Thursday, October 27, 2016

Photo Friday: Arts and Crafts Style Wall Sconce

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 20th century challenged the norm that was Victorian Era design. As early as 1860, designers, architects, and artists moved away from the ornate details and homes no longer exhibited unnecessary decoration. Mass-production of all goods also gave away to handcrafted items by skilled craftsman including furniture makers, builders, metal smiths, and glass artisans.

This antique Arts and Crafts Era wall sconce embodies the move to simplicity. Made from copper and stained glass panels this lantern style wall sconce is both beautiful and practical. It's rectilinear shape and clean lines make this sconce not only antique to be treasured, but also a gem that could be installed in any modern home.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Brief History of Glass Windows

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Glass has been made in many forms for about 4500 years, but the first "glass window" (as we would describe them today) was likely created during the Roman Era. "Broadsheet glass" as it is called by historians today, was manufactured by blowing an elongated balloon of glass, and cutting the ends off to create a glass cylinder. The cylinder was split, unrolled, and flattened on a hot iron surface to create flat sheets of glass. This method produced small, cloudy plates that were leaded together to create large-scale windows or placed into wooden frames to let light into buildings.

Artisan making crown glass; image credit

By the 17th century, window production methods in Europe and the US Colonies changed to blown glass plates. An artist would blow molten glass into a balloon, cut the end opposite the blowing rod, and spin the glass to create a large, flat, and round window. This type of glass was called "crown glass" and it allowed for the creation of larger windows. Crown glass could be installed as a larger window or cut into smaller rectangular lights.

Interior view, detail of transom to highlight crown glass, with scale - Graeme Park, 859 County Line Road, Horsham, Montgomery County, PA HABS PA, 46-HORM; Jack Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the technology for creating larger panes of glass became easier, demands for larger windows increased and architectural designs pushed the limits of what glass artisans could do. The Federal Style of architecture, the popular style of time, utilized the larger panes of glass to create fanlights and Palladian windows.
Interior view, first floor, center room, view to door with fanlight above, with scale -
National Park Seminary , Colonial House, 2745 Dewitt Circle , Silver Spring,
Montgomery HABS MD, 16- SILSPR, 2L-17; Jack Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By the 1800s, improved cylinder glass techniques were developed in Germany, similar to the historic process for making broadsheet glass that could manufacture larger, and clearer glass sheets. By the late 1800s machine rolled glass mass-manufactured all types of glass included textured panels.

By the turn of the 20th century, laminated glass soon followed, which allowed for two panes of glass to be stacked together with a thin plastic sheet in between making the glass less susceptible to breaking. And, in the early 1950s the creation of float glass by Sir Alastair Pilkington in England became the preferred method of glass manufacturing. Float glass manufacturing fires glass at temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius and floats ribbons of glass over molten tin spreading it thin and cooling it slowly to the desired thickness and size. 

By the mid 20th century, glass manufacturers could produce glass panes the size of walls which again changed the architectural landscape. Modern architecture of the 1950s and 1960s utilized the huge panes of glass to open up spaces within the home to the outside world. Finished in 1951, the Farnsworth House of Plano, Illinois designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe demonstrates the open concept and capabilities of modern glass manufacturing.

Farnsworth House. Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today, float glass can be produced as thin as 0.4 mm and glass can be produced in any number of colors, textures, and sizes. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Intro to Milk Glass

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Developed in Venice, Italy in the 16th century, milk glass was a less expensive alternative to pricier porcelain and glass decorative items, lights, and housewares. It wasn't until the 19th century that milk glass boomed in popularity, and continued to be popular through the 1980s.
Milk glass light fixture circa 1920.
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

Milk glass gets its name for the rich milky white coloration. Using an opacifier such as titanium dioxide and iridized salts, glass manufacturers could achieve an milky opalescent white color similar to that of porcelain for a fraction of the production cost. While milk glass mimicked its more expensive cousin, it was easy produce milk glass on a wide scale and had a unique opalescent halo of reds, greens, and blues shimmering through its finish.

Early milk glass was delicate, intricate, and time-consuming.  With ruffles, swags, and floral patterns being the most popular, these traditional motifs translated into sought after collectibles around the turn of the 20th century. As a result milk glass manufacturers began popping up all over the country.

Milk glass
Image by By Pete unseth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1889, the Westmoreland Glass Company of Grapeville, Pennsylvania produced all types of glass products from lamps to figurines, bottles to vases.  In Ohio, Anchor Hocking opened their factory in 1905 and in nearby West Virigina the Fenton Art Glass Company was producing fine glass wares on a massive scale. Other popular companies of the era included the Libbey Glass Company, Imperial Glass Company, Wedgewood and the Indiana Glass Company.

Milk glass continued to be popular after WWII ultimately falling out of favor in the 1980s. Today, milk glass of all types is highly collectible, with the older pieces being the most desirable. To hunt for the best milk glass, look in vintage and resale shops for the best finds and don't forget to look for the opalescent shimmer it's the best indication of the milk glass' age.

