If you like shiny things, you will love mercury glass vases. Sometimes referred to as “poor man’s silver” because from a distance it has the distinct appearance of silver hollowware.
Mercury glass was first made in the 1840s and at that time was much less expensive than real silver. It was originally patented in England by Hal Thomas and Edward Varnish in 1849. A patent in the United States followed in 1855 by Thomas Leighton of the New England Glass Company. This unusual glass is also known, As silvered glass or varnish glass.
Early in the production process, the materials used to coat the interior walls of these pieces did contain some mercury. But, The mercury content proved to be a poor choice, and was replaced with silver nitrate. However, The name mercury glass stuck and is still used to describe many different silvered glass items.
The look of mercury glass was created by pouring a “silvery” liquid, into the space between two walls of glass accessed through a hole in the bottom of the piece. After the space was filled, the hole was closed using some sort of plug. Its continued good looks were directly related to the security of the plug. If the plug became loose or fell out, the opening would cause the silvering to fade, peel or get cloudy resulting in the loss of the silver coating inside.
Many pieces of inexpensive mercury glass vases in bulk are decorated. Since the double glass walls of each piece were thin and the piece itself was actually hollow, a manufacturer could not actually cut a design as they did on other types of glass. The decorations on inexpensive mercury glass vases in bulk were created either by applied decals, acid etching or enamel painting. In an attempt to give a more ornate appearance to some of this glass. You will find that a percentage of the mercury glass that was produced.
Why Mercury Glass Vases?
Although some beautifully decorated pieces were made, to include many different souvenir goblets, the lower valued pieces that were produced for the working class allowed many people to display a real “luxury” item in their homes. Local churches that did not benefit from wealthy contributors, also used mercury glass in the form of crucifixes, candle holders and statues.
Other items popular with the general public included lamps, vases, plates and figures.
Mercury glass that is in excellent condition can really turn one’s head. The popularity of this distinctive glass started to wane around 1885 and by the turn of the century any interest in it had virtually disappeared.
It did enjoy a slight rebirth during the Art Deco period of the 1930s and 1940s. Items such as mercury glass flamingos became a rather hot commodity for all Deco lovers.
Some rather nice original inexpensive mercury glass vases in bulk collectibles can still be found, at auctions today. As, well as antique malls. A creative innovation for its time, today it continues to be mistaken for sterling or silver plate. However, when a person gets close enough to this antique glass, he or she realizes it is something much more unique than just a piece of metal ware.