Bristol Blue Glass has been around for many hundreds of years, but due to an economic downslide in the early 20th century its ceased to be. Until in the late 80s when Peter Hewlett started to make Bristol Blue Glass in the famous City of Bristol. Several other companies followed suit and to this day there is still a debate over the real story. While the ongoing debate rides its self out we continue to make the most prestigious glass that Bristol has ever seen.
In the early 18th century there were many potters around the Bristol area supplying pots and utensils to ships and traders in the then busy Bristol docks. Pots from this period have found themselves all over the globe being traded from ships coming from or through Bristol. One such Bristol merchant and potter making porcelain at that time was Richard Champion who was working with the chemist William Cookworthy making white porcelain with beautiful blue designs. In their search to find good quality Cobalt Oxide for this blue decoration they obtained exclusive rights to import Cobalt Oxide from the Royal Saxon Cobalt works in Saxony. It is not known when the decision to add the Cobalt Oxide to the recently invented lead crystal substrate was made or if it was a result of experimentation or a fortunate mistake in production but the beauty of the Blue Glass was soon recognised. It was possibly the history of Bristol being linked to the sea and the number of rich merchants living in the area that the quality of the glass and beauty of the soft blue colour took their fancy and Bristol Blue Glass soon became popular. It’s popularity soon lead to more than sixty glass houses being set up around the city one of which was the Nonsuch Flint Glass Manufactory started by Lazurus Jacobs in 1780.
Lazurus Jacob and his son Isaac soon became the most sought after and famous makers of Bristol Blue Glass and were soon making glass for the aristocrats of Europe and for export to the North American States. Examples of their work can still be seen today in Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.
Due to modern technology and mechanisation the art of glass blowing, which dates back to the Phoenician times went into decline and by 1922 the last glasshouse in Bristol closed its doors. During the later part of the 20th century people started to appreciate the workmanship and the beauty of handcrafted glassware with colours and designs that are unique to crafted products. Now in the 21st century there has been a renaissance of Bristol Blue Glass and a number of manufacturers have started production throughout the city.
BLOWING AND MOULDING GLASS:
A Glasshouse is a very warm and busy environment with craftsmen working in teams on glass at temperatures of 1080 – 1150 deg C. Each member of the team has a specific task from the Blower blowing the glass to the Servitor making stems or feet to place onto the blown vessel, bowl or glass. Each technique although similar requires different skills and to become a Master of the craft takes many years of experience.
The Blowing Iron – hollow stainless steel tube approximately 4 feet long is inserted into the Crucible a special earthenware pot that contains the molten glass. By rotating the Blowing Iron on the surface of the molten glass and skilfully judging the size and temperature the correct amount of molten glass the “Gather” can be obtained ready for blowing. After withdrawing the “Gather” the glass can then be blocked into shape using a pear wood block or former lined with heat resistant cork, which also absorbs moisture. For larger pieces the blower can add another gather to the first and continues to work the glass until the correct amount is obtained. The blower still turning the Iron lowers the item into the mould and starts the blowing process. This is the final blowing stage and the Servitor another member of the team adds the finished stems, stands or feet. The stem, stand or foot was shaped in similar manner to the main body of the item using a small “Gather” whilst keeping the glass at a working temperature of 600-800degC using a special furnace called a “Glory Hole”.
To help maintain the working temperature of the glass during the blowing or forming process and to stop the worked item falling off the Blowing Iron at various stages more molten glass would be added to the point at which the glass is held on the iron. Once satisfied with the final results the Blower cracks off the iron, the item still at approx 500degC is then placed in a kiln or oven to gradually cool to room temperature.
The item is then finally finished by measuring and scoring with an industrial diamond and cracking off. The resulting sharp edges are ground down using carborundum paste and passed through a flame to melt the glass to produce a finished rounded rim.