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Identifying Ysart Glass
Part 1 – Glassware
This article originally appeared in Ysartnews Issue 3 - Feb 1987. Reviewed 2002
Edited by Mary Houston-Lambert
The most daunting problem for any new collector of Ysart glass is identification. The best way to learn is to handle authenticated pieces, thus developing a sense for shape, colour, weight and general feel of the glass. With Vasart glass this is easy; most of the pieces made at YSART BROTHERS GLASS have an acid etched signature ‘Vasart’ in script. VASART GLASS became the company name when PIRELLI GLASS took an interest in helping with the marketing. The signature was then discontinued in favour of the black on silver paper labels, matching the one used on Pirelli glass and on the glass that Vasart made for Pirelli. Examples can be seen on the labels page. As these labels were applied on the sides of pieces, their survival rate is even lower than the Monart paper labels. Some examples of an earlier Black on White circular label have also been seen on Vasart glass, including one with Monart like coding.
Study of the signed pieces of Vasart can give the collector a feel for the way that the Ysart family worked. While Salvador insisted that the new Vasart glass was to be distinctly different from Monart, there is still a strong affinity between the two periods of production. Colour is the biggest difference between Monart and Vasart glass. This is generally believed to be due to supply problems after the war. However, Paul Ysart who remained at Moncrieff’s, was still able to produce strongly coloured pieces in comparison to the paler Vasart production, although with a different colour range from that of the pre-war period.
Base Types on Monart, Vasart & others
All the Ysart glass is hand blown and none of it exhibits the precise finish of the craftsmen-produced pieces from other major glass factories. The bases are among the most useful guides to identifying Ysart glass, as the way that the pontil area was left was fairly distinctive. Most factories ground the pontil down and polished it to be either perfectly flush with the surrounding glass or to leave a shallow depression.
The following illustrations show the main variations found on Ysart and Ysart-type glass. A separate page on this website illustrates these with photographs.
|1. Early Monart, most Vasart, and Strathearn (with leaping salmon seal)|
Figure One shows almost no extra finishing; the pontil is ground smooth, usually but not always flat, and is still left standing clear. The rounded edge of the base will often show signs of wear. If a piece has had this wear added deliberately to show age, all the minute scratches will appear to radiate from the centre. Natural wear scratches always appear totally random. Every piece of Monart seen with a ‘MONART WARE’ label, the earliest production, has this type of base with the exception of pieces that have applied feet. Most Vasart production has this type and much Strathearn too. The Strathearn glass was often made without a raised pontil and one was added to take the ‘leaping salmon’ seal. Examples of Strathearn have been seen with the seal ground down to pass it off as Monart. Only the unwary will be caught by this, as Strathearn glass is so different from Monart, and the grinding is much coarser than that found on either Monart or Vasart. The degree of depression and the size of pontil in this type of base vary; the illustrations are only intended as a guide.
|2, 3 & 4. The polished rim, in varying degrees, is found almost exclusively on Monart glass.|
Figures Two, Three and Four are examples of the variety found in the second type of base finish. Here the edge of the base has been ground flat and polished. When the base is ground to the same height as the pontil, then the pontil will also be polished. Highly polished examples are mostly post-war by Paul Ysart. This finish gives the appearance of an archery target and is one of the easiest means of identifying a piece of Monart glass. Some pieces have only a very thin polished rim but others are ground down until the rim starts to meet the pontil. Sometimes the pontil will still be depressed below the surface for part of its area only. Other manufacturers regularly polished the rims but they usually ground and polished the pontil away completely.
