Most collectibles are considered irreplaceable among the people who cherish them, but Paula’s delicate cranberry glass pieces are the most precious things she collects because they are a part of her personal history. Her grandmother gave her each and every one.
Paula has a personal stake in her collection, but cranberry glass is a precious item all on its own—it’s actually made from gold. Glassmakers achieve the distinct pink color by adding small particles of gold to molten glass. The more gold that’s added, the darker red the glass becomes. In fact, cranberry glass is historically referred to as gold ruby, which was darker in color than the delicate pink glass we’re familiar with today. Historians are not in agreement when it comes to pinning down when and where cranberry glass was invented. Some historians date the production of gold ruby back to the late Roman Empire but believe that the lost formula was rediscovered in Bohemia in the 1660s. We can say with certainty, however, that the hey-day of gold ruby glass spanned from 1870 to 1930, when it was widely produced in England, France, Belgium, Bavaria, Bohemia and the Unites States. It was during this time that New England American glassmakers coined the term “cranberry glass” because the color closely resembled the berries native to that part of the country.
Making authentic gold ruby or cranberry glass was never an inexpensive or easy process—the price of gold made production costly and the slightest mixing error could yield an unusable material. Therefore, instead of being mass-produced, single pieces were handmade by small groups of skilled artisans. Today, many pieces have a thin layer of cranberry glass coated with clear crystal, producing what is referred to as “flash” cranberry glass. An untrained eye would have trouble telling the difference between “flash” and traditionally made glass, but it’s safe to say that most companies—especially the ones whose products are sold in department stores—could not afford to produce cranberry glass the old fashioned way. Fenton Glass Company, however, is one of a few American exceptions; they continue to use the century-old mixing technique even today.
Victorian cranberry glass is very expensive and highly collectible. A chandelier can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Pieces known as “Mary Gregory” cranberry glass, named after a 19th-century glass art painter, are highly collectible. These pieces are adorned with a white enameled painting, often of children. Most of these pieces were not actually painted by Gregory, but rather refer to the style of glassware. To help sift through the cranberry-glass confusion, collectors recommend investing in a good guidebook. Newer cranberry glass is fairly affordable, widely available and still very beautiful; nonetheless, it’s good to know the value of items in your collection and/or the going rate for pieces that you hope to acquire.
If you’re like Paula, the origin of a piece matters little when compared to the sentimental value it carries. Ask her and she’ll tell you: the pieces in her cranberry glass collection are simply priceless.
See Paula’s Cranberry Glass used on this festive table:
Savannah Style: Paula’s Holiday Taffy Table