three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair

An interview with
Alan Gibbs

Alan Gibbs of Rapparee Antiques has been exhibiting at the Cambridge Glass Fair from the very beginning. He primarily trades in 18th and 19th century drinking glasses. He kindly agreed to be interviewed for the website.

If you would like to speak to Alan at the fair, or have a link to their web site, click here for further information.

Alan Gibbs.
Alan Gibbs

When and how did you become interested in collecting glass?

I suppose, like so many people of my generation, my general interest in antiques was first awakened by Arthur Negus and possibly the first television programme featuring antiques, ‘Going for a Song’. This interest was maintained by the programme and eventually led to my wife, Ann, and I visiting antique fairs and it was through these visits that I decided that glass, and in particular English drinking glasses, was the collecting area for me. At first, with a young family to support and limited funds available, I concentrated on acquiring good examples from the 19thC. However, over the years I started to acquire cheaper examples from the 18thC, through which I began to recognise the main desirable features of these glasses. Fifteen years ago, the opportunity arose to change career, and it was then that I decided to use the knowledge acquired through collecting to become a full time dealer, not surprisingly concentrating on English drinking glasses from the 18th and early 19th century. When not exhibiting at specialist glass fairs, my stock is permanently on show in an antique shop in Brasted, Kent.

What sort of glass do you collect personally, if any?

I have a collection of rummers, each engraved with either a country pursuit or a sporting subject. Of course, one of the advantages of being a dealer is the ability to keep, for at least a while, any new acquisition which is a particularly good example of its type or a glass that justifies time spent on research.

Do you have collections of anything other than glass?

We have a small collection of Poole pottery stoneware birds and animals and a few original, but inexpensive, paintings.

Are there any particular styles, periods or designers that inspire you more than others?

As might be expected, I have a particular admiration for the makers of glass of the 18thC. I remain in awe of the skills of those who made drinking glasses of style and beauty with only relatively simple and primitive equipment to assist them. I don’t have a particular style of drinking glass as a favourite; it is essentially the quality of an individual example that I admire. It may be a baluster glass of fine proportion, a plain stem glass of simple understated elegance or an air or opaque twist that is perfect in its execution. Of course, some engraving on 18thC glasses is remarkable and a further example of the skills of the period.

Which are the best and worst aspects of being an exhibitor/dealer?

The worst aspect is undoubtedly the anxiety associated with the packing, unpacking and transportation of stock. It’s always a relief to complete any of these without either damage or, at worst, a breakage. Another concern is the ability to source good quality and unusual glasses. I find it best not to count either the hours or miles undertaken in this pursuit, but even this can easily be put aside when successful. One of the better things that can happen is to spend time with a collector or potential collector and know they have been encouraged and enthused as a result of a conversation about glass in general or a particular example.

What is the most special / interesting piece that you own or have exhibited?

At present this is a goblet that attracts too little attention, perhaps because of its size, as it stands 27cm (10 5/8ins) high. The goblet is in an 18thC style, but was probably made in the first ten years of the 19thC. It has an engraving of an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Marlborough and on the reverse is inscribed ‘The Duke of Marlborough at Ramilles’. The goblet appears to have remained undiscovered until the early 20thC and is recorded as such in ‘Old Glass and How to collect it’ by J. Sydney Lewis, 4th edition 1928. As yet I have been unable to establish whether another example exists.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when you started collecting/dealing in glass?

Acquire as much knowledge as possible. Read books and articles by known and trusted authors, discuss the subject with anyone whose knowledge is greater than your own and handle as much glass as possible.

What advice have you got for someone just beginning to collect glass?

I believe that the advice I was offered is well worth passing on as it has stood the test of time for me. Talk to dealers; use their expertise and knowledge. Most dealers were, and still are, collectors at heart. They are passionate about their subject and are more than willing to share information.

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