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Argyle Chair
Charles Rennie Macintosh

Shining Like a Jewel
by Bob Brooke


Ruby glass is the dark red color of the precious gemstone ruby. This popular Victorian color never went out of style and it’s still cherished today as it was then.

Ruby glass has been around since Roman times. But the secret of making red glass, lost for many centuries, wasn’t rediscovered until the 17th Century in Brandenburg, Bohemia. Johann Kunckel, a chemist from a glass-making family, re-discovered how to make gold ruby glass around 1670.

To make gold ruby glass, include gold chloride, a colloidal gold solution produced by dissolving gold metal in Aqua Regia (nitric acid and hydrochloric acid) in the glass mixture. Tin (stannic chloride) is sometimes added in tiny amounts, making the process both difficult and expensive. The tin has to be present in the two chloride forms because the stannous chloride acts as a reducing agent to bring about the formation of the metallic gold. Depending on the composition of the base glass, the ruby color can develop during cooling, or the glass may have to be reheated to “strike’ the color.” Today, glassmakers use selenium to make ruby glass.

Who Made Ruby Glass?
Over the years, the number of companies making ruby glass has diminished. Since the EPA has come down hard on these manufacturers, it has become too costly to make ruby glass.

Other than its inherent color and possible shape, ruby glass pieces aren’t easily identified. Most Royal Ruby glass wasn’t marked or signed. The glass usually came from the factory with a sticker identifying the ruby color. During the 1940s, ruby glass manufacturers began using stickers which eventually got washed off or pulled off.

Major glass companies such as Sandwich, Cambridge, Mount Vernon, Gadroon, Blenko, Paden City, Hostmaster, Glades, Fenton, and Fostoria all made ruby glass in all the popular Depression glass patterns—Old Cafe, Coronation, Sandwich, Oyster and Pearl, Queen Mary, Manhattan.

One company, Anchor Hocking, became synonymous with the manufacture of ruby glass. They initially began making and promoting it in 1938. Anchor Hocking's glass, which the company called Royal Ruby, unlike most handmade ruby, used a formula in which the principal colorant was copper. The result, an evenly colored, dark red glass. The amount of Royal Ruby in existence today is tremendous, far more than the amount of red glass from other manufacturers.

Anchor Hocking’s first made Royal Ruby in 1939 in round plates in dinner sets. Since this color became so popular, the company produced pieces of other patterns in this ruby color, including Oysters and Pearls, Old Cafe, Coronation, Bubble, Classic, Manhattan, Queen Mary, and Sandwich. However, difficulty in obtaining copper during World War II, halted production until 1949, after which Anchor Hocking began making an assortment of novelty items— apothecary jars, cigarette boxes, powder boxes, and such—sometimes combining it with crystal.

Footed and unfooted sugar and creamer sets, jam jars with crystal bottoms and ruby lids, plus assorted glasses--ribbed, old café, gold rimmed tumblers, and footed wine goblets—were among the myriad of pieces made in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Ice tea sets with large ice-lipped pitchers and six to eight tumblers were especially popular.

Overall, ruby glass has appreciated in value because, like most glass items, breakage causes scarcity. But many items still sell in the affordable range of $15-65.

Cranberry Glass—A Ruby Glass Variant
Hostesses during the Victorian Era favored a lighter variant of ruby glass called cranberry glass. And because of its scarcity, it’s usually pricier than similar pieces of ruby glass.

To get a lighter pink color, English and American glassblowers experimented with adding less gold chloride, resulting in what today have become known as “cranberry” glass.

And thanks to the virtuosity of these glassblowers there seems to be an endless variety of shapes and patterns of this glass on the market. In addition to tumblers and water pitchers, there are salt cellars, sugar shakers, cruets, jars, jugs, decanters, celery vases and finger bowls. Among the widely used patterns are "Swirl," "Coin Dot," and "Daisy & Fern." Some of the most rare and expensive items found from this time period are beautiful lamps and other lighting fixtures.

As with any collectible, cranberry glass can also be an investment. Pieces that sold for less than $10 a generation ago are now worth hundreds of dollars. Because of the natural fragility of glass, antique cranberry glass has become relatively scarce, though it does turn up in thrift and antique shops, flea markets, and auctions.

Although cranberry glass had peaked in popularity by the end of the 19th century, manufacturers produced it in quantity through the 1930s. The last two companies to make this unique glass—The Pilgrim Glass Corporation and Fenton Art Glass —went out of business early this century. Pilgrim Glass Company produced beautiful blown cranberry glass ranging from various vases and baskets to candle holders and sold them in department stores and gift shops around the country until 2001. At the time if the company's closing, cranberry was its most popular type of glass. Fenton Art Glass marketed new cranberry glass, featuring opalescent decoration with coin dots, daisy patterns and numerous other styles, through retailers around the country until it closed in 2011.

Cranberry glass has always been made in smaller handcraft production rather than in large quantities, due to the high cost of the gold and the delicate mixing process required. Most cranberry pieces are hand blown or molded and often contain small bubbles and striations.

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