|5. No pontil. The central area is smooth to touch but has an irregular surface.|
Figure Five has no pontil, the glass having been held by a ‘gadget’ instead of the Punty Iron. This base is seen on some late Vasart, common on Strathearn, and on all Perthshire Paperweights glassware, but NEVER on Monart. Many(???) Vasart pieces exhibit a similar finish but with a grinding scar left from a completely ground-off pontil. This type of base is probably always seen on the Ysart-style reproductions produced by Perthshire Paperweights since 1986; these pieces occasionally have a very vague ‘P’ impressed in them. The Monart copies by Perthshire Paperweights are good quality reproductions, except for the base, but they lack the artistry of Monart, being much more controlled and clinical. They were apparently sold directly into the antiques trade and none have been reported on sale in ordinary glass shops to date. The centre of the base has a fairly coarse texture but no sharp edges. The method of production, without the traditional pontil iron, has been in use since the nineteenth century and is easier for the glass workers to master.
|6. Applied foot. Common to Monart but unusual on Vasart.|
Figure Six shows an applied base, as used by Monart. This flat type base has a few grinding depressions at the centre, but is otherwise polished flat. It can vary from completely flat to slight depressions from pontil removal; depressions are ground and rarely polished. The edges of the base are slightly rounded and have not been seen polished flat on Monart. Applied bases on Monart are usually in clear glass but do occur with some of the body colour marvered into their surface and left uncased; the pontil depression cuts through such colouring. Applied bases are also found raised in some pieces, but the same rule applies to the pontil as in the case of the flat applied bases, except that the concave portion of the base does not need polishing.
Some additional variations appear on the bases page.
Early Monart was often left uncased and the surface treated in the ‘Glory Hole’ to give an iridescence. This was discontinued after the local gas company improved the purity of the gas (c.1926?) removing the agent that gave the iridescence. It was continued for a while with artificially added impurities, but as the majority of Monart glass now appears cased, it can be presumed that these attempts were not very successful. However, Paul Ysart did make some surface decorated pieces after the war and found a way of reproducing the iridescence. These can probably be differentiated by wear, colour and Paul’s tendency to higher perfection.
Occasionally, pieces of millefiori and latticino canes were rolled into the surface of the glass. One early uncased Monart example exists in the Perth Museum, but this does not appear to have been very popular. On the colours page, colour 6 confirms the ‘early’ use of cane decoration. Vasart Glass used pieces of cane around the centre of their vases where the upper and lower colours meet, but these usually appear as vague splashes of colour. Strathearn continued this practice. One remarkable piece of Vasart exists with all over decoration with latticino canes; it was made by Vincent Ysart as a one-off. (See the Ysart specials page.)
Silver (mica) flakes were first introduced by Monart during the early 1930’s and not, as previously stated, 1935 for the Silver Jubilee celebrations of King George V and were continued in use until 1939. Gold aventurine was used in Monart glass from the 1920’s but appears to have been less used after the war. Vasart used aventurine extensively in the earlier years, but gradually phased it out. Green aventurine appears in Monart paperweights and by Paul Ysart himself, but has not been reported in any other Ysart glass. One example of vases with red aventurine is known. Ian Turner in ‘British Glass Between the Wars’ reports that the aventurine was supplied by the Gilbert Martin factory in Paris, France. The mica flakes came from Woolworths’ silver frost Christmas decorations, see Xmas page.
Monart glass usually has three layers. The first is usually clear, but a smoky off white, or other colours, were used in the earlier periods of production. The second layer was the predominant colouring and may consist of several fine layers as different coloured powdered glass was applied. The outer casing is usually clear. Exceptions were few but did occur. Many jars and powder bowls, as well as some vases, had a solid colour for the core, sometimes cased once with clear glass, but other times with two clear casings between which was sandwiched an applied colouring, thus lifting it away from the base colour. For example, an orange and sandy brown colour combination used for vases and table lamps has a white core, a clear casing, a colour layer and a clear outer casing. This combination is often found with the colour code of 200, if labelled, but variants on the combination have been seen with a different colour number. The early uncased pieces usually have just the core and colour layers, while the later Vasart and Strathearn invariably have three layers. However, surface decorated examples exist in all periods and with all factories.
