Cowan’s Corner: Ancient art glass makes a cameo at auction
Cameo glass techniques were first used in early Roman era and the results were nothing less than magnificent. The famous Portland vase, which took 10 years to complete, is such a product from this era. A highly skilled Roman gem-carver likely created it around 30 B.C. The vase was made of violet-blue glass, and surrounded with a single continuous white glass cameo, depicting Roman and mythological figures. This vase has served as an inspiration to many a glassmaker from about the beginning of the 18th century onward.
After the Portland vase was broken while on display in the British Museum, John Northwood, a Stroubridge glass designer and manufacturer was commissioned to replicate the famous vase. It took three years to complete and received rave reviews, which helped establish him as a fine glass engraver. Northwood started to produce other pieces of Cameo glass, for the demand was evident that it was indeed an accepted and desirable form of collectible art. This then began the revival of cameo glass, which was suited equally to Neo-Grec taste and the French Art Nouveau.
Due to the onset popularity of Cameo glass in the late 1800s, other English glass manufactures followed Northwood’s revival of glass carving. By 1890-1899 many of the top European glass companies and designers were producing Cameo glass. George Woodall, Stevens and Williams, Thomas Webb & Sons, Joseph Locke, Emile Gallé, Daum and others were among the list of prestigious glass carvers. Cameo glass is the result of two or more layers of glass having been laminated together by means of acid and hand-tool carving, the final pattern on the outer surface is left in high relief by removing the surrounding area.
The Cameo art glass market was well received and the demands for production by British glass manufactures continue into the 20th century. Today the interest in early Cameo glass is still strong among collectors. The skill involved to produce a piece of Cameo glass is well appreciated and respected. Daum, Gallé, Val St. Lambert, Thomas Webb & Sons, and Woodall are just a few names that are associated with fine Cameo art glass and thus bring a respectable price at auction. In today’s auction market a 5-inch Daum Cameo vase would sell for approximately $1,000 and an exceptional wheel carved Cameo vase could sell for $5,000 or more.
Avid collectors who can’t wait to add to their growing collection of Cameo glass and even novice collectors can see the beauty and realize what it took to make that glass vase. From the hours designing, the skill in carving, the finished product, no two Cameo glass vases are alike, each being individually created. It is an art form from early history that will always be appreciated.
Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Research by Janet Rogers.
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