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By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant
Here's where you are going to get a beginner's course in differentiating cut from pressed glass. Some of the bowls look so much alike that just looking isn't enough, even though the eye training is the beginning.
When looking at glass, there are four basic tests, which will help you to separate cut from, pressed patterns. Depending on which you like, you will be able to find your particular treasure.
Begin, if you can, by looking at two pieces, side by side, that you know one is pressed an the other is cut, either because they have been in your family or someone you can trust has identified them for you.
First, look at the light in the glass itself. Usually, the cut piece will have more brilliance, more sparkle. The reason for this is that every diagonal cut in a piece of glass increases the glitter of that piece. Look at in the sunlight. The cut lass will give a more prismatic effect, from its many facets or faces it presents to the light. It may even cast rainbows on the wall. These facets are what make cut glass so much more valuable usually than pressed. The cuts were made by hand, one at a time, and really fine pieces can be signed by the cutter. The name Hawkes etched in a bowl can make that bowl worth several hundred dollars or even more depending on the design and piece.
Now look at the color of the glass. If it is exceptionally clear, it is probably cut, due to the higher lead content of the glass. Oddly enough, the more lead added to the molten glass, the easier it was to get a clean cut. If the piece is grayish or bluish in color, or dull looking and just not quite so clear, it is probably the pressed piece.
Next, pick the two pieces up and run your hands over the surfaces of the pattern. The cut glass will feel sharp. It will have a BITE that will feel as if it could cut your hand. The better the piece, the deeper the cuts will be. The pressed glass will feel smooth by comparison. Even when the pattern is a deeply impressed one, there will not be that BITE to the surface.
Now feel the proportionate weight. The heavy piece will be the cut one with few exceptions. Thicker glass was needed to begin with, to make deep cuts, whereas, the pressed glass required only a thin layer to flow, in its molten state, into the crevasses of the mold and create intricate designs. (NOTE: Most pressed glass will have "seam" marks that are visible which account for the number of molds used to create the pattern/shape).
Old pressed glass and old cut glass are eagerly sought by collectors. New buyers...BEWARE! Both are expensive and escalating in price. Before you buy, be sure the piece is old. New glasses, bowls, vases, cups and dishes are being made today that look almost identical. Reputable dealers will tell you which is which. Know your dealer.
Also, today, most cut glass is cut by machinery and no longer by hand. There are exceptions to this as in presentation pieces. They will not be as sharp and the pattern will not be as intricate as in the old pieces. Therefore, take your time to look and learn. Go to a Library near you, like the Smyrna Library, which has many wonderful books on this topic. Take the time to browse through them and study the different makers, their signatures and patterns. Who knows, you may already have...another man's treasure in your own household.