March 1, 2018
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this month’s newsletter is about the flint glass commonly known as Waterford crystal. This quintessentially Irish enterprise was started by Quaker brothers George and William Penrose in 1783 on the Quay in Waterford. It cost them £10,000 to build and equip the factory—a princely sum at that time. The factory initially had 50-70 workers, including some of Europe’s best glassblowers, cutters and engravers who made both utilitarian and decorative items. A common misapprehension is that Waterford glass has a blue or dark tint like the bloom on a grape, but because the glass is polished after cutting, this is not the case. Another misguided idea is that if measurement of the circumference of the rim of a decanter matched the decanter’s height, it would undoubtedly be a Waterford piece; however, the best way to tell if an item is Waterford is the mark “PENROSE WATERFORD” impressed into its base.
In 1851, then-owner George Gatchell, whose family had been associated with the company since 1799, exhibited an ornamental center stand for a banqueting table at the Great Exhibition in London. This consisted of forty pieces of cut glass so fitted to each other as to require no connecting sockets of any other material. Nonetheless, by fall of that year, the business was forced to close for economic reasons. The glass-making industry struggled on in Ireland until 1896, when the last glassmaker, Pugh Glassworks of Dublin, closed.
If you’re thinking that you’ve seen Waterford crystal made more recently than 1851, you’re right! After WWII Czech immigrant, Charles Bacik, set up a crystal factory in the Waterford suburb of Ballytruckle, only 1-1/2 miles from the original Penrose factory. Influenced by the old pattern books from the original Waterford Flint Glass Works that were stored in the National Museum in Dublin, Czech glassblower Miroslav Havel, who had been recruited to move to Ireland by the availability of fresh fruit, designed the Lismore pattern, which became the most popular Waterford pattern ever. Despite multiple changes in ownership over the last sixty years, the House of Waterford Crystal is still thriving, offering tours of the factory and manufacturing the enormous ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
On that note, we’ll wish you a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish!
Lynne & Bob McCann