Colors in Cambridge - Black

by Jabe Tarter
Issue #13 - May 1974

Black glass has been known for centuries throughout the world. It has been made in almost every major glass making house in the USA, originating in the glass furnaces in France in the 15th Century.

Before the opening of the 16th century, almost all glass throughout the world was an off color. The makers had not yet discovered the method for removing impurities from the glass before it was melted into the batch.

This lack of knowledge in making pure crystals and opaques in a pure color, resulted in a massive amount of colored glass and the so-called stained glass windows of the period. Multi-colored glass covered a multitude of sins in the glass. Bubbles were not visible, and where the glass was not colored in itself, the glass was painted as with glass Icons from the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

It was in France that nickel was discovered as being the single most important coloring agent for what was called "death glass". It was so named because of the connotations of death and apparel of the dead, which was, of course, black.

As soon as it was discovered that the additions of nickel in varying amounts made black glass, almost every Country in the world took it up. It was particularly popular in England in the latter part of the 19th century.

Queen Victoria, who had married her cousin, the poverty stricken Prince Albert from Saxony, Germany, had such impact on the world that her dictates appeared to be those of command in wearing apparel, glass, home decor and heavy dark furnishings.

When Prince Albert died, it has been suggested that in self defence, Victoria required her entire court to wear black for the remaining thirty years of her reign. Not only was England affected, but the entire world.

It was the advent of heavy dark draperies and dark stained furniture. Black was the favorite material and color for men and women of all ages. The glass houses followed suit by making black glass in every imaginable form.

In the last decade of the 19th Century, black was so popular that the women began wearing black veils whether there had been a death or not. This style extended into the 20th Century.

An accident almost a Century before 1890 had given the glass makers the secret of satinizing glass. It was the fact that some rather drab glass happened to be sitting near a vat of Hydrofluoric Acid which had been used to scrub molds. The appearance of the glass was such a pleasing velvety effect that the fad was taken up again in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Cambridge Glass, under the direction of A. J. Bennett, was among the first to reinstitute the fad of almost a century before. He saw the possibilities of satinized glass. Because he was a close friend of Augustus H. Heisey, the two of them collaborated on making black glass. It wasn't long before each of them were using the satinizing method on other desirable colors.

A. H. Heisey had never been A. J. Bennett's boss in the old National Glass Co. Bennett came from New York for the sole purpose of managing and later owning the Cambridge Glass Co., after the National Glass Co. was defunct. But because the Cambridge Glass Co. was a dream before 1901, and Heisey was its President, it followed that the two would be friends.

During A. J. Bennett's administration of the Cambridge Glass Co., he utilized satin glass on many of his flower frogs.

But it remained to him to introduce a new form of satinizing. Rather than the usual, dangerous method of satinizing with acid, he introduced sand blasting. The method was so successful and became so popular, that it was used extensively even into the Cambridge Square period.

Sandblasted block glass is not as soft to the touch as the acid treated glass, but it has the faculty of picking up light on the portions where the sand blasting was most forceful. This adds to the beauty if not the touch.

A. J. Bennett knew, as did all other glass makers, that there can be no such thing as pure black glass. Since black is a combination of all colors, it will transilluminate to dark amethyst or dark ruby, depending on the other ingredients in the glass.

Because of Whitlow's book on Art Glass several years ago, showing a piece of black satin as Tiffin glass, almost 100 percent of all satinized single layer glass is attributed to Tiffin. A point of correction through the more than a score of researchers, shows that Tiffin was responsible for less than one percent of the black and colored satin glass.

Black Satin and other satinized pieces from Cambridge are as important and avidly sought as the highest form of Art Glass coming from the Cambridge Factory.