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Crystal-Clear Terms Help Avoid Confusion

January 10, 1987|RALPH KOVEL and TERRY KOVEL

Antiques require a special vocabulary. If two glass collectors meet and one says, "There is a pontil on the roemer," the meaning is clear if both are experts in a special field. A less knowledgeable collector would need a translation of the sentence to understand that there is a rough spot on the bottom of the German drinking glass. Words sometimes have a slightly different meaning to an expert than to an amateur.

"Brilliant cut glass" not only is glass cut to sparkle with great brilliance, the usual meaning, but it also refers to American cut glass made about 1880 to 1900 in very elaborate cut designs. "Crystal" is a word that means man-made glass to most people. To a serious collector it could mean nature's clear quartz crystals. Rock crystal was carved into vases, figures, chandelier prisms, beads and other decorative objects for many years. The rock crystal was superior to the man-made glass that might have been used for the same purpose. It has only been during the 20th Century that the word crystal has also meant glass. Fine quality glass goblets are sold as "crystal" in the gift shops and the meaning is clear. A string of crystal beads purchased from an antiques shop could be faceted man-made glass or an actual piece of carved quartz.

Many other words have these dual meanings, one for everyday usage, the other to indicate a valuable, rare type of antique. A true Shaker chair was made by members of the Shaker religious sect. It is not just a plain chair that resembles a real piece of Shaker furniture. A Tiffany lamp was made by the Tiffany Studios of New York about 1900. It is not a modern leaded glass shade. Be sure when you are buying antiques that you try to speak the language of the seller.

Question: My great-great-grandmother's thin silver spoons are marked "W. M. Rouse." I am 88, so they must be very old.

Answer: Thin, plain silver spoons of the 1800s were often made of coin silver. Coin silver is a metal mixture that is not quite as pure as sterling silver. William Madison Rouse was a silversmith working in Charleston, S.C. He lived from 1812 to 1888. To decide how old an ancestor's antique might be, use this simple method: Take half of your age and add 25 years for each past generation. By this system your spoon is 44 (half your age) plus 25 (your mother) plus 25 (your grandmother) plus 25 (your great-grandmother) plus 25 (your great-great-grandmother), or 144 years old. Your spoon was probably made about 1842.

Q: What is "smoke grained" furniture? I have a white table with mottled decorations that was sold to my mother as "smoke grained."

A: Smoke graining was a decorating technique used on painted wooden furniture in the 19th Century. A candle was held close to a freshly painted tacky surface and moved in circles. The heat and soot from the candle made a smoky cloud pattern in the paint. It remained when the paint hardened. This was popular in the New England area in the early 1800s. A grain-painted finish in good condition adds much to the value of a piece.

Q: My pressed milk glass bowl is marked on the bottom with a cross and the letters IM PE RI AL. Where and when was it made?

A: The Imperial Glass Corporation of Bellaire, Ohio, started in business in 1904. They made jelly glass, tableware and lamp shades until about 1910. Iridescent glass, frosted lamp shades, pressed glass, colored glass, and even blown glass were made before 1929. The company was reorganized and sold several times until it finally closed in 1982. Your piece is marked with the "German Cross" mark that was used from 1913 to the late 1920s.

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