still available through dealers, glass fairs and by searching the internet.



a few of the exhibition highlights (click for images)














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