   Anchor Hocking Glass Museum
   Antique Trader
   Libbey Glass Company
   National Imperial Glass Collector's Society
   Westmoreland Glass Club
   Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bakelite in Lighting and Furniture Hardware

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Lighting and furniture hardware have been made from many materials including brass, glass, and porcelain for hundreds of years. Porcelain and glass were mainly used for electrical purposes including knob and tube electrical wiring as they made great insulators. Brass, another commonly used material for lighting and hardware can be found in everything from light fixtures to furniture drawer pulls. But there's another, lesser known material that has dominated the lighting and furniture hardware industry since the late 19th and early 20th centuries - plastic.

Bakelite plug available at Antique Lamp Supply.

Introduced by inventor Alexander Parkes in 1862 at the Great International Exhibition in London, Parkesine as it was dubbed, became the first trademarked man-made plastic in the world. The material was created using organic green plant cellulose, and was touted as an all-purpose alternative to rubber.

While Parkesine introduced the world to plastic, it wasn't nearly as successful as its successor, celluloid. Another man-made synthetic material, celluloid used camphor and cotton fiber to create objects that imitated the look of ivory and tortoise shells. Celluloid products included billiard balls, hair combs, and mirrors, among other things, and became widely available on the global market by the 1890s.
Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863 - 1944),
inventor of Bakelite
But one synthetic plastic stood apart from the others. Discovered in an experiment to find a substitute for shellac, Bakelite was created in 1907 by Belgian-American chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Made from coal tar, the Bakelite resin could be formed and hardened into many shapes without the possibility of melting in the heat. Both flexible and durable, Bakelite, became a widely used synthetic for everything from radios and dishware, to jewelry and even lamp and furniture hardware parts.

Light fixtures from as early as the 1910s utilized Bakelite for sockets, plugs, and switches. Furniture utilized the plastic in the form of drawer pulls and knobs as it came in a myriad of color options. Today, you can still find Bakelite replacement parts available through online lamp supply and furniture hardware supply companies including Antique Lamp Supply and Van Dyke's Restorers.

Bakelite drawer pull available at Van Dyke's Restorers.
Now, a popular collectible among hobbyists and restoration purists, Bakelite can be worth a lot of money in the right form. While a lot of lighting and furniture hardware may resemble Bakelite, there are many Bakelite impostors which can make it hard to tell what is original and what is not. Thankfully there's a tip to testing if your "Bakelite" is the real deal or an impostor. Simply place the suspected Bakelite item in hot water or rub the item using your finger until it warms, and smell. Because Bakelite is created using a form of formaldehyde, it will emit a very nasty odor when warmed. The sniff test could mean the difference between a $5 item and a $500 value.

  Antique Lamp Supply
  Antiques Roadshow
  History of Plastic
  National Public Radio
  Van Dyke's Restorers

Friday, September 23, 2016

Photo Friday: Victorian Dry Sink

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Antique dry sink. Image by Hannah Manning for
Materials Unlimited

A dry sink is a functional piece of furniture that was commonly used in homes before indoor plumbing. Dry sinks come in many shapes, sizes, and designs, but often consist of a cabinet with a flat or recessed surface on top, and sometimes a backsplash on the back. The dry sink was designed to hold a basin and pitcher for hand and face washing and could be found in kitchens, bathrooms, and even on the back porch of farmhouses around the world.

Today, dry sinks are often retrofitted to be used as functioning sinks in kitchens and bathrooms.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Intro to Art Deco

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The Art Deco style has epitomized what it means to be modern since its inception around the turn of the 20th century. The first solid design movement that broke the revivalist tradition of the same period, Art Deco dominating the market in the post-WWI world. While Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, and many other "revival styles" were prevalent during the same period, the Art Deco style turned the design world on its head offering new design motifs that were inspired by the modern world, removing itself from past design motifs and styles.

Art Deco style wall sconce circa 1930.
Image by Hannah Manning for Materials Unlimited

While popular after WWI, the Art Deco style hit its peak at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes held in Paris. The exposition hosted nearly 16 million visitors over its 7 month run and was intended to promote French superiority in luxury goods. The exposition featured everything from furniture to fashions, perfumes, and more all aimed at wowing the international market.

Art Deco interior from Jacques Doucet's hôtel particulier staircase,
33 rue Saint-James, Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1929 photograph
 Pierre Legrain (1889 - 1929) (The Red List) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Art Deco style proliferated through the 1930s and continued in rural America to dominate design into the post-WWII era. Many credit the Art Deco design movement as the catalyst for modern design as we know it.

The Art Deco style is characterized by:
              - Geometric lines
              - Delicate proportions
              - Modern materials
              - Clean, not cluttered lines

              Buffalo Architecture and History
              The Metropolitan Museum of Art
              Victoria and Albert Museum