New Murano Glass with Encased FigurinesBy

New Murano Glass with Encased Figures

Among the many sought after forms of vintage Venetian glass are pieces that feature three dimensional glass figures entirely encased in glass. Most of the encased shapes are small fish. The fish are found alone, grouped with other figures and grouped with other fish in underwater scenes. Fish alone or with another figures have no special name. Underwater scenes are generally referred to as aquarium pieces or aquarium blocks.

Aquarium blocks and other pieces with encased figures have been back in production in Venetian workshops, as well as China and Taiwan. Prices for new pieces have ranged from $50 to $300. Vintage aquarium blocks and other pieces with encased figures made ca. 1948-1960 have generally ranged from $250 to $2,000+ depending on size, quality and maker/designer.

Clues To Age

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One way to distinguish the new pieces is to carefully study the clear outer glass which encases the figure(s). Most vintage pieces are made of exceptionally clear transparent crystal. Newer pieces very often have a noticeably dark or green tint to the glass. The tinting is more common with China and Taiwan pieces; less noticeable on better quality new pieces made in Italy.

"Grass" in older aquarium blocks tends to be very flowing with many swirls. Much of the grass in newer blocks is relatively straight (Fig. 3). The new aquarium blocks from China and Taiwan have very coarse bits of glass "gravel" in the bottoms. Vintage aquariums do not have the rough bottoms.

Encased fish in early pieces tend to be more natural appearing and made of a greater number of individual pieces of glass than recently made fish. The older fish in Fig. 8, for example, has 4 separate fins attached to the body and two separate pieces of glass were used to make the eye. The body was also encased in clear glass before being embedded into the larger piece. All the pieces had to be joined in fairly quick succession then inserted into the larger piece of crystal. The new fish is Fig. 7 is much simpler. The body is made of one piece of glass. Fins are merely pulled out from the main body rather than individual pieces of glass attached separately as in the older fish.

One other tip for evaluating aquarium blocks is to look at the intentionally made bubbles. Vintage pieces tend to have fewer but much larger bubbles than recently made blocks. Generally, most older pieces also tend to have ball shaped (spherical) bubbles. Bubbles in newer pieces are very often flattened, stretched and irregularly shaped. For reference, look at the bubbles in originals shown in (Figs. 1, 2 and 8); compare those to the bubbles in new pieces shown in Figs. 3, 9, and 10.

Marks and Labels

When evaluating Venetian glass, quality and workmanship are more reliable guides to age and value than the presence of marks or labels. In fact most pre-1970 Venetian glass was not permanently marked; neither are current Venetian imports. Most of the marks and labels that are found on both old and new pieces, are actually not of glass makers but of import companies.

A good example is Oggetti, a U.S.A. importer based in Florida which specializes in Venetian glass. When the name appears alone many buyers frequently mistake it for a glass maker or artist. In some instances Oggetti does appear with a glass maker's name which can add further complications (Fig. 11). Oggetti president Robert Frehling told ACRN by telephone that his firm was started in 1975. Any piece of Venetian glass with the name of his firm--engraved or on a label-- cannot be produced before 1975. Other importers' marks that are frequently confused with glass makers' marks are Camer Glass, Koscherak Bros., Tay, Weil and Balboa. A wide number of glass shops made items for these and other importers.

In summary, most new pieces with encased figures are made of lower quality materials and constructed more simply than vintage pieces. New Italian-made pieces are more nearly like vintage originals in quality and workmanship than new pieces from China and Taiwan.

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Fig. 1 Original aquarium blocks and aquarium lamp by the shop of Alfredo Barbini. Partial paper label. Photo Courtesy Bill Ansley.

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Fig. 2 Original ashtray, 6″ diameter; Barbini, unmarked private

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Fig. 3 New aquarium block currently being made in Murano, Italy. Note straight "grass" in the center of the block. Retail price $198. About 7″ wide, 6″ high, about 1 3/4″ thick.

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Fig. 4 New 10″ tall pelican with fish encased in clear glass pouch. Imported by Oggetti of U.S.A., made in Murano, Italy. Retail price was $245-$295. Marked with Oggetti label (Fig. 5) and with engraved mark of Elio Raffaeli (Fig. 6).

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Fig. 5 Trademark of Florida-based import firm Oggetti

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Fig. 6 engraved mark Elio Raffaeli

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Fig. 7 Close up of new fish from aquarium block in (Fig. 3.) Entire fish made of one piece of glass. Fins are pulled out from the glass that forms the body. Only the fairly crude eyes are applied. Actual size about 1 1/4″.

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Fig. 8 Encased fish from ca. 1950s piece. Note the four applied fins and well formed applied eyes. Also note the ribbing in the fins. The entire body was encased in glass. Actual size 1 3/4″.

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Fig. 9 Page from ca. 1980 Oggetti catalog. Note the dense cluster of small bubbles. Largest piece, lower left, 14″ X 8″.

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Fig. 10 Close up of stretched and irregularly shaped bubbles in new aquarium block. About three times actual size.

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Fig. 11 Engraved mark of Oggetti along with mark of glass maker Paul Sigiorello. All Oggetti pieces are made after 1974-75.

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Koscherak Bros.

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Camer Glass

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Active 1950-70s

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Active 1950-70s

Weil
Ceramics
& Glass
Murano Italy

Weil Ceramics and Glass, Inc., an American Importer

Fig. 12 Names and marks of U.S.A. importers which frequently appeared on Venetian glass. Marks are paper labels unless stated otherwise. In addition to these marks, most pieces also carried a second label reading Murano-Made in Italy or Genuine Venetian Glass or similar wording.