Reminiscences of Glass-making

Reminiscences of Glass-making

Deming Jarves
Deming Jarves

Author: Jarves, Deming, 1790-1869
Glass manufacture
Glass manufacture — History
Reminiscences of Glass-making




401 Broadway, cor. Walker Street.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by
Deming Jarves,
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.


The articles upon the history and progress of Glass Manufacture herein presented to the public were originally published in the columns of a village newspaper.
They are the result of investigation upon these topics made in the few leisure moments gained from the engrossing cares of business, and consequently make no pretension to anything of literary character or execution.
The object of the writer has been to gather, in a condensed form, whatever of interesting information could be gained from authentic sources, in regard to a branch of manufacture which has attained a position among the useful and elegant arts scarcely rivalled by any other of those which mark and distinguish the progressive character of our country.
It is believed that they present, in a condensed and convenient form, much valuable information, useful alike for reference and instruction. Aside from historical or mechanical facts, there is much of romantic interest attaching to the progress of this department of art. The partiality of friends interested in the topics herein presented, rather than his own opinion of their value, has induced the writer to present the articles in a more permanent form.
Boston, March 17, 1854.

The above was the Preface to a small pamphlet in 8vo. of the “Reminiscences of Glass-making,” printed for private circulation in 1854, and now enlarged into a more permanent form, and brought down to the present year, in order to meet the demand for information which has unexpectedly sprung up from those interested in the manufacture of Glass in America.
Boston, January, 1865.

It may be safely asserted that no department of art has, from its earliest period, attracted so much attention and investigation, none involved so extensive a range of inquiry, or been productive of more ingenious, interesting, and beautiful results, than the manufacture of glass.
The question of the origin of glass goes back to the remotest antiquity, and is involved in almost entire obscurity. All that modern writers on the subject are enabled to do, is to glean hints and indistinct statements in reference to the subject, from the very brief and unsatisfactory accounts of the ancients. These, however, throw but a feeble light upon the precise point of the origin of the manufacture; and little is proved beyond the fact of its great antiquity.
That the subject held a very prominent place in the technological literature of the ancients is clearly proved; Pliny, Theophrastus, Strabo, Petronius Arbiter, Berzelias, Neri, Merrit, Runket, and others, referring constantly to it. The writings of all these demonstrate the deep interest existing upon the subject at their various times, but still fail to present us with any connected or detailed account of the rise and progress of the art.
When it is considered that the elements involved in the manufacture of glass are derived from the earth,—not one of its components being in itself transparent, but earthy, opaque, and apparently incapable of being transmuted into a transparent and brilliant substance,—when it is considered that from these a material is produced almost rivalling the diamond in lustre and refractive power, and sometimes so closely resembling the richest gems as to detract from the value of the costliest; can it be wonderful that in the earliest ages the art was invested with a mysterious interest attaching to no other mechanical department?
From the earliest periods, up to the eighteenth century, the art, from the peculiar knowledge and skill involved, could only minister to the wants or pleasures of the luxurious rich. The rarity of the material rendered the articles greatly valuable, as tasteful ornaments of dress or furniture; indeed, it is well known that the glass of Venice, at one period, was as highly valued as is the plate of the present day; and the passion for possessing specimens, promised in England, at least, to excite a spirit of speculation fully rivalling that exhibited in the tulip mania, so ridiculous, as well as ruinous, in Holland.
It has been reserved for the present age, however, to render the art of glass-making tributary to the comfort of man,—to the improvement of science,—and by its moderate cost to enable the poorest and humblest to introduce the light and warmth of the sun within, while excluding the storms and chilly blasts; to decorate his table with the useful, and minister to his taste, at a cost barely more than that of one of his ordinary days’ labor. That which once was prized and displayed as the treasure and inheritance of the wealthy, and which, with sacred carefulness, was handed down as of precious value, may now be found in the humblest dwellings, and is procured at a charge which makes the account of the former costliness of glass to partake almost of the character of the fabulous and visionary.
That the art of glass manufacture is destined to greater progress and higher triumphs cannot for a moment be doubted; and the time will arrive when, from increased purity of materials and progressive chemical development, the present position of the art will fall comparatively into the shade. It is no undue stretch of the imagination to conceive that lenses shall be perfected whose purity will enable the astronomer to penetrate the remotest region of space; new worlds may perhaps be revealed, realizing all that the “moon hoax” promised—

