Patterns - Etchings and the Etching Process

by Ruth Forsythe
Issue #14 - June 1974


Our Cambridge CRYSTAL BALL, is one year old and "growing like a weed." The word is spreading. An antique Dealer recently told us that she had noticed a definite turn to Cambridge as so many people are coming into the shop and asking for Cambridge Glass.

June, the month of brides and always the big problem of selecting an appropriate gift. How simple the problem would have been if the bride's name was the same as a named pattern made by the Cambridge Glass Company.

There are Portia, Betty, Diane, Elaine, Cleo and Martha in deep plate etching. Also and quite fitting is Wedding Rings, which is engraved rather than etched.* And cuttings include Lucia and Kimberley.

This does not cover all the patterns named for my lady. We hope to cover more later.

* Ref: Cambridge Glass Company catalogues

The Etching Process

Have you ever wondered just how etching on glassware is done? Following is an account of the method of deep plate etching used by Cambridge. This Information was taken from a brochure published by Cambridge Glass Company entitled "The Art of Making Fine Glassware".

In the deep plate method, the master etching is first made on a metal plate. If you were to examine one, you would instantly recognize the design executed in raised metal, just like the letters on printer's type. Because of the variation in sizes of different pieces, it is necessary to have a separate master plate for each size of piece: goblet, wine glass, tumbler, plate and whatever others are to be etched in this particular pattern.

This plate is first covered with a special black wax or ink and the excess then scraped off, exposing the raised portions of the metal which constitute the design, while the hollows which are not to be etched remain covered with the black wax.

A special tissue paper is then laid over the plate and firmly pressed down so that when the paper is stripped off, the wax or ink adheres to it, completely covering the paper except in the lines of the design from which all wax had previously been removed by the scraping of the metal plate. After trimming away the excess, this paper is then wrapped around the glass to be etched. The wax hardens and the paper is then softened with a special fluid and stripped off. This leaves the portion of the glass which is to be decorated covered with wax except where the design occurs. Wax is them applied to protect those portions of the glass which are not involved in the design, such as the inside of goblets, the top of plates, etc.

This placing of the design on the glass is a very delicate operation and must be done with extreme accuracy. Pick up a Cambridge Etching, examine it very thoroughly. You'll find it exceedingly difficult to find any break in the design to indicate where it began and where it left off.

The article is then ready for the hydrofluoric acid bath, which eats away or etches, only the exposed glass wherever it is not covered with protective wax, namely in the lines of the design from which the wax was scraped off while it lay on the original master plate.

In the Cambridge plant the greatest care possible is used in formulating the etching solution and in allowing the piece to remain in the bath just the right length of time. In Consequence, there is a depth, clarity and brilliance to the Cambridge etched piece which you do not find in ordinary etchings. The decorative pattern formed by the etched glass is literally alive with light, reflected from a million tiny surfaces. It has a delicacy of line that catches every glint of light. In its delicacy or detail, it resembles the world of the Old Master etchers whose work is prized by connoisseurs of art, with a value almost above price. If you compare Cambridge etching beside the rather lifeless, frosted etchings found on much expensive crystal, you will be amazed at the great difference, which is plain to the most casual eye.

From the acid bath, the glass goes to the automatic washing machines, where hot water removes all wax and reclaims it for further use. The glass is again inspected, this time for acid spots, thoroughly polished with sawdust, and wrapped for packing.