With the 21st Century around the corner, itís surprising that some 19th century art glass has failed to gain favor with collectors.
Bristolís unfavored status may be related to its three centuries of overwhelming popularity. It was produced in so many factories that it defies the kind of research and classification we associate with the most popular areas of collecting.
Bristol is hardly shunned because of its appearance or craft. These mold blown vessels made of semi-opaque and opalescent glass are rich in color and decoration. Although milk glass is the most common, other colors include blue, amber, green, amethyst, pink, white, clam broth, custard, fireglow and clear.
The glass is usually decorated with bright enameling and gold trim depicting naturalistic art nouveau themes; foliage, birds, and flowers.
Bristol products include jars, decanters, beakers, salts, flowerpots, mugs, sauce boats, lampshades, ewers, dresser sets, pitchers, smoke bells, ring trees, and Victorian vases.
The name Bristol refers to one of the areas in England where the glass was originally made. Other areas of England that produced Bristol are Sunderland, Stourbridge, Newcastle, Chepstow, Warrington and Birmingham. Production is believed to have originated in the Bowles factory in Southwork.
Similar glass was also made in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and here in the United States.
Because of similarities in decoration, and possibly lack of research, it is difficult to distinguish the origins of various pieces.
Considering itís age and beauty, Bristol is surprisingly affordable. Good pieces can be found for under $40.00 and outstanding pieces for several hundred dollars. Factors to consider when purchasing Bristol almost always relate to the quality of the enameled decoration; complex designs merit a higher value. Condition is also very important. Pieces that were not refired are usually missing much of the original enameling and consequently nominally priced.
Bristol reprodutions are rare and of noticeably inferior quality; the enameling lacks detail as well as the permanence of the refiring process.
The combination of age, beauty, and craft insure that someday collectors will rediscover the qualities that made Bristol the art glass staple from the 1740s through the beginning of the 20th century. To discover Bristol, shop at almost any antique mall or shop. This glass draws our attention; we comment on itís beauty; maybe now is the right time to begin collecting. -John Regan