Lead, Kindly Light - All About Lead Crystal & It's Worth
Humans love crystals--quartz, diamond, emerald, sapphire--anything clear and bright enough to gather light and sparkle will always attract our attention. So it is with glass too, though glass is not truly crystalline (as defined by science, glass is an "amorphous solid," as it doesn't form the dense internal bonds found in true crystal). Glass is commonly made from sand with various mixtures of potassium, sodium, or calcium, which have varying effects on glass's hardness and clarity.
The king of glass is lead crystal, discovered in Han dynasty China and independently in medieval Europe. Early lead glass was probably made accidentally, caused by using materials that naturally contained lead. Deliberate leaded glass was well known in Venice by the early 17th century, and an Englishman, George Ravenscroft (1618-1681) began manufacturing lead crystal in England in the 1670s. Lead makes glass heavy, hard, and highly suitable for faceting, bringing a gem-like sparkle to the homeliest of objects.
Crystal glass was taxed by Parliament to the point much glass making in the British Isles passed to Ireland, where glass making was specifically exempted from taxation. The original Waterford glass works opened in 1783 and operated for about a century. It closed after a hundred years, only to be revived by immigrant Czech glass makers in the late 1940s. After several mergers and acquisitions, today Waterford Crystal is owned by the Finnish consortium Fiskars, best known in America for their fine scissors.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Waterford is one of the great names in crystal, but they are also a major manufacturer, and as such, some of their offerings are more common and less collectible than others. Waterford has a budget line marked “Marquis” which is generally not as fine as Waterford-branded ware. Check the underside or base of your crystal for the etched Waterford hallmark (they can be hard to find!). On older pieces the etching may be worn away and illegible. If you find no mark at all, try using a magnifying glass and hold the crystal
against a dark background. That will make any marks stand out.
Waterford is reckoned to be the most collected crystal in the world. This is a tribute to its quality and its availability. Condition counts most in terms of value. The price of certain patterns fluctuates according to rarity and popularity. Older patterns in the finest condition always do well; think Lismore, Powerscourt, Avoca in tableware, and the decorative lines of Equestrian, Etoile, and Cosmic. Special sets like Twelve Days of Christmas always command attention--and a good price.
A WORD OF WARNING
Beautiful as lead crystal is, we've learned it's not wise to store beverages in them. Alcohol and acidic liquids leach lead from the glass, and lead is of course toxic. Using goblets and glasses is reckoned safe, as their exposure to liquids is brief. Just don't store fine whiskey or port in lead crystal decanters.
If you have crystal that you would like to sell, our experts at Trader Chris can help you identify the type and provide a free estimate as to its value. Trader Chris also has several fine pieces of Waterford crystal on auction this week, from baronial decanters to fully wired electric lamps. See what chemistry and art have wrought when you visit Trader Chris' eBay auctions today!