“The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky
And spangled heavens”——

be read as a book, and man perhaps recognize man in other worlds than his own. It may be that in its triumphs it is destined to concentrate the rays of the sunlight, and make the eye to pierce into the secrets and deep places of the sea,
“Full many a fathom deep.”
Man may be enabled to read the wonders and the hidden works of the Almighty; it may be, that the power of the traditional lens of Archimedes upon the fleet of Marcellus shall be realized, in the absorbing and igniting, and perhaps useful power of some feature of its progress; and in its sphere, the art become fruitful in practical results, rivalling the highest attainments in the department of scientific progress. It is no visionary speculation to believe, that, by the aid of machinery, it may be readily rolled into sheets, as is iron or lead now in use. It will minister more and more to the necessities and comfort of mankind, and contribute largely to the many and various manufacturing purposes of the age. That its practical adaptations are not already known or exhausted, cannot be doubted; and its applicability, in some cheaper form, for vessels of large size and certain shape, and (strange as it may seem) for tessellated and ordinary flooring and pavements, are among the results which we think yet to be demonstrated in its progress.
An elegant writer, in a late number of “Harper’s Magazine,” says:—
“The importance of glass, and the infinite variety of objects to which it is applicable, cannot be exaggerated; indeed, it would be extremely difficult to enumerate its properties, or estimate adequately its value. This, then, transparent substance, so light and fragile, is one of the most essential ministers of science and philosophy, and enters so minutely into the concerns of life that it has become indispensable to the daily routine of our business, our wants, and our pleasures. It admits the sun and excludes the wind, answering the double purpose of transmitting light and preserving warmth; it carries the eye of the astronomer to the remotest regions of space; through the lenses of the microscope it develops new worlds of vitality, which, without its help, must have been but imperfectly known; it renews the sight of the old, and assists the curiosity of the young; it empowers the mariner to descry distant ships, and trace far off shores; the watchman on the cliff to detect the operations of hostile fleets and midnight contrabandists, and the lounger in the opera to make the tour of the circles from his stall; it preserves the light of the beacon from the rush of the tempest, and softens the flame of the lamp upon our tables; it supplies the revel with those charming vessels in whose bright depths we enjoy the color as well as the flavor of our wine; it protects the dial whose movements it reveals; it enables the student to penetrate the wonders of nature, and the beauty to survey the marvels of her person; it reflects, magnifies, and diminishes; as a medium of light and observation its uses are without limit, and as an article of mere embellishment, there is no form into which it may not be moulded, or no object of luxury to which it may not be adapted.”
In contrast with the foregoing, we will make one more extract, from an English writer of ancient date. Holinshed, in his “Chronicles,” published during the reign of Elizabeth, says:—
“It is a world to see in these our days, wherein gold and silver aboundeth, that our gentility, as loathing these metals, (because of the plenty,) do now generally choose rather the Venice Glasses, both for our wine and beer, than any of these metals, or stone, wherein before time we have been accustomed to drink; but such is the nature of man generally, that it most coveteth things difficult to be attained; and such is the estimation of this stuff, that many become rich only with their new trade into Murana, (a town near to Venice,) from whence the very best are daily to be had, and such as for beauty do well near match the Crystal or the ancient Murrhina Vase, whereof now no man has knowledge. And as this is seen in the gentility, so in the wealthy commonality the like desire of glasses is not neglected, whereby the gain gotten by their purchase is much more increased, to the benefit of the merchant. The poorest endeavor to have glasses also if they may; but as the Venetian is somewhat too dear for them, they content themselves with such as are made at home of fern and burnt stone; but in fine, all go one way, that is to the shades, at last.”


