Copies of Reproductions of Burmese Art GlassBy Mark Chervenka
Copies and Reproductions of Burmese Art Glass
Original Burmese is a 19th century art glass patented by Frederick Shirley of the Mt. Washington Glass Company in 1885. The distinctive feature of this glass is its shading from a yellow body to salmon pink towards edges and rims. From about 1970 through the early 1980s, a considerable quantity of imitation Burmese was produced in Murano, Italy for export.
Most of the new Burmese was destined for the American market, brought in by reproduction wholesalers like A.A. Importing or gift importers like Koscherak Bros. Now, with 20 or so years of age, many of these late 20th century reproductions are being mistakenly or deliberately offered and priced as 19th century original Burmese.
Authentic Burmese and most other internally shaded 19th century art glass such as amberina, peach blow, etc., are made from heat sensitive glass formulas. That means the appearance of the glass can be changed by controlling, changing or selectively applying heat. Burmese, for example, after being blown and worked, would be entirely yellow. The pink shading was produced by partially exposing the piece to a higher temperature. The area reheated would remain shaded when the piece cooled.
The process of reheating a portion of a piece to get a color change is technically called striking; a piece of glass that has been reheated and has changed color has been struck. Example: Amberina is originally all amber. Reheated portions strike ruby red. The key ingredient to any heat sensitive glass is gold. It is what produces the pink shading in Burmese and the ruby red in amberina.
The soft yellow color of Burmese was produced by uranium oxide. Two pounds were added to a 184 pound formula for translucent white glass. Due to the uranium, all original Burmese fluoresces yellow green under long wave black light. The 184 pound batch was made heat sensitive by the addition of 1½ pennyweights of gold (a pennyweight equals 1/20th of an ounce).
In addition to Mt. Washington, authentic 19th century Burmese was also made under license in England by Thomas Webb and Sons. Webb marketed its version under the name Queen's Burmese Ware. Most pieces were marked with this name acid etched in the base or with a paper label. Mt. Washington pieces were never permanently marked. An oval paper label reading "Mt. W.G. Co. Burmese Dec. 15th 1885" was sometimes used but is rarely found intact. Burmese continued to be made by Mt. Washington until about 1895; Webb produced their version until around 1900.
Original Mt. Washington Burmese was made in both satin and glossy finishes; virtually all of Webb's Burmese was satin finish. Both firms made many pieces with very intricate hand painted decorations. Mt. Washington's decorated Burmese includes landscapes, fish, game birds, flowers and poetic verses. Most of Webb's Burmese were decorated with floral patterns. Mt. Washington's most frequently seen stock shapes are shown in the original ca. 1885 catalog pages in Figs. 17 & 18. (not all old shapes are shown). All authentic Burmese, English or American, was blown and shows a ground pontil.
There are two big myths that first need to be laid to rest before discussing reproductions in detail. The first myth is that the use of uranium has been banned by the government and is no longer available to glass manufacturers. Without uranium, some people say, no reproduction Burmese can be made. This is simply wrong.
Like many other rare or limited supply commodities, Uranium is regulated by the government, but not banned. Uranium oxide is commonly used today in reproduction vaseline glass novelties. All of the 1970s Italian reproductions include uranium and fluoresce under black light just like 19th century originals. Some crude Burmese reproductions by unknown makers do not fluoresce so black light is still a good test to use but not the only test.
The other myth is that the use of gold in the Burmese formula makes reproductions unprofitable. Again, this is simply not true. According to the original formula, only slightly more than 1/20th of an ounce of gold was required for a 184 pound batch of Burmese. If gold were $350 an ounce, it would only cost $26.25 for 1½ pennyweights. An insignificant amount considering the cost of the total batch plus overhead in equipment, workers, furnaces, etc.
The proof uranium and gold were no obstacles in making reproductions is the low prices reproductions originally brought. In the 1970s, the average price of AA Importing Co.'s ten standard Burmese reproductions was $16. The majority of pieces were under $12. Even adjusted for twenty years of inflation, those prices are modest.
Separating Old From NewKeep these simple rules in mind when evaluating a piece of Burmese:
- All authentic 19th century Burmese has a smooth pontil; reproduction pontils are rough (Figs. 2-3). Although some new pontils have been just recently ground out, this is still a good test.
- Many pieces of reproduction Italian Burmese have tightly ridged handles and feet (Fig. 4); most old feet and handles are smooth or, if ridged, have wide spaces between the ridges;
- Swirled steaks are a sign of a reproduction (Fig. 5). Original Burmese is one homogeneous body; not two colors mixed together.
- The very edge of rims on Italian Burmese are nearly transparent. Sight along the rim and you'll see a line of what appears to be clear frosted glass. (Thanks to Clarence Maier, Burmese Cruet, for that tip).
- Most original Burmese has softer texture due to acid finishing and reproductions have a coarser texture from sandblasting.
- Use black light to weed out the more obvious fakes keeping in mind that the Italian reproductions do fluoresce. Remember, uranium causes the fluorescence, not age.
It is also becoming more important to carefully inspect decorated Burmese pieces. Genuinely old but originally undecorated pieces are now being painted to bring higher prices. All original decorations are fired on; many recent paintings are not. Black light may be helpful in spotting recently applied decorations.
Gundersen and Bryden Burmese
Mt. Washington Glass Co. later became the Pairpoint Corp (1894-1938) which became Gundersen Glass Works (1939 -1952) then Gundersen-Pairpoint Glass (1952-1957), becoming Pairpoint Glass again. At least twice in the 20th century firms descended from Mt. Washington made a type of Burmese.
The first group was made in 1956 and is collectively called "Gundersen" Burmese after the factory manager at that time, Robert Gundersen. A second group was made in 1970 and is referred to as "Bryden Pairpoint" Burmese after Robert Bryden. Both groups are collectible in their own right but are often sold, deliberately or through ignorance, as 19th century.
The 1970s group is virtually all shiny rather than satin finished. It can be distinguished by deeper pink rims that change abruptly to yellow rather than the gradual color shading of older pieces. Both Bryden and Gunderson types are heavier than old pieces. Bryden pieces from the 1970s follow early catalog shapes; Gundersen is in a variety of styles. Color change in Gundersen pieces also tends to be abrupt frequently producing a distinct line where pink and yellow meet. Pieces from both Bryden and Gundersen are well finished and have ground pontils. Both fluoresce in black light although 1970s pieces are weaker.
As you can see, "Burmese" on your written receipt is not enough. Protect yourself by asking the seller to write down the estimated year of production.
Figs. 6-16 are ca. 1970-80 Italian reproductions.
Original wholesale prices shown if known. Photos from actual examples documented in catalogs or from illustrations in catalogs and brochures.