Opaline glass is a form of highly collectible glassware, produced in France.
History and description of Opaline glass
Opaline is a form of decorative glassware which was made throughout the 19th century but was at it's most popular during the reign of Napoleon 3rd. Manufacture was almost entirely French, although it was inspired by Venetian Milk Glass, and White Glass produced in Bristol. Glass of similar type which is not produced in France, cannot be called Opaline. The glass has a high lead content, making it similar to crystal in composition. It is opaque or only slightly translucent, and has no machine engraving.
It is always hand-blown, and usually coloured in strong pastel colours, often gilded or hand painted, but occasionally transfer printed with floral designs. Later in the 19th century, attempts were made to sell Opaline glass in stronger colours, reminiscent of Bohemian glass. However, these did not prove so popular as the previous lines. It is rarely signed. The main centres of production were Creusot, Baccarat, and Saint-Louis. Items made of opaline included bowls, vases, boxes, cups, and decanters as well as objects used by perfumers and hairdressers.
The designs are a bridge between the lightness and delicacy of the Empire period, and the heaviness of the pseudo-Gothic designs which were to come. After a lull in popularity during the first half of the 20th century, Opaline has once more become highly collectible and eminently saleable, holding it's value well, despite changes in fashion.
Guide for collectors
Antiqueglass.co.uk has a wealth of information about pieces which are available, while rubylane.com offers an online sales facility. Opaline glass is characterised by light, bright colours with a jewel-like quality. Genuine Opaline glass should be almost opaque. Unusual colours to look for are the emerald green which was introduced late in the 19th century. This resembles jade. So many objects were made of Opaline that, unless the collector wishes to specialise in one particular item, it is possible to build a collection of objects which have a variety of uses as well as being highly decorative. Opaline is relatively sturdy, so collectible items can be used for their original purpose, if care is taken.
Notable sales of Opaline glass
Opaline glass consistently sells at high prices at auction. In December 2005 a pair of ormulu-mounted Opaline glass vases were sold by Sotheby's for £90000, the most expensive item of it's kind ever sold.
In April 2008 a pair of Russian Neo Classical ormulu-mounted blue Oplaine vases circa 1830 were sold by Sotheby's for £52000.
A pair of Opaline vases were sold by Baccarat Antiquarian Traders for $19250 in September 2006.
A pair of Empire style ormolu mounted Opaline glass lamps were sold by Sotheby's for $19200 in October 2008.
A pair of French white Opaline glass vases were sold by Sotheby's for $4500 in November 2005.
A pair of French Opaline glass decanters were sold by Clars Auction Gallery for $2750 in May 2007.
An Opaline cut-glass and gilt-brass lamp stand was sold by Sotheby's for €1896 in October 2003.
A pair of blue Opaline glass perfume bottles was sold by Burchard Galleries Inc., for $900 in March 2011. A French Opaline and enamel decorated glass vase was sold by Skinner for $700 in April 2006.
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