Glass has properties peculiarly its own; one of which is that it is of no greater bulk when hot, or in the melted state, than when cold. Some writers state that it is (contrary to the analogy of all other metals) of greater bulk when cold than when hot.
It is transparent in itself; but the materials of which it is composed are opaque. It is not malleable, but in ductility ranks next to gold. Its flexibility, also, is so great that when hot it can be drawn out, like elastic thread, miles in length, in a moment, and to a minuteness equal to that of the silk-worm. Brittle, also, to a proverb, it is so elastic that it can be blown to a gauze-like thinness, so as easily to float upon the air. Its elasticity is also shown by the fact that a globe, hermetically sealed, if dropped upon a polished anvil, will recoil two thirds the distance of its fall, and remain entire until the second or third rebound. (The force with which solid balls strike each other may be estimated at ten, and the reaction, by reason of the elastic property, at nine.) Vessels, called bursting-glasses, are made of sufficient strength to be drawn about a floor; a bullet may be dropped into one without fracture of the glass; even the stroke of a mallet sufficiently heavy to drive a nail has failed to break such glasses. In a word, ordinary blows fail to produce an impression upon articles of this kind. If, however, a piece of flint, cornelian, diamond, or other hard stone, fall into one of these glasses, or be shaken therein a few moments, the vessel will fly into a myriad of pieces.
Glass of the class called Prince Rupert Drops exhibits another striking property. Let the small point be broken, and the whole flies with a shock into powder. Writers have endeavored to solve the philosophy of this phenomenon; some by attributing it to percussion putting in motion some subtle fluid with which the essential substance of glass is permeated, and thus the attraction of cohesion being overcome. Some denominate the fluid electricity, and assert that it exists in glass in great quantities, and is capable of breaking glass when well annealed. These writers do not appear to have formed any conclusion satisfactory to themselves, and fail to afford any well-defined solution to the mystery.
Another phenomenon in connection with glass tubes is recorded in the “Philosophical Transactions,” No. 476:—
“Place a tube, say two feet long, before a fire, in a horizontal position, having the position properly supported, say by putting in a cork at each end supported by pins for an axis; the rod will acquire a rotary motion round the axis, and also a progressive motion towards the fire, even if the supporters are declined from the fire. When the progressive motion of the tube towards the fire is stopped by any obstacle, the rotation is still continued. When the tubes are placed in nearly an upright position, leaning to the right hand, the motion will be from east to west; but if they lean to the left hand, their motion will be from west to east; and the nearer they are placed to an upright position the less will be their motion either way. If the tubes be placed on a sheet of glass, instead of moving towards the fire they will move from it, and about the axis in a contrary direction from what they did before; nay, they will recede from the fire, and move a little upwards when the plane inclines towards the fire.”
Glass is used for pendulums, as not being subject to affections from heat or cold. It is, as is well known, a non-conductor. No metallic condenser possesses an equal power with one of glass. In summer, when moisture fails to collect on a metallic surface, open glass will gather it on the exterior; the slightest breath of air evidently affecting the glass with moisture. Dew will affect the surface of glass while apparently uninfluential upon other surfaces.
The properties of so-called “musical glasses” are strikingly singular. Glass bowls, partly filled with water, in various quantity, will, as is well known, emit musical sounds, varying with the thickness of their edges or lips. When rubbed, too, with a wet finger, gently, the water in the glass is plainly seen to tremble and vibrate.
Bells manufactured of glass have been found the clearest and most sonorous; the vibration of sound extending to a greater degree than in metallic bells.
Glass resists the action of all acids except the “fluoric.” It loses nothing in weight by use or age. It is more capable than all other substances of receiving the highest degree of polish. If melted seven times over and properly cooled in the furnace, it will receive a polish rivalling almost the diamond in brilliancy. It is capable of receiving the richest colors procured from gold or other metallic coloring, and will retain its original brilliancy of hue for ages. Medals, too, embedded in glass, can be made to retain forever their original purity and appearance.
