Andrew Lineham Fine Glass, London (by appointment only)
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The History of Mary Gregory Glass.
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Mary Gregory glass is easily recognised by its simplicity and naïve charm. There is a myth that Mary Gregory (Miss) was an old lady who painted the children she longed for but never had. This probably is not true. We know that Mary Gregory was an American woman who lived from 1856-1908 and from about 1885 she and her sister worked for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company ‘till the late 1880’s. Even if they had both worked everyday of their lives and were still alive now they could not have produced all the work bearing the ‘Mary Gregory’ name! We can all recognise Mary Gregory glass, the painted and enamelled decoration consists of children (and very rarely babies, see below) in silhouette, typically Victorian and quite similar to the illustrations by Britain’s Kate Greenaway. These children could be flying kites, bowling hoops, blowing bubbles or simply playing, usually surrounded by grass, foliage or fern. They are dressed in typical Victorian ‘Sunday Best’ clothes, usually knickerbockers, sailor suits or crinolines. These figures are usually found on a variety of coloured glass. The values are affected by the colour of the glass, which I shall list from the least valuable upwards, clear, clear with amethyst, dark green, light green, amber, light blue, turquoise, cobalt blue, ruby and finally cranberry. Some examples can be found where the children’s faces have flesh coloured tints. These seriously detract from the value and could even be reproduction. After all if they are in silhouette why pick out the face?
Almost all of the Mary Gregory glass that we see in Europe was made at the Hahn Factory at Gablonz, which was in Bohemia but today is known as the Czech republic. Other factories in Bohemia also produced ‘Mary Gregory’ glass, even the highly regarded factory of Moser at Karlsbad. I have found no evidence of any ‘Mary Gregory’ glass originating in the UK. Many shapes with the above colour combinations were produced but then, as now a pair of any items, with children facing each other is particularly sought after. However, the most desirable type of decoration is of 'babies' crawling in Victorian nursery-ware.
Due to its popularity and simplicity, there have been attempts to copy and reproduce this glass. This falls into two areas, firstly contemporary glass made in other European countries and/or America that is simply bad workmanship. This is easy to dismiss because it is displeasing to the trained eye and too light in weight. Secondly and far more difficult to spot is the genuine Victorian plain coloured glass that has had a ‘Mary Gregory’ type child painted on it. This was prevalent in the 1980’s and 90’s and I was offered pieces, which had been ‘Mary-ed’ for considerably less than if the painting had started life with the glass. Look carefully at the decoration, if it seems slap-dash or weak it is probably going to be an enhanced Victorian item of glass. This later decoration has rather ruined the market for the public who 25 years ago could safely buy a piece of Mary Gregory using their own judgement. However when faced with an obviously old piece of glass the public can talk themselves into buying an enhanced piece. In my experience this ‘Mary-ing’ process was not performed on miniature pieces, patch boxes or scent bottles probably because it was too difficult and time consuming. If you propose to purchase a correct piece of Mary Gregory you should go to a reputable dealer who will guarantee its authenticity and provide you with a receipt.
Bargains do occur but with Mary Gregory and indeed with every sort of antique glass one should be careful and use common sense.
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