Stained Glass Lamps: A Brief History


Stained glass refers, generally, to both the finished colored glass product as well as craft or art of making the glass. The color is injected into the glass by adding various metallic salts like gold, cobalt, and copper – to the molten or liquid glass. These pieces of glass are then arranged in patterns, pictures or designs that are separated by lead strips and held in place by a rigid frame until the glass cools forming the desired shape or pattern. The same basic assembly steps are used in glass windows as well as glass lamp shades.

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It is fascinating the engineering skills that are needed to build and assemble the glass collage. In addition to forming a beautiful assembly of colors, the assembly needs to maintain its own weight when free-standing and it must also remain symmetrical. Stained glass windows must also withstand a wind pressure as wells as changing atmospheric conditions. It is little wonder that the art of manufacturing stained glass is still highly valued today.

It is a shame that the beginning of stained glass production is not truly known. The production of stained glass lamps has been recorded as part of mankind’s early history. Historians believed that Egyptians as early as the 2nd century BC had become quite adept at creating and producing stained glass. Historians have also discovered artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum that date back to the 1st century AD.

These dates are amazing but the oldest example of stained glass containing a picture was discovered in Lorsch Abbey, an excavation site in Germany, that is estimated to be from the 10th century AD. During the 11th and 12th century as Christianity spread across Europe the number of churches increased as well. Almost all of the churches had stained glass windows, these windows were called “cathedral glass” because of the present only in churches. Because of the great beauty of this glass, these windows began to appear in homes as well as other non-religious buildings.

During the 16th century Reformation, these types of windows fell out of favor and were replaced by windows made with pane glass. A great number of cathedrals simply bent to the changing times and made the switch. The art of making stained glass began to disappear with the diminishing demand for these types of windows and glass. The beginning of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, during the late 1700s through the mid-1800s the art of making stained glass experienced a comeback.

The craft really got a boost when in the 1800 and 1900’s it was reintroduced as a patented product called translucent “milky” glass. This was during what was known as the Art Nouveau period. The product was called opalescent glass by European manufacturers. In 1879 an American artist, John La Farge, applied for and received a patent for the process applied for a patent for working with opalescent glass to make windows. La Farge had worked with a Brooklyn glass manufacturer, Louis Tiffany, and shown him his work with opalescent glass. Tiffany became interested and he also applied for a patent relating to stained glass. It appeared that the two patents were different but close and they could have been used jointly but La Farge apparently was unhappy and threatened to sue but eventually they settled with no further difficulties.

Tiffany also received a patent in early 1890 that introduced techniques that

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change the stained glass production from window panes to lampshades. These techniques changed the home lamp-making business forever. The basic core technique is still used in lamp making today.

The process that Louis Tiffany used was taking copper foils, taping the glass pieces together, and then soldering them to form the solid glass pane. This process was similar to what had been done earlier in history but instead of lead, Tiffany used copper. The revolutionary idea was brilliant because the weight of the copper as opposed to lead reduce the overall weight of a pane of glass. This made the pane easier to handle and because copper was so malleability you could ensure finer and therefore more complex designs and pictures could be created.

As time has past glassmaking as with all industries have changed. The biggest change is that stained glass lamps by Tiffany are now made by machinery instead of by hand. The components are changing also, colored glass and copper foils are not used as much. You are starting to get other types of material for the lamp construction. It is interesting to note that even though the original materials are not used some Tiffany lamps still cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This is based on the type of material that is used in the lamp construction.

After WWII, people began to learn the craft of making stained glass as a hobby. There are a number of other stained glass DIY projects that are available for hobby enthusiasts. Today there are probably tens of thousands of people who are making stained for their hobby and home use. With today’s modern home kilns the [process of fusing, bending, and slumping glass is so much easier than in the past. This why the stained glass making hobby has exploded. It is truly easy to make and shape stained glass at home for any type of hobby. The availability of cheap glass, supplies, the availability of home instructions, and the demand for homemade type products has caused the hobby to explore.

The production and use of stained glass products and windows have increased with the passage of time. As long as people want the rainbow of colors, shapes, and designs of this type of product the demand will always be there and will continue to increase. As in the past the techniques, materials, and the end product will continue to evolve and change. This is a truly great benefit for mankind.

Originally posted 2019-03-28 16:30:57.

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