Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Brief History of Glass


And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
--Revelations 21:21

In the Bible, glass was as precious as gold. But in our daily life, glass is so commonplace, that it's difficult to realize how rare it once was.

Researcher believe the first glass was made by the Phoenicians and/or the Egyptians. Perhaps they stumbled over a molten piece of silica and sand and realized that with a high enough temperature, they could copy the end product.

The art traveled through the Mediterranean. Some believe that Jews, with persecutions forcing them to be nomadic, learned the art and carried it with them. By the 1500s, Venice became the major producer of glass in Europe.

To protect their monopoly on glassmaking, the Doge, the chief magistrate of the Serene Republic of Venice, rounded up all the glassmakers and sent them to live on the Island of Murano. Furthermore, he decreed that any Venetian glassmaker who shared with a foreigner the secrets of making clear glass would be put to death.

Then in 1665, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French Minister of Finance, lured 18 glassmakers away from Venice. He wanted them to work at the new glass foundry he was funding in the Paris suburb named Courbevois. The glass was necessary to finish the decor of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, where 17 archways were built to reflect 17 windows. In each archway, there would be a total of 21 smaller beveled mirrors. The final effect was glorious--and the Venetian control on glass was broken.

Today, when I walk the beach, I look for bits of glass that have been tumbled and made rough by the surf. You can spot these because their color is translucent and darker than that of seashells. As I pluck shards up off the sand or snatch them out of the tide, I examine them carefully. (My favorite colors are shades of green.) I wonder where they came from. Who threw them overboard? What did they once hold? And were any the product of a Venetian glassmaker?

Tell me about the most marvelous piece of glass (or glass object) you've ever seen, and I'll send you a piece of seaglass from my collection!

15 comments:

Victoria's Place said...

The sea glass you find on the beach sounds beautiful. Maybe someday I will have a chance to walk a beach and find some. As of now, the most beautiful glass I have seen is in a church window, the colors and details were amazing.

Sandy W. said...

Back in 1974 I first visited Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. I stood and wached the glass blowers for quite some time. It's facinating to see what they can make with the skills they have. I've been back many times since then and always stop to see the glass blowers at work.

Katreader said...

I too love seaglass. In fact I was wishing that I could make some to create jewelry with as it's much harder to find now than when I was a kid. I'm lucky enough to live relatively close to the Corning Museum of glass and on my 40th birthday went there and made a glass flower. I was also lucky enough to receive a very special gift this Christmas. My friend has been working on a cruise ship and when in Venice found a gorgeous glass necklace-he said he saw it and thought of me. I'm so thankful to have wonderful friend-and a magnificent piece of glass.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Victoria,let me send you a piece. Email me with your address, okay? Mine is joannaslan@aol.com

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sandy W. send me your address at joannaslan@aol.com

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kat, I just read about the Corning Museum. Email me your address and I'll send you a piece of seaglass.

Nancy said...

Seaglass is beautiful and fascinates me. I have only a couple of pieces. The inland lakes we vacationed at don't seem to yield much glass. As for my favorite glass object, what comes to mind is a clear glass coffee mug with a translucent, white map of the world. I acquired it by sending in POP to a coffee company. I gave it to one of my sons-in-law as he admired it.
I have an article (Parade magazine, August 1, 2010) about seaglass that mentions the North American Sea Glass Association (NASCA). They have a $1,000 Shard of the Year contest. Sounds like a possibility for you!

Stephanie said...

I've always been fascinated with the bits of glass I've found on the beach. Can't wait to find out more now that you've shared this info. I'm heading to Florida on Fri. Will watch the beach for glass! Thanks

Chrystle Fiedler said...

I love finding beach glass on the local beaches here too Joanna! I always wonder where the glass came from and what the original form was. I need to go to the beach! Love that sea air!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Chrystle, sad to say, a lot of it is beer bottles. Sigh.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Nancy and Stephanie, come on down! (Share your postal address with me and I'll send you a piece of seaglass. Email me at joannaslan@aol.com)

Linda O. Johnston said...

What a fun thing to post about, Joanna. You're right. I seldom think about glass, but it obviously has a fascinating history.

Ellen said...

The most fabulous piece of glass I've met had nothing to do with the beach. It's the glass disk in an electrostatic generator once used by de Sassure (1740-1799). It's still the original two-hundred-plus-year-old piece. You can see all the marks the glassblower left, and how he spun a glob of glass until it flattened out into a disk. (Considerable thicker at the center!)

There are some perks to having been a museum curator.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, you know how it goes. We dabble a bit here, a bit there, and voila. Once in a while, we stumble over something really fascinating.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Ellen, that must have been marvelous. Email me if you want a piece of seaglass!