Ornamental Victorian Window Glass: Decorative Glass
Early architectural glass having a patterned surface was created by etching, enamelling and wheel cutting the glass surface. The various patterns in which this glass has been manufactured are documented in this article.
This page is a supplement to our main article: History Of Architectural Glass For Windows.
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We undertook this research ‘for the public record’ and to ensure the history of these interesting glasses was open to anybody with an interest. Please include a link to this article if sharing it or posting elsewhere, either in part or full; It really did take us a lot of work to get this far and it is still regularly being updated or amended as new information is unearthed.
Table of Contents
Victorian decorative, cathedral, frosted & fancy glass gallery.
Victorian glass makers introduced ornate window glass, also known as frosted glass, fancy or obscured glass. It is made by etching, painting or embossing designs into the surface of the hot glass sheets.
Many heritage buildings across the globe still contain some fine examples of these interesting glass patterns. Using old archives, along with our team’s experience and trade contacts, this page is our attempt to record all of those early Victorian glass designs.
Obscured Glass “has one side covered with an opaque film formed either by grinding the surface or by melting powdered glass upon it. The names for this glass seem to be used indiscriminately without reference.” 1879
Early Victorian sheet Glass Designs
The dark parts of the following illustrations represent the clear glass, whilst the light area represents the etched surface.
Glass etching or “French embossing,” is a popular technique developed during the mid-1800s that is still widely used. Parrafin wax or (later Brunswick Black) would act as a ‘resist’ when painted onto the surface. A decorative pattern is then stencilled or scratched into the wax layer, exposing the glass surface. Hydrofluoric acid vapour soon etches into the smooth glass surface, creating a frosted and clear decorative design. Acids, alkali or physical abrasives can all be employed to achieve a similar effect.
“Embossed Glass is a polished plate glass 1/4 of an inch thick with designs embossed in it. The embossing is done by first stensiling the pattern in Brunswick Black. The surface is then subjected to the action of fluoric acid, which attacks and makes a ground glass surface on the unprotected parts. Embossing is done to suit the particular size as the occasion demans”
In the 1920s a mould-etch process was developed, where the design was etched directly from the mould. Each cast piece emerged from the mould with the image already etched into the surface of the glass.
Acid etching can revert to become an almost clear pane when wet, which should be considered if selecting etched glazing for bathrooms or other wet environments.
Muslin Glass or Chiffon Glass for privacy glazing predates the figured rolled glasses. No fabric is actually used in the manufacture, although Chance Bros experimented with laminating silk netting into the glass, it is so named because the finished glass surface has the appearance of muslin which is less translucent than other etched glass methods.
Muslin Glass was produced in Europe until the 1930s. This French site is dedicated to Muslin Glass and has far more examples of ‘Mousseline Glass’
“Five divisions of skilled workmen are necessary to perform this operation. They are, roughers, emeriers, smoothers, white-wheelers and buffers or polishers. Different abrasives or polishing materials are used, including sand or carborundum, emery, sandstone, pumice, and rouge.”
Glass Trade Catalogues
1847 Chance Brothers Ornamental Glass Design Book
1851 Chance Brothers Crystal Palace Exhibition
1867 Chance Brothers Ornamental Glass Design Book
This was the last catalogue produced of this style.
1904 Pilkington Bros. Embossed Glass Designs
1904 British Glass Merchant
The First Textured Window Glasses
Hartleys Patent: Table Rolled Glass
James Hartley was granted a patent in 1838 for producing glass made by casting the hot glass ‘metal’ onto an engraved surface and then rolling it from above. Hartley’s glassworks later became famous for ‘Hartley’s Patent Plate’, a rolled and textured roofing glass, but Hartley’s were also producing coloured rolled glass know as ‘Cathedral Glass’ for creating stained glass windows.
Cathedral Glass was originally a smooth rolled glass before ‘Rough’, ‘Ribbed’ and ‘Diamond’ embossed patterns were introduced. Later the term became common usage for describing any kind of rolled glass, including ‘figured glass’ sheets.
- Cathedral Glass is generally rolled sheet glass of a neutral tint used extensively in stained glass work.
- Patent Rolled Cathedral is a type of thin rolled plate, wavy on both sides and tinted and rolled.
- White Cathedral is of the same colour as ordinary glass without the lines.
- Sheet Cathedral is also tinted and used for the same purposes
- Sanded Sheet Cathedral has sand thrown upon its surface when hot so that it fuses in giving an appearance which is useful for artistic purposes.
- Hammered Cathedral Glass has a dimpled surface and is the most common form of American Cathedral Glass.
These Pilkington glass samples show just some of the Rolled Cathedral Tints. To see the full collection visit Glass Message Board Gallery. Thanks to Glassmessages.com for sharing these.
The colour is relative to thickness; If the same batch of coloured glass were to be cast into different thickness then each sheet would display a slightly different tinting.
Information Regarding The Glass Patterns
‘Diaper’ would now be a very unusual name to give to a decorative product. The Oxford dictionary gives the definition as “Greek dia for “cross” as in “diamond” or “diagonal”; and aspros, Greek for “white”. A white diamond or white cloth is used on the diagonal, hence the diagonal lattice or reticulation in patterning”.
c. 1855: “They are all glazed with diaper glass of a beautiful pattern, and surrounded with a pink tinted border, which obviates the necessity and saves the trouble and expense of blinds, rollers, and brackets.”
Current Glass Patterns
2020 Pilkington Oriel Collection – Etched Glazing.
“This exciting range of stunning, high-end decorative etched glass designs offer excellent light transmission with various levels of privacy. The range is available in a variety of contemporary and traditional designs, each with a modern opaque appearance.”
Please Note: Etched glass can become almost clear when wet.
Seraphic Glass: screen printed ceramic coatings
Barron Glass : Traditional Etched Glass Designs.
Available as cut to size or in sheets of 1120 x 2140 mm. Thicknesses: standard 4mm and safety glass (5 mm or 7mm laminate – we do not recommend that our glass be toughened). All patterns also available in a fully opaque version suitable for locations where complete privacy is required (laminate only). This glass can be supplied as double glazed units.
Our Related Articles
Reference Books & Sites
British Glass, 1800-1914 – Charles R. Hajdamach
Windows: History, Repair and Conservation – Michael Tutton