The lost art of Glass Blowing is one where a craftsman would create glass sculpture and functional items from molten glass. The Glass would be heated so that it was workable and moldable. The molten glass was loaded onto the end of a long pipe, and the glass blower could shape his glass by blowing into the pipe, rolling the pipe and useing his special tools to mold the glass. A skilled craftsman could get everything from simple bottles to intricate vases made to look like flowers.

This was its origin: in a part of Syria which is called Phoenicia, there is a swamp close to Judaea, around the base of Mt. Carmel, from which the Bellus River arises . . . whose sands are purified from contamination by the torrent's flow. The story is that here a ship of natron merchants had been shipwrecked; when they were scattered about on the shore preparing food and no stones were at hand for propping up their pots, they brought lumps of natron from the ship. The sand of the shore became mixed with the burning natron and translucent streams of a new liquid flowed forth: and this was the origin of glass.
Saint Isidore of Seville, Etymologies XVI.16. Translation by Charles Witke.

A Quick History of Glass

Glass was first discovered in the area around Persia in 3500 - 3000 BC, and it is the substance you get when you mix quartz or silica, potash and chalk at high temperatures.

Glass occurs in nature as obsidian, produced by volcanoes, fulgurite, created when lightening strikes a beach, and tektites which are thought to be formed when meteorites strike the earth. 

Man has used glass from prehistoric times, with both obsidian and fulgurite being used for tools that needed sharp cutting edges. The thinness of the edge able to be put onto a glass tool outweighed the brittleness of the tool. 

Man began creating glass on purpose in either 7000BCE or 3000BCE in either Egypt or Assyria and Mesopotamia. The glasses created during these periods and in these area were coloured.

In the beginning of glass blowing history, a basic glass cup was made by rolling an iron bar into a mix of horse dung and clay to create a mould. You would then wait for the mould to dry. Once the mould was dry, you would dip it into the molten glass. When the glass was cold you could scrape out the horse dung/clay mix and you would have a cup or perfume bottle.

During Egypt's 18th dynasty, around 1500BCE the first glass vessels were made by attaching a silica paste (the core) to a metal rod which was then dipped  into molten glass over and over again, producing small bottles. During this period glass makers began using glass threads in the decoration of glass articles. 

Between 250 BCE and 100 BCE glass blowing was discovered and became an export industry in Babylonia.  Roman nobility began to use glass drinking vessels in preference to those made of precious metals, as a status symbol.

By 500CE colored glass windows, and doors made of opalescent glass are known to have existed. And the first known pictorial windows made of colored glass are known to have existed by 800CE.

In 1400CE Venetian glass began its 300 year domination of the European glass-making industry, and in 1600 people realised that if beer were stored in glass bottles it would undergo a secondary fermentation process which improved its quality. This lead to the law implemented in England in 1615 that glass makers must use coal instead of wood... because of heavy deforestation which was occurring

The first true plate glass was produced in 1668 at St. Gobain, France by the process of blowing a long glass cylinder, slitting it lengthways, and gently unrolling it to form a rectangle. This was known as the broad glass method, and was soon abandoned for the crown glass method, where a large sphere, rather than a cylinder, was blown, cut and flattened.

The split mold was invented in 1821,  ending the age of blowing individual vessels such as bottles, glasses and flasks.

William Pilkington, in 1871, invented a machine to manufacture large sheets of glass using the Crown Glass method. Also that year, a machine was perfected to produce glass bottles in mass quantities.

Carnival Glass was made in the USA between 1908 and 1928.

In 1926 the Sale of Food Act caused the production of the first milk bottles and the first mass organized recycling of glass.
Alistair Pilkington of the Pilkington Glass Company invented the Float Glass process of making flat glass in 1959. In this process, a continuous strip of molten glass (about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit) is poured from the furnace onto a large shallow bath of molten metal, usually tin. It floats on the tin, spreads out and forms a level surface. After annealing the glass emerges as a 'fire' polished product with virtually parallel surfaces. Today, much of the world's flat glass is made with the Float Glass process. Window glass is made by putting an iron bar vertically into the molten glass and then lifting it up to a height of about 20 metres or more. After that it is cut into suitably sized pieces.

