OK, so I have a ton of glass from the Janvier Road bungalow. We poured lemonade from it, drank from it, served fruit and potato salad in it. My mom told me there was a difference between pressed and cut glass, but it all looked the same to me.
“How can you tell?” I asked my mom.
“The cut glass is sharper.”
Oh, OK. And that’s where things stood until years later, when I began to realize what I had. And I’m so thankful we rescued it when we sold the bungalow land.
Why, I wasn’t even using the correct terms!
“Cut glass” is “American Brilliant cut glass” or “American Brilliant Period” (ABP) glass, and the “pressed” stuff is “Early American Pattern Glass” (EAPG).
Which is which? I’m learning that it isn’t always easy to tell.
It might take me years to get it all straight! But in the meantime, I’ll share what I learn as I learn it. In fact, I just ordered what reviewers claim is the best book on identifying EAPG patterns. Perhaps that will help me separate the EAPG from the Brilliant. I hope.
American Brilliant Cut Glass.
It’s “lead crystal,” made with very pure silica and potash, plus at least 40% lead oxide to keep the glass exceptionally clear and keep it from shattering when cut. (Prior to lead, flint was used – but that’s a whole other kind of glass.)
After the glass was blown or poured into a plain mold, skilled craftspeople cut sharp, deep designs into the glass using rotating wheels. Any mold lines were carefully polished away.
The end result is gorgeous.
What happens to light as it passes through a fine piece of brilliant glass is breathtaking and something you must see to appreciate. And when Americans saw it at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, they couldn’t get enough of it.
Everyone who was anyone – including the President – used Brilliant glass, much of it designed for special foods, such as bananas, fruits and celery. My grandparents even got some pieces when they built the summer bungalow. Then World War I came along, and the popularity of American Brilliant waned because the materials and artisans were needed for the war effort.
Early American Pattern Glass (EAPG).
Basically, much of EAPG is American Brilliant Cut glass for the masses, and most was made during approximately the same period (1850 – 1910).
Molten glass was pressed into molds patterned with many of the same motifs as their more expensive cousins. This method produced lovely glass that was far more affordable. But, because the patterns are so similar to those of American Brilliant, and because companies became good at polishing the mold lines and adding some hand-etched touches, telling EAPG from American brilliant (and the later Elegant Glass) can often be tricky.
How to tell the difference.
Even some experts may struggle deciding whether a piece is EAPG or Brilliant. But these are the major differences that will help you get started.
- American Brilliant doesn’t have mold marks. EAPG has very thin raised lines where molten glass filled the gap where the mold parts come together. Be careful, because some mold lines are cleverly hidden by part of the pattern. You may feel them on the inside of the piece.
- Cut glass patterns are sharply defined. EAPG’s details are often slightly blurred.
- Cut glass patterns may have slight irregularities, since they were fashioned by hand.
- Pressed glass may have slight dimples on the inside that mirror the pattern on the outside.
- Older pieces containing lead are said to glow yellow-green when placed under black light. (Lead was phased out around 1864, when it was needed for the Civil War.)
- McKee’s “Prescut” and Imperial’s Nucut are EAPG, not American Brilliant, even though they look and feel like cut glass. And McKee’s “Innovation” line also added hand-cut detailing to the pressed mold glass.
- And yes, cut glass feels “sharper” when you run your fingers over it. Pressed glass may look hand-cut, but the points will be much smoother. The other day, I unpacked another box of items to list on Etsy. I unwrapped the nappy shown above. Within seconds I knew it was American Brilliant. Once you’ve held the real thing in your hands, you’ll never be in doubt about the difference again!
You don’t need to be a serious collector to fall in love with American Brilliant and EAPG. Several pieces will lend instant authenticity and richness to traditional décor. A single bowl or pitcher can give a sleek, contemporary room a dramatic focal point. And cut or pressed glass is the perfect choice for those whose taste runs to eclectic and “found” items.
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And enjoy the hunt!