Monday, October 24, 2011

Faux or Real? - Silvered Mercury Glass

I hunt antique malls, auctions, flea markets, estate sales, Etsy shops, Ebay and other Internet sites for vintage and antique items. One thing that I have learned over many years of "junking" is "let the buyer beware!"

Without doing your own research and educating yourself on what to look for in any particular item, you are at the mercy of the honesty and the knowledge of the seller. Although I believe that an item's "value" is whatever another person is willing to pay for it, I would never recommend buying a pricey piece without knowing how to differentiate between a real vintage piece or a great fake.

With this in mind, I've decided to periodically share any tips that I have about items that I love to collect. I cannot; however, guarantee that armed with whatever insight I might share you will not still get fooled. But you will at least have some idea of what to look for.

Since I blogged about Silvered Mercury Glass a few days ago, today I want to share just a few tips on what to look for when you are thinking about buying anything labeled "antique" mercury glass. Keep in mind, the earliest pieces of silvered mercury glass were made in Bohemia (Czech Republic) starting in 1840 - 1920, England 1849 - 1855 and America 1851 - 1880.

Bohemian Silvered Mercury Glass with Gold Washed Interior

Faux or Real? Tip 1: Look for a pontil scar.

1. Antique mercury glass is most often double walled and was blown with a hollow blowpipe and a long flat topped iron tool called a punty rod. When the piece was blown into its final shape, the punty rod was attached to the end of the piece in order to finish it out. When the glass blower was finished with the piece, it was cracked off the punty rod making what is called a pontil scar. This "scar" is the distinguishing feature of most blown glass and is the hole in which the liquid silver nitrate would then be poured between the two walls of glass making "silvered mercury glass."  This hole or scar would then be covered or sealed. ****I would never buy silvered mercury glass from a website that did not show the bottom of the piece! Always contact the listed seller and ask for detailed photos of the pontil scar and seal!

Faux or Real? Tip 2. Identify pontil scar sealing material to identity country of origin.

2.  To differentiate between English, American and Bohemian mercury glass look for how the pontil scar was covered or sealed. English silvered mercury glass was typically sealed with a metal disk covered with a glass round which was cemented into the polished pontil scar.  Most American makers inserted a simple cork into the pontil scar. One American company, the New England Glass Company, used a metal disc with the impressed "NEG.CO." covered with a glass disc to seal the pontil scar.  Bohemian silvered mercury glass was typically sealed with lead or metal seals covered with glass discs but the pontil was left sharp-edged and not polished or smoothed.

Antique American Silvered Mercury Glass Pontil Scar with Cork Seal

Faux or Real? Tip 3. Identify type of glass.

3. Most silvered mercury glass was not marked in any way. Nonetheless, you can tell a lot about a piece by determining the type of glass used. Both English and American silvered mercury glass was made from flint glass or glass containing lead making them heavy for their size. They also have thick walls and make a bell-tone sound when tapped. Bohemian mercury glass is lighter than English or American since it was made from unleaded glass and blown very thin.

Faux or Real? Tip 4. Identify type of decoration on glass. 
Antique silvered mercury glass was decorated by hand painting, enameling, etching and/or engraving. Many of the Bohemian pieces have a gold colored ("gold washed") interior.

If you are really thinking about collecting antique silvered mercury glass you might want to first invest in the following book:

Pictorial Guide to Silvered Mercury Glass, Diane C. Lytwyn.


Take care and happy hunting! ONE LAST TIP...... Be aware of the use of the description "Vintage like" or "Antique like."  I've seen this verbiage used a lot on the Internet and it could be misleading. Read descriptions carefully and don't be afraid to request additional information!

Au revoir, Mitty

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