Bubble decorated pieces have only been found in Monart. Recognition is by styles and bases. Unlike most other glassmakers’ bubble pieces, the Monart bubble pieces do not have a precision layout. The bubbles often occur in a pattern, but vary in size and exact positioning. Some have no more than a loose pattern, perhaps just moving from large to small bubbles around the piece. Frequently, a pattern of bubbles will reflect the colour pattern. The bubbles were created by sprinkling charcoal granules onto the glass before the final casing was added. Certainly some of the bubble pieces are amongst the most creative of the Monart production.
Salvador and Paul Ysart were the only two working on Monart production in the early period. Later Augustine and Antoine got involved, but Vincent Ysart was mostly working on Moncrieff’s scientific glassware until near the end of the pre-War production, when he did get involved in making Monart ware. Nobody outside the family made Monart glass before the war. Jesus Braso, whom Salvador brought over from Spain in the 1930’s , was not involved in Monart at all. He did produce some large ‘Vasart like’ baskets covered in elaborate applied decoration in his spare time. After the war, Braso came out of retirement to help produce the ceiling lamp shades for the then Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, to be installed in 10 Downing Street.
The Monart shapes are mostly recorded in the Moncrieff catalogues which illustrate 312 pieces (all reconstructed in this site with colour photograhs where available). The first catalogue is for ‘Monart Ware’ and shows 104 shapes. The later catalogues are for ‘Monart Glass’ and include the earlier shapes; sizes are also given in the later catalogue. However, a number of pieces exist which do not match the pattern books and one labelled example bears the word ‘Special’ in its code space. Labelled examples are also found with an incorrect shape code, either due to switching of a label from a damaged piece or a mistake at the factory.
Familiarity with the main colours used is necessary to identify the obscure and uncatalogued pieces of Monart glass. Indeed, style is everything. Occasionally completely non-typical pieces appear, usually documented; confirmation of their pedigree is only achieved through familiarity with the family’s individual style, which was evident in everything they produced. This is perhaps what makes this glass so fascinating - fifty years of work from one family, with a common style throughout.
Many of the Monart shapes and the earlier decoration owe their origins to ‘Schneider Freres et Wolf’ - and possibly to ‘Legras’, another French factory where Salvador may have worked. Unquestionably, the Monart cameos are styled on those of Legras, and the Ysarts brought some Legras mushroom lamps with them from France.
It is also important to have some knowledge of the methods used in making glass objects, and of the products of other factories in Britain and elsewhere. Many factories produced coloured glass at the same time as Moncrieff’s and some of the pieces can be readily confused with Monart. The most common pieces to cause confusion are coloured Whitefriars, Nazeing, and unsigned Gray-Stan. It is hard to describe the appearance of these, but once recognised, the mistake is unlikely to be repeated, despite the similarities. Gray-Stan and Nazeing will perhaps be the most confusing; rarely were two pieces produced in the same way. Fortunately, Whitefriars, Nazeing and Gray-Stan bases are different from those of Monart and Vasart. These factories also used a finer quality of glass than the Ysarts. This provides an additional clue when identifying a piece of Monart. Most similar pieces, such as Gray-Stan and Whitefriars, give a good clear ring when struck with a thumbnail, whereas most Ysart glass responds with a dull ringing sound. (See the non-Ysart glass page for examples.)
The type of glass most commonly misrepresented as Monart is a very thick heavily made ‘cellophane’ glass. It is usually two coloured: examples have been seen in orange/green, red/blue, red/green, green with irregular bubbles. No doubt other combinations exist. The base usually has a deep concavity, ground and polished where the pontil had been. The colours used are transparent, unusual in Monart, and have an appearance similar to coloured cellophane. The maker of this glass is unknown but it occurs frequently in the North of England and Scotland, and the general consensus amongst collectors is that it is either from the Stourbridge region of England or from Bohemia. Such pieces often appear in fairs and antique markets described as ‘Monart glass’ or ‘Scottish glass’. Examples with added Monart labels are known! To date only vases have been reported in this type of glass.
