By Michalene Kosinski, Antiques and Collectibles Mall of New England
All sorts of functional and attractive vintage kitchen and dining accessories were made with black glass, including console sets, swans, candlesticks, compotes, fruit bowls, and even punch bowl sets. Black Glass was also used for decanter sets, steins, pitchers, and whole dinnerware sets. Today, this mid-century modern look is sought after by collectors and decorators, and very rare pieces of elegant black glass can command prices in the $400 to $500 range.
At the Beginning
Black glass has been used to make bottles in North America and Europe since the 1600s when it was discovered that dark glass was stronger than lighter colored glass because of the inclusion of iron oxide.
From the late 1600s to the mid-1800s, the majority of English bottles were made of black glass. The most typical bottles from that period were onions (ca. 1690-1730), mallets (ca. 1730-1770), squat cylinders and cylinders (from about 1770). After glass blowers in England began making thick black glass bottles in great numbers, the technology for producing the rich, dark colors was quickly adopted by Europe and the U.S.
To manage the records of production, warehousing, shipping, and sales, bottle manufacturers and merchants used a list of terms commonly understood by those involved. The terminology does not show up in catalogs or price lists prior to the mid-19th century, and some terms have been lost, but others have been gathered from advertisements and written records to keep the language alive.
Although the glass looked black, it was really thick dark green or dark amber glass made with a combination of iron oxide and various other impurities. The glass was not called “black glass” until the 1740s when the term was used in an American newspaper advertisement. The glass was used mainly for bottles because there was less breakage due to its density, and the thick, dark-colored bottles protected the contents (usually beer, wine, cider, ale, quack medicines, and other liquids) from spoiling due to exposure to light.
In the 18th century, Europeans began using glass in buttons and jewelry. Black glass has often been used as an affordable replacement for the organic mineral, Jet. Glass is much harder, heavier and smoother than Jet. It is also much more scratch resistant, and the button shank can be embedded in the glass. Black glass buttons were all the rage from about 1800 to 1820, and then from around 1850 to 1870, and again from 1880 till 1914. Today, button collecting is still quite popular and is sometimes worth the search through those glass jars full of variety to claim the glass examples.
In the depression era, black glass perfume bottles, tableware, barware, decorative accessories, and kitchenware became popular. Depression glass, made primarily in the 1920s and 30s, was affordable to make and was often used for promotional giveaways at events like carnivals. Theaters gave free glass items to fill their seats, too. Today it can still be both affordable and attractive. It ranges in price from a few dollars for a sugar bowl or creamer to nearly $500 for very rare pieces.
In the 1950s, red, black, and white were often colors of choice in the most modern of kitchens. Black glass figurines and other decorative accessories were in vogue in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Vintage black glass is popular with decorators now because it stands out on its own, and it also blends well across many design aesthetics.
Black glass items were manufactured by American companies including Fenton Glass, McKee, LG Wright. LE Smith, Hazel Atlas, New Martinsville, Indiana Glass, Hocking, Federal, US Glass, and many others. Today, vintage black glass salt, pepper, flour and sugar shakers, canisters, and more can be found in antique shops at affordable prices.
Today, black glass is formed when 63% silica sand 22% soda 15% limestone are heated together and stirred until the mixture is melted to a smooth paste. A combination of iron, copper, and cobalt oxide is added to get the black color.
Black Glass at Market
Antique black glass bottles are quite desirable to collectors today. In October of 2019, an I Sloggett 1791 black glass sealed wine bottle sold for $1,222, and a sealed wine bottle with an H Gooch embossed seal commanded $389 in November of 2019. Perhaps the contents had something to do with the price as well.
Some other examples of recent eBay sales include a large 1920s jeweled black glass Austrian perfume bottle that sold for $537 recently, and a 1920s Austrian black glass and pink quartz perfume bottle with a Buddha sold for over $2000!
In December of 2019, a pair of 1930s black glass cologne bottles by US Glass in the Flower with Butterflies pattern (missing their stoppers) sold for $461!
Earlier this year a celluloid and black glass button with a peacock sold for $198, a single circa 1800s black glass owl button with glass eyes sold for $119 and a lot of 500 black glass buttons brought $189.