Mercury glass or silvered glass vase
above: Silvered glass
or Mercury glass
etched vase




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Mercury Glass


Mercury Glass or
Silvered Glass from
The Glass Encyclopedia

A short explanation of Silvered or Mercury Glass:

Mercury glass or Silvered Glass, as it was sometimes called, is double-walled glass with a coating of silver-colouring on the inside. This gives it the appearance of silver and in the 19th century this was a much cheaper product than real silver, for such things as church candlesticks. Hence the name "Poor Man's Silver".

The reason it is sometimes called Mercury Glass is because in the early days the internal coating was sometimes mercury or a mercury product. However mercury proved unsuitable and very little silvered glass has mercury on the inside. Silver nitrate was used instead.

The hole on the bottom which allowed access for pouring in the silver coating, was sealed with either a metal or glass disc, in theory to keep the silvered surface from tarnishing. Whether or not the silvered surface is damaged when the disc has been missing for some time, seems to vary. It is easily damaged if water is allowed into the hollow space between the inner and outer layers of glass.

The vase on the left is etched with ferns and foliage and has a gold coloured interior. It is German from around 1880.

This kind of glass was first made in the 1840s, and patented in England in 1849 and in the USA in 1855. The English patented pieces are sometimes marked E. Varnish & Co. or F. Hale Thomson; the USA pieces are sometimes marked with the New England Glass mark. Its popularity waned after about 1885.
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Diane Lytwyn has published a really nice book on Silvered Mercury Glass, and there is a section in Charles Hajdamach's book that you may find helpful. Click on the book cover or title to read more about these books.

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