Strathearn did not always apply its identifying seal to its pieces and this can cause them to be mistaken for Monart and/or Vasart. The most noticeable difference is that the colour often has a ‘dead’ appearance when compared with a piece of Ysart glass. Also, the outer casing seems to be of a more crystal-like glass, very glossy and appearing to be thicker than Monart casing. Although it is not always thicker in some pieces it is very thick. Strathearn’s Design Director, Angus Sillars, produced some completely different and well designed pieces. For example, a tall clear table-lamp base with trails of colour is quite superb; he also designed paperweights in a similar style. The best pieces of Strathearn glass are in fact not copies of Monart or Vasart and do deserve further study. Herbert Dreier, who made some Ysart-style pieces at the Strathearn factory, was also involved in the design of Strathearn’s “Classic Range”.
Moncrieff’s were producing table-lamps with glass shades supported on a cast bronze fitting, usually referred to as Mushroom Lamps, prior to 1929 and up until 1939. A photograph illustrating a mushroom lamp appears in the Perthshire Advertiser’s 1929 special edition. Vases with suitable fittings were also used as lamps. Liberty & Co. showed examples in every Christmas catalogue from 1929-39, and all had silk or parchment type shades. Up to 1932, the shades were plain and thereafter were decorated to match the colouring of the base. Fittings for all types of Monart lamps were made from bronze or brass and incorporated upper and lower lamp holders. Two types of fittings were made for the mushroom lamps: one with cast arms on which the shade rested precariously, the other with brazed square section rods ending in a screw fitting to secure the shade through drilled holes or clamping. Shades may also have been made for other light fittings such as Spelter figure lamps, on a one by one basis. A globe shaped shade was made after the war for a wooden base and these have been found also on Deco figures. Ceiling shades and pendant shades, although they were indeed made, seem to be extremely rare. The thickness of the glass is not suited to lampshades and they should be used with 15-Watt bulbs only. After the war, an all-glass lamp was designed but this proved to be very top-heavy. It is possible that the more precarious lamps had been made for shop window displays to promote the glass. A draft was produced for a lighting catalogue but this has not been made available to the public yet. On this site a catalogue has been created for both lighting and lamp fittings.
Vasart Glass also produced mushroom lamps, with a fitting made from thick brass wire, as well as a range of cheaper and more practical lamps. Two types of the table lamp base are most common: one a cone shape, about nine inches high and three inches across the base; the other, Balmoral, is thistle-shaped, and about seven inches high. A third, the Vasart Tulip lamp has the bulb inside and the top edge is petal- shaped, hence the name. All these lamps were produced in a wide variety of colours and, apart from the mushroom and cone lamps, were also produced by Strathearn. See the new catalogue pages for details of lighting and lamp fittings.
The Tulip lamps were reproduced by Perthshire Paperweights during 1985-7. As with the vases, they are easily mistaken; but unlike the vases they seem to be more brightly coloured than the Vasart versions. The main distinguishing feature is the way in which the wire enters the lamp. The original Vasart lamps had the bases bent up at one side during the blowing to let the wire pass underneath it. The Perth variant has a channel ground under the bottom edge, which gives a sharp-edged square groove which cannot be confused with the raised lump on the original. Someone has been fitting these with old bulb holders and wires, replacing those fitted by Perth Glass, and selling them as ‘Vasart’ to antique dealers all over Scotland and the Midlands. Collectors should let their local dealers know about this. The late Stuart Drysdale advised that he had sold a large quantity without fittings to a Perth-based antiques dealer who was planning to add different fittings and ‘export’ them to another country. It seems that the country was England and the fittings were typical 1950’s English.
I recently heard that a Perth collector has a piece of Monart with a newly printed ‘MONART WARE’ label. This label is the wrong size and as ‘MONART WARE’ labels should be over seventy years old, it is a little too fresh looking.
This guide has been compiled from the study of many thousand pieces. I do not regard it as complete and would appreciate any constructive comments or criticisms.
Frank Andrews 1987, revised 2002.
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