The most sought-after glass of the late 18th century was cut and engraved. The use of steam to power the cutting wheels made the production of cut glass more efficient and reduced costs. Bohemia, France, and England continued to manufacture exquisite cut and engraved glass throughout the 19th century [cameo plate, 92.2.10].
As industrialization increased, so did economic stability. The European middle class began to expand. Glassmakers responded to the growing demand for elegant consumer goods with high-quality products that were simple and restrained. The skill of the decorators—the glass cutters, engravers, and painters—became as important as that of the glassblowers. [Lobmeyr vase, 2009.3.10].
Victorian designers borrowed elements from many historical styles. They favored the Renaissance and Rococo periods. Nature, Symbolism and Oriental art also inspired many glassmakers. Consequently, shapes, decorative motifs, and techniques of the past were revived in Bohemian, German and Austrian glass factories. Around 1880, companies [such as the Bohemian glassworks operated by Anton Ambrosius Egermann in Haida, and Fritz Heckert in Petersdorf,] started to produce glasses in historicizing styles [historismus Humpen, 57.3.60].
At the same time, Thomas Webb & Sons in England introduced the rock crystal style, which featured deep cutting, copper-wheel engraving, and polishing. Glass in the rock crystal style imitated luxury vessels from Europe and the Orient that had been cut from the mineral quartz [Fritsche ewer, 54.2.16].
Around the middle of the 19th century, new design ideas emerged as the Aesthetic movement and the Arts and Crafts movement began [gourd vase, 89.2.7]. Designers believed that the form and decoration of an object should relate to its purpose and material. Designs became cleaner and simpler.
The world’s fairs, which began during this period, were very influential social and cultural events. All industries competed to display their best products, artistry, and technical skill [Baccarat punch bowl, 67.3.41]. The first of these fairs was the 1851 Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace, a large hall that was built entirely of glass and steel. A number of pieces of elaborate glass furniture made for world’s fairs can be seen in this section of the Glass Collection Galleries.