My Experience Collecting Ruby Glass
A collection of vintage items can beautify and personalize your home. It does not have to be expensive, as long as it is something you love.
True Ruby-Flashed Glass
Prior to 1880, in order to make two-color glass, colored glass had to be layered or "flashed" over clear glass. This was achieved by dipping the clear one into a molten colored glass, and then patterns were cut into it by hand. This type of glass was labor-intensive to make and expensive to own.
Early American Pattern Glass—Cheap but Beautiful
In the late 1800s, glass-manufacturing improvements made it easier and cheaper to make decorative glass. The new method involved pressing molten glass into a mold with a pattern on it. The patterns were often copies of old cut glass patterns. Beautiful pieces were produced that were affordable to the working class. Objects created by this method are called “Early American pattern glass (EAPG).”
In 1888, Henry Mueller patented a process of applying a chemical stain to the raised surfaces of pattern glass. This is what made ruby-stained pattern glass possible. It mimicked the more expensive ruby-flashed variety. The stained, pattern glass was often further decorated by etching patterns, like flowers, or ivy, into the red stain. I am fortunate enough to have some fine examples of that technique.
Flashed Glass vs. Stained Glass
Although they are two different manufacturing processes, in modern times, the terms ruby-flashed and ruby-stained glass are often used interchangeably. I have seen many times in antique stores or on eBay items described as "ruby-flashed glass" or "ruby-flashed cut to clear," when the mold marks can clearly be seen. That makes it obvious that it is actually pressed.
It is also easy to tell genuine cut glass by looking at it. The cuts are sharp, in contrast to the more rounded edges of pressed glass. Most of the red glass you see in antique stores in the US is stained and pressed, like my collection." I call this simply "ruby glass."
A lot of the information I am relating here came from the Ruby Stain Museum website. The website is no longer available, which is unfortunate. There was some great information there. The museum itself is located at 2454 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70117.
My Introduction to Beautiful Red Glass
The first time I became aware of ruby glass was on a driving trip I took with my husband to New England about 10 years ago.
We stopped at quite a few antique stores along the way, and I fell in love with a little souvenir creamer with "Gettysburg" engraved on it. I paid $25 for it, which is really top dollar.
I ended up giving that to my daughter, but because of that experience, when I spotted a beautiful little tumbler at a yard sale near my house, I knew what it was. At $10, it seemed a bargain. That was the first little piece of my collection. I love the deep red color.
A nice thing about collecting something is, people see it, and then they know what you like. They will give you more of it on gift-giving occasions. Sometimes that backfires, and you find yourself up to your ears in figurines of turtles, or owls, or cows.
I never mind receiving ruby glass as a gift. My mom got this delicate-looking little basket for my birthday. She bought it at a thrift store in our town. I don't know how much she paid for it, but I'm sure it was a bargain.
Vase With Floral Motif
When I got this piece from a friend, who is a professional junk dealer, it was part of a really ugly lamp. It has a hole in the bottom where the cord passed through. I really wish I had taken a picture of that tacky thing.
I looked past the gaudiness and saw how beautiful the glass was. At $20, it was a real steal. I believe it was originally a vase that was turned into a lamp. My friend was very impressed when he saw how spectacular it looks now.
I picked this decanter up in an antique shop in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This is the most expensive piece I have; I paid $95 for it. I really do think it is quite breathtaking. I'm afraid my amateur photography does not do it justice.
I had to bring it back home with me on the airplane. I wrapped it in bubble wrap, then many layers of clothing and put it in my suitcase, which I checked. I was so relieved to see it all in one piece when I got home.
I received a set of two of these gorgeous lamps as a gift from my husband. They are a rare find. He couldn't resist bragging that he paid only $25 for the pair.
He will often spend more on things for my collection than I will, as I have been known to be a bit of a miser. I think they are very special. Just look at the beautiful details.
Now all I need is a fitting set of shades for them.
Whether my collection is worth more than I paid for it, or it will be worth more in the future than it is now, I do not know. I collect ruby glass just because I love it. I love the color and the way it sparkles. When I see a beautiful piece, I just can't resist.
© 2012 Sherry Hewins
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on June 26, 2020:
Yes, the red stain can be scratched off.
TBart on June 23, 2020:
Will good ruby glass ever show a scratch?
poetryman6969 on March 10, 2015:
Some lovely pieces.
PageC on April 21, 2012:
Gorgeous collection - thanks for sharing it.
Tammy from North Carolina on April 18, 2012:
That is beautiful! My mother always collected glass like this. She has the ruby glass sets from Avon. Beautiful and inspiring. Great hub!
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on March 14, 2012:
Thanks ishwaryaa22, for your kind comment and vote. I agree that the vase is impressive. It sounds like you have an appreciation for beautiful things.
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on March 14, 2012:
Wow! what a lovely collection you had! You enlightened me on this amazing testimony of ruby glass. The one I admired the most among your collection is the ruby glass vase with floral motif. Though I had a collection of antique items and few paintings for my showcase and décor, but this is something which I would like to add to my collection in the future. Thank you for introducing me to this stunning ruby glass.
Thanks for SHARING. Beautiful & interesting. Voted up.
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on March 13, 2012:
Thank you tirelesstraveler. Cranberry does look similar,though lighter in color.
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on March 13, 2012:
Thanks for your comment Silverlily555, glass is challenging to photograph. it sounds like you have quite a collection. I really don't know much about the pieces I have, I am just learning really. I'm trying to identify the patterns. Ooh, that makes me shudder to think about breaking a piece.