Glass Blowing 

Blowing glass is a specialist process and should not be attempted without the correct tools and knowledge. And here's how you do it :)

What you will need:

  • Some glass. Or some silica and soda.
  • A vessel to melt the glass (or make it) in.
  • A table or bench covered with highly polished steel.
  • Various tools for working the glass. Anything which will not be damaged by the very hot glass is fine.
  • A hollow piece of steel long enough to let you avoid bringing your face too close to the molten glass which will be on the end of it, and short enough for you to control easily.
  • A steel rod of a similar length to the tube.

What you have to do.

  • Melt your glass.
  • Rotate the hollow steel in the molten glass until you have gathered the amount of glass you need.
  • Blow gently and evenly down the tube, causing the glass to inflate like a balloon.
  • Roll your glass on the table covered with steel to smooth its surface and even the shape..
  • Allow the surface of the glass to cool a little, then use your tools to help you shape the glass. You can continue inflation during this time. Applying pressure to one side while blowing into the tube will cause the glass to inflate more on one side than on the other.
  • Transfer your glass to the end of the steel rod, using a blob of molten glass as glue to hold it there.
  • Holding the end of the steel rod, warm the glass in the fire.
  • Remove the glass from the heat and continue adding fine detail to the glass with your tools.

It is possible that the glass will crack unless it is allowed to cool very slowly. An annealing oven would be an ideal place to let the glass cool over a period of about 12 hours.

Out of the fire...

That seems to be the consensus on how the discovery was made. Possibly someone, picking over still-warm ground in bare feet, found the "first" piece with an unwary toe. Or, perhaps, less painful but just as fortuitous -- a sharp eye spotting a gleam on a slope of cooled lava, or an innocuous rock broken to reveal obsidian ... volcanic glass.

Early Methods

However it happened to be found, the "new" material proved useful. Careful knapping of the lumps produced clean, sharp edges, for instance, invaluable for many tasks. The material itself -- cool, slick, shiny -- must have been a source of fascination. That's a safe assumption because, not content to simply find and use the glass, more than three thousand years ago, humans found a method to create it, though not yet to easily shape it as it was being formed. The first true glass may have been made as early as four thousand years ago. Among the methods used to create glass objects were the core forming, casting and cutting methods. Each amounted almost to an art form on its own, and all of those methods produced unique objects that were often as lovely as they were prohibitively expensive.


True control over the substance, however, was not dreamt of until some Romans, around 50 BC, discovered that the molten substance in their glass crucibles could be gathered on the tip of a hollow pipe, and blown outward like a soap bubble. Unlike the other methods for shaping glass objects, this glassblowing (or glass blowing, or glass-blowing), could be accomplished quickly. It was the ease and speed of this process which transformed glass into a fact of everyday life, rather than the luxury item it had been until then.

Transformation, and Glass in the Present Day

Today, glassblowing is almost, but not truly, a lost art. True mass production techniques have largely replaced the human artists who once sculpted molten glass into beautiful and useful forms that graced households and became heirlooms. It is curious to note, however, that, perhaps because of the slightly elevated element of risk involved in working it, glass was, historically speaking, not often a medium for pure art. Glass objects were almost always functional first and beautiful simply because that was an inherent quality of glass. As production of utilitarian glass objects became less and less like true art, however, there did arise some who began to use glass as a primary medium for art. Perhaps the earliest and most prominent of these was Emile Gallé (1846-1904), who stated:

"My own work consists above all in the execution of personal dreams: to dress crystal in tender and terrible roles, to compose for it the thoughtful faces of pleasure or impose upon it qualities I should like to have in order to incarnate my dream and design.... I have sought to make crystal yield forth all the tender or fierce expression I can summon when guided by a hand that delights in it."
-- Emile Gallé, Ecrits pour L'Art 1884-1889

Emile proved to be about a century ahead of his time: during the 1940's, a number of American artists became interested in using glass as an art medium. It took twenty more years, however, before those artists would begin directly creating glass objects -- until then, skilled glassworkers worked in collaboration with the artists, trying to reproduce their dreams. Still, the idea, once birthed, proved viable, and the American Studio Glass Movement became a reality. Today, glassblowing is a skill and an art taught at many universities throughout the world. They may number much fewer than painters or sculptors, but today, as yesterday before, skilled glassblowers still lift lovingly crafted pieces out of the fire.

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