Glass - Back to the Future!

Presenting Author:
Colin Brain

article posted 14 Jan 2016

Colin Brain MSc, CEng, MIMechE, DipEM

Colin and his late wife Sue started researching the history of British drinking glass more than forty-five years ago. Much of their research has focussed on the second half of the seventeenth century and has included studying: surviving pieces, archaeological finds, historical documents, printed books, and results from glass analysis and practical experiment. Throughout their research, Colin & Sue have had a great deal of help from others and learnt a lot (particularly how much there is still to be learnt).

Colin is currently president of the Association for the History of Glass.

The Industrialisation of British Flint Glass 1682 - 1702

Colin Brain

Private Researcher, 10 College Street, Salisbury, SP1 3AL

By 1682 glassmakers in the British Isles had developed a viable lead crystal (flint) glass. This was widely admired around the world, but it was still an expensive, high-quality, niche product. Its production was mainly confined to a handful of glasshouses in London and Dublin. By 1696, only fourteen years later, there were nearly thirty glasshouses making flint glass at a range of prices and qualities for growing domestic and export markets.

Expansion at this rate and scale was probably unprecedented in the history of fine glassmaking, yet the topic has received little attention in the past. This paper will briefly review how this industrialisation was achieved and some of the key technical and business developments that made it possible. These include: the development of closed pots which allowed flint glass to be melted in coal-fired furnaces; and the evolution of glass recipes which reduced raw-material costs.

This is the fourth in a series of chronological papers on glassmaking in the British Isles during the second half of the seventeenth century; the other three having been presented at SGT annual conferences and subsequently published in Glass Technology.