A Discussion of Condition

American Brilliant Glass Education and Research - HBG

We know of no totally objective method of describing the condition of American Brilliant Cut Glass.  The word “mint” is frequently used to describe the condition of pieces found on eBay and other sources; the actual condition may range from “as new!” to “really beat up!”  Some day, hopefully, there will be a standard that objectively rates the condition of ABCG, thereby eliminating some of the confusion and misrepresentation.  We do not use the term “mint” since collectors sometimes expect a “mint piece” to be “as new” —an expectation that is probably not possible with 100-yr. old pieces of glass.  Unless noted otherwise in our descriptions, every piece of glass that leaves our possession is in either our “better than extremely fine” (BTEF) condition or our “extremely fine” (EF) condition.  “BTEF” means there is no easily discernible damage; “EF” allows some room for very minor damage that could be easily repaired if the collector desired.  There would be no lowering in value of the piece because of this type of damage.  Almost all of our pieces of American Brilliant Cut Glass have no discernable damage.  OUR GLASS IS CLEAN!  We have methods of cleaning both the inside and outside of any piece.  Unless otherwise noted, there will be no internal cloudiness or residue in any of our items.  Wear marks happen and will not be noted unless they detract from the beauty of a piece.  Any item may be returned if it is found to be other than represented.

An interesting article dealing with the term ‘mint’ was written by Carl U. Fauster, author of “Libbey Glass Since 1818” and well-known authority on cut glass, for the February/March 1987 issue of the Hobstar (the ACGA newsletter).  We include the article to better explain our description of ‘condition.

“Mint Condition” not suitable term for collectible glass

Recently I was involved in the sale of an engraved tumbler documented in a family collection of Libbey craftsman, Joseph Hockie (1877-1965).  The light pink glass with a heavy fluted base was engraved with an intricate floral motif, monogrammed “H” for the personal use by Mr. Hockie and his family.  The intricately engraved flower (rose, I think) and leaves made it a good value priced at $40.  Imagine my surprise when the purchasing collector returned it with the following note: “I received the lovely pink tumbler and, much to my dismay, found a chip in the bottom.  Since I cannot accept an imperfect tumbler in my collection of tumblers, I am returning it and expect a full refund of $40.”  After carefully inspecting the piece, I found a very minute chip at the bottom of one of the flutes, and since it was not acceptable, the refund was promptly made.

The above incident prompts me to report my strong objection to the use of the term “mint” in connection with old glass objects.  Coin collectors have particular reasons for using “mint” as a descriptive term meaning that a coin has never been in circulation, a condition adding to its value in most cases.  Unused stamps, too, are often more desirable.  Almost all collectible old glass, however, has had some use, and therefore is bound to show some signs of wear such as scratches or even chips.  Does this make old glass unacceptable for the most fastidious collector?  I think not and I shall give you my reasons.

Every glass collector is entitled to have his own opinions as to what is his criterion for adding to or building his collection.  Beginners are usually the collectors who use the term “mint” for glass, but advanced collectors understand that almost all old glass shows usage.  Newman’s book, “An Illustrated Dictionary of Glass,” does not include the word “mint” and neither can “mint” be found in any of the books in my reference library.  In my opinion, the word “mint” should be a term that is never used by glass collectors.

Examining what position authorities take on imperfections in fine glass, we find that handcrafted glass can have small seeds or blisters, even bubbles.  Booklets by Steuben, Libbey and others state that such minor imperfections must be expected, particularly in colorless crystal.  Cracks, chips, and similar conditions are another matter in collectible glass.  If the collector takes a common-sense position on this, my advice is to use the following guideline.  If the imperfection does not detract from the main feature of the piece, (possibly unnoticeable at an arm’s length or if properly placed on a display cabinet shelf), it is then absolutely acceptable.

In the area of restoring antique items, restoration of glass items is often possible and found most satisfactory by most collectors, although it does not compare to the frequency that furniture is restored.  Recently the Appraisers Association of America held a seminar in New York at which an expert spoke on “How Restoration Affects the Value of Furniture.”  Repairing glass is quite different and should be considered from a common-sense point of view.  As a beginning collector, I occasionally had a chipped rim of a glass ground down to make the rim even, but now I refuse to have a chipped bowl repaired in this manner.  Minor repairs are acceptable, such as re-gluing a sharp or cleanly broken stem.  In a bowl that has a sizable segment break-out, it can be reset in place without detracting from the beauty of the piece.  In the final analysis, again, it is up to the individual collector as to the acceptability of restored, as well as damaged, glass pieces.

Most museums use this common-sense position and numerous examples can be found.  If there is a chip, crack, or other imperfection, such as a missing stopper, be not concerned.  If the main feature of the piece is the fine engraving, don’t discard the piece for reasons of imperfection.  A perfect example of such a piece is the Vaupel Decanter illustrated in my book, “Libbey Glass Since 1818,” page 214.  The stopper is broken off at the neck, so closely it could not be removed, but this imperfection is very minor, as the engraved detail of the Vaupel family crest makes this a 19th century piece of very major importance.  If all collectors will look for the important features of a piece of collectible glass, using common sense regarding imperfections and avoiding the term “mint,” it will be more realistic for all collectors, both beginning and advanced.


Content courtesy of Warren and Teddie Biden