three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair

Foyer Exhibition:
September 2003

Chance Glass

Giraffe carafe in Night Sky pattern
Giraffe carafe in Margaret Casson's Night Sky pattern, 1958.(Image: Andy McConnell.)

Chance Brothers, based in Birmingham since 1824 and specialising initially in window glass, were chosen to supply the 22,000 tons of glass for London's Crystal Palace exhibition pavilion in 1851. From the 1840's they also produced scientific glass, sheet glass and optical glass including lighthouse lenses which were used worldwide.

As the glass supplier for the structure of the Crystal Palace, they are intimately associated with one of the crowning achievements of the Victorian era and yet 100 years later this industrial glass maker was at the forefront of modern design and responsible for one of the most successful ranges of mass produced tableware and decorative glass of the 20th century.

In 1934 they commissioned RCA lecturer Robert Goodden to design a range of pressed domestic glass called Spiderweb, which was shown at the British Art in Industry exhibition in 1935.

Intaglio-cut handkerchief vase
Intaglio-cut handkerchief vase.

In 1945 they were taken over by Pilkington Bros. who installed the latest automatic production methods at the new subsidiary, W.E.Chance. The production of pressed glass with patterns emulating traditional cutting was continued until 1951 when new ranges such as Lancer, Gossamer and Cato were introduced. These were followed in 1953 by the heat-slumped Fiestaware which was transfer or screen-printed with various contemporary patterns, probably the best known of which is Swirl, designed by Goodden. Other designers included Margaret Casson, Michael Harris and David Queensbury. The shapes of the pieces were innovative and modern, such as the handleless Giraffe carafe.

From the 1950's the use of a simple basic shape and numerous different colour treatments reached a height in the classic handkerchief vase, some of the early and/or rarer ones being highly desirable. Later, handkerchief vases were made of the same textured glass that Pilkington Bros. supplied for glazing.

Transfer-printed dish
Transfer-printed dish with gilded rim.

The post-war period also saw a huge rise in the use of coloured transfers, many of which were produced by Johnson Matthey, principally a refiner of precious metals.

The Cambridge Glass Fair and Gary Pyper will be putting together an exhibition that shows the huge breadth and range of Chance glass. If a make of glass can be said to be synonymous with the 1950s and 1960s then Chance glass would possibly have the greatest claim.

The sheer range makes it a rewarding collecting area, but taking into account the relatively easy availability coupled with usually low prices for the more common items, it can be seen that Chance glass offers unrivalled, little-explored opportunity.

exhibition highlights

  • salesman's sample case

  • ruby intaglio-cut dish and handkerchief vase

  • Escher and Psychedelic pattern handkerchief vases