Monday, June 7, 2010

H is for Hawkes and Company - Brilliant Cut Glass

The American Brilliant Period began around 1880 and lasted until the early 1900's. It competed with European imports of lead crystal from England (Webb & Corbett), Ireland (Waterford) and France (Baccarat). Signatures were rare on these early pieces with the following list of major producers in the U.S. :
Dorflinger, Eggintin, T.G. Hawkes & Co.
J. Hoare, Jewel, Libbey Glass Works
Meriden, Sinclaire, Tuthill
The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (1876) highlighted this Brilliant Glass and started the trend in the U.S. Cut glass originates from a molded shape but its surface pattern is decorated entirely by a skilled artisan using leaded glass which is softer and conducive to crisp and elaborate design. By simply running your fingers over the edges of a piece and feeling the crispness of the cuts you can distinguish it from molded pieces of glass which have more rounded edges, are smooth to the touch and do not reflect light with brilliance. A typical Brilliant period piece will fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light and it has an exquisite heft. The American Brilliant Cut Period involved wheel and hand-etched engraving, saw tooth banding along the edge, and a ground polished base. The aim of this ornate glass cutting was to admit light into dull glass imparting facets and prism-like effects. The process of crafting it was time consuming and expensive. Facets were cut into finished molds by pressing them against large rotary copper or stone wheels. Up to 100 different wheels, including those that polished were used, depending on the elaborateness of the design. It could take weeks to months to complete certain pieces. The copper wheel engraver is considered an artist after apprenticeship and many years of practice. Glass cutting is recognized as a legitimate and unique expression of art in the U.S.; and, it is presently a lost art as it is prohibitive to produce today.

Thomas Gibson Hawkes, who hailed from several generations of glass manufacturers (Dudley, England and Waterford, Ireland) set up a cutting shop in Corning, NY, from 1880 - 1908. T.G. Hawkes & Co. glass is considered among the finest Brilliant Cut Glass in the world and is presently among collections with Royalty and the White House. During the early years the Hawkes Company used blanks from Steuben Glass Works in Corning, NY (Founded in 1903). When Steuben was sold to Corning Glass Works in the 1920's, Hawkes purchased most of its blanks. Hawkes was purchased by Tiffin Art Glass in 1964, which continued to operate until 1980, when its doors were closed for good.

The demise of the American Brilliant Cut Glass period happened suddenly with the outbreak of WW I (and the demand for lead to make bullets), as well as a style preference for simplicity in design with the emergence of the Art Deco period (1925-1940's). As a unique and valuable art form a piece displayed on a rustic table creates quite a spectacular statement and lends sparkle to a dull room!

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