Evelyn J. Washington from OAKLAND, CA on March 13, 2012:
Such beautiful pieces. Your photography is well done. Good job. My first collectible interest was/is glass. I like all glass. I initially tried to focus on
Depression Glass.Ruby red is my color. I think I have some pieces made from the original molds created between 1929 - 1932 but sold in the late 50s to mid 60s. I've sold much of my glass collection because I have run out of room. I want to make room to show the best pieces and get them out of boxes. I rarely break a piece. I'm proud of that. Keep collecting.
Judy Specht from California on March 13, 2012:
Never hear of Ruby Glass before. At first glance I thought it was Cranberry Glass. Lovely glassware.
Rhonda on March 13, 2012:
Beautiful collection you have. You would never know by looking at it that everything was under $100.
Cranberry glass or 'Gold Ruby' glass is a red glass made by adding gold salts or colloidal gold to molten glass. Tin, in the form of stannous chloride, is sometimes added in tiny amounts as a reducing agent. The glass is used primarily in expensive decorations.
Cranberry glass is made in craft production rather than in large quantities, due to the high cost of the gold. The gold chloride is made by dissolving gold in a solution of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid (aqua regia). The glass is typically hand blown or molded. The finished, hardened glass is a type of colloid, a solid phase (gold) dispersed inside another solid phase (glass).
The origins of cranberry glass making are unknown, but many historians believe a form of this glass was first made in the late Roman Empire. This is evidenced by the British Museum's collection Lycurgus Cup, a 4th-century Roman glasscage cup made of a dichroic glass, which shows a different colour depending on whether light is passing through it or reflecting from it; red (gold salts) when lit from behind and green (silver salts) when lit from in front.
The craft was then lost and rediscovered in the 17th century Bohemian period by either Johann Kunckel in Potsdam or by the Florentine glassmaker Antonio Neri. Neither of them knew the mechanism which yielded the colour, however. Chemist and winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize in ChemistryRichard Adolf Zsigmondy was able to understand and explain that small colloids of gold were responsible for the red colour.
The most famous period of cranberry glass production was in 19th century Britain during the Victorian Era.
Legend holds that cranberry glass was first discovered when a noble tossed a gold coin into a mixture of molten glass. This legend is almost certainly not true, as the gold must be dissolved in aqua regia before being added to the molten glass.
Cranberry glass creations were most popular as a table display, often holding candy or flowers.
Cranberry glass was also frequently used for wine glasses, decanters, and finger bowls. Cranberry glass was also well known for its use in "Mary Gregory" glass. This glass had a white enamel fired onto the glass in a design, usually with a romantic theme.
Flashed on Color in Vintage Glass
Occasionally when perusing descriptions of glassware being offered for sale online or reading tags at an antique mall or show, you might run across the term "flashed on" referencing a piece of red or cranberry glass. It's wise to understand exactly what this term means to avoid paying too much for low-quality glass.
"Flashed on" Color
While a piece of glass might look as if it is solid red or cranberry through and through, glass with flashed on coloring actually has a light coating of vivid color over the plain old clear glass. Using this term is somewhat of a misnomer, however. True flashed glass was made by taking a piece of clear glass and dipping it in a molten glass mixture to coat it red. That type of ware was made to imitate red or cranberry glass at a lower cost, since red glass is made with gold oxide and that key ingredient increases the cost of production.
Today many antique dealers and collectors refer to the technique where a piece has been stained red or cranberry as flashed on color since the term stained glass usually brings to mind leaded glass (like that used in church windows or Tiffany lamps, for example) to most people.
As accepted in antiques collecting circles, flashed on pieces have a light stain that was applied to the surface of a clear glass base. The base glass is sometimes thinner and lighter in weight than true red or cranberry pieces made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Again, this was another technique used to make less expensive glass look nice at an even lower cost to manufacturers. Those cost savings were passed on to happy consumers who wanted the look without the high price tag.
Cranberry flashed glass was also made in the mid-century styles, those made in the 1950s and 60s, and are usually similar to other glass patterns popular during the period. These are the most common pieces found today. They weren't super high in quality, to begin with, and they should be fairly reasonably priced when you find them at flea markets or in antique malls today.
Occasionally older glass with red painted accents will be referenced as flashed as well. This is not the most common use of the term, and probably not the best as it can be confusing to the vintage glassware novice.
How Can Flashed on Color Be Identified?
One of the easiest ways to identify a piece of glass with flashed on color (whether actually flashed or stained, as noted above) is to look for scratches and wear where the clear glass is showing through. Being a less-expensive and lower-quality product, the decor on these pieces wasn't the most durable, especially with stained pieces, and they didn't hold up very well with daily household use and subsequent cleaning.
You can also check the bottoms and edges of the glass for evidence of clear glass beneath the thin coating of red or cranberry color. Even pieces that were rarely used still show some shelf wear, and there are usually telltale signs when the bases of these items are closely inspected. Use a magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe, if needed, to examine a piece more closely.
Some pieces of this type of glass will also fall into the category of "cut to clear," which means that the glass has been etched through the red or cranberry flashing so clear glass shows through purposely. Older pieces with hand etching are generally nicer than newer wheel etched items. Common cut to clear pieces includes souvenir items from the late 1800s with event or town names etched into the glass.
The main impetus for learning to distinguish flashed on coloring is so you won't pay too much for something not knowing what type of glass you're handling. If you find a piece of this type of glass you like, and the price is within your budget considering what it is, there is no need to hesitate to add it to your collection.
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