Another singular property of glass is shown in the fact, that when the furnace, as the workmen term it, is settled, the metal is perfectly plain and clear; but if by accident the metal becomes too cool to work, and the furnace heat required to be raised, the glass, which had before remained in the open pots perfectly calm and plain, immediately becomes agitated or boiling. The glass rises in a mass of spongy matter and bubbles, and is rendered worthless. A change is however immediately effected by throwing a tumbler of water upon the metal, when the agitation immediately ceases, and the glass assumes its original quiet and clearness.
All writers upon the subject of glass manufacture fail to show anything decisive upon the precise period of its invention. Some suppose it to have been invented before the flood. Nervi traces its antiquity to the yet problematical time of Job.
It seems clear, however, that the art was known to the Egyptians thirty-five hundred years since; for records handed down to us in the form of paintings, hieroglyphics, &c., demonstrate its existence in the reign of the first Osirtasen, and existing relics in glass, taken from the ruins of Thebes, with hieroglyphical data, clearly place its antiquity at a point fifteen centuries prior to the time of Christ.
Mr. Kennett Loftus, the first European who has visited the ancient ruins of Warka, in Mesopotamia, writes thus: “Warka is no doubt the Erech of Scripture, the second city of Nimrod, and it is the Orchoe of the Chaldees. The mounds within the walls afford subjects of high interest to the historian; they are filled, or I may say composed, of coffins piled upon each other to the height of forty-five feet.”
“The coffins are of baked clay, covered with green glaze, and embossed with the figures of warriors, &c., and within are ornaments of gold, silver, iron, copper, and glass.”
Layard, in his discoveries among the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, in chapter 8th, says: “In this chamber were found two entire glass bowls, with fragments of others. The glass, like all others that come from the ruins, is covered with pearly scales, which, on being removed, leave prismatic, opal-like colors of the greatest brilliancy, showing, under different lights, the most varied tints. This is a well-known effect of age arising from the decomposition of certain component parts of the glass. These bowls are probably of the same period as the small bottle found in the ruins of the northwest palace during the previous excavations, and now in the British Museum. On this highly interesting relic is the name of Sargon, with his title of King of Assyria, in cuneiform characters, and the figure of a lion. We are therefore able to fix its date to the latter part of the seventh century B.C. It is consequently the most ancient known specimen of transparent glass.”
In chapters 22d and 25th, he gives us the form of many glass vessels from the mound of Babel, similar in form to the modern fish-globes, flower-vases and table water-bottles of the present day—the latter being reeded must have been formed in metallic moulds—and pieces of glass tubes, the exterior impression exactly like our modern patch diamond figure.
Of the several specimens of glass brought to England by Mr. Layard, one, the fragment of a vase, when examined, was of a dull green color, as though incrusted with carbonate of copper. This color was quite superficial, and the glass itself was opaque and of a vermilion tint, attributed to suboxide of copper. The outer green covering was due to the action of the atmosphere on the surface of the glass, and the consequent change of the suboxide into green carbonate of copper. This specimen is interesting, as showing the early use and knowledge of suboxide of copper as a stain or coloring agent for glass. The ancients employed several substances in their glass, and colored glazes for bricks and pottery, but of which there remains no published record. But these glasses and other ancient works of art prove that they were familiar with the use of oxide of lead as a flux in their vitreous glasses, and with stannic acid and Naples yellow as stains or pigments.
Other writers believe that glass was in more general use in the ancient than in comparatively modern times, and affirm that among the Egyptians it was used even as material for coffins. It is certainly true that so well did the Egyptians understand the art, that they excelled in the imitation of precious stones, and were well acquainted with the metallic oxides used in coloring glass; and the specimens of their skill, still preserved in the British Museum and in private collections, prove the great skill and ingenuity of their workmen in mosaic similar in appearance to the modern pape

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