In the 19th century, before gas lighting and electricity were used to supply lighting in homes and workplaces, oil lamps with glass chimneys were used by the million. Glass chimneys were hand blown and fragile, so they were quite expensive and always getting broken, creating a constant demand for new ones. George Davidson was a butcher in the North East of England during the 1860's. He saw an opportunity and in 1867, at the age of 45, he decided there was such a shortage of oil lamp chimneys he would build a glass factory in the nearby Team Valley.
His lamp factory was very successful and he grasped another opportunity and introduced pressed glass-making, a partly-mechanised process, to make a wide range of pressed glass table-ware. The Americans had developed machinery for pressing glass in the early 19th century, and some English glass-makers were beginning to use this technology by the 1830's. Pressed glass was very much cheaper to produce than hand blown glass, making it a treasure which even working people could afford. Davidson's went on to be one of the most prolific and successful glass factories in the UK.
In those early years pressed glass was used to imitate hand-made glass. They imitated cut crystal designs in clear pressed glass (which they called Flint glass). These examples were made by Davidson's in the 1880s.
During the 1880's Davidson's, along with several other glass factories, also made glass to look like porcelein (termed vitro-porcelein) usually in opaque white and opaque blue (like the vase on the left above).
They also made glass to look like marble, and termed it "marble vitro-porcelein" (or sometimes marble glass or Malachite glass). The flint glass table-ware above and the marble vitro-porcelein sugar bowl below all have the Davidson's trademark or a Davidson's registration number. Marbled glass items like this sugar bowl are often called "slag glass" because the effects were acheived by adding chemicals to the glass and slag from old coal and iron mines was believed to be used.
Glass makers in England at this time came under pressure to put a trade mark or other form of identification on their glass. Davidson's registered this trade mark, of a lion sitting up on a wall, and
used it between 1880 and 1891. They discontinued it when George Davidson died.
Any piece of glass with this trademark can be accurately dated to the period 1880 to 1891.
In 1889 Davidson's introduced one of their most popular and successful lines, a colouring which they called "Pearline". It was only made in two colours, blue and lemon yellow, each with a white edge. Pearline glass was so successful that Davidson's introduced a new suite of designs made in "pearline" almost every year until 1903, and continued production of pearline until the outbreak of the First World War (1914).
Pearline glass reacted to heat by turning white on the parts exposed to heat during the cooling process, a reaction caused by the chemicals mixed into the glass (notably arsenic). It was extremely popular in the 1890's. This pattern (left) was issued by Davidson's in 1889, registration number 130643, called the "643 Suite" by Davidson's and named "Brideshead" by American collectors. The Pearline colour combination of a white opalescent edge on turquoise blue glass was almost unique to Davidson's. Greener's (from nearby Sunderland) produced a smaller number of patterns in a very similar colour, and these can be identified both by the registration numbers and from pattern books and advertisements of the time.
Lemon Pearline is often called "Vaseline Glass", which is a general term used for any kind of yellow glass with an appearance similar to the old yellow vaseline ointment. This includes hand blown glass as well as the output from many factories. I have come across antique dealers calling the blue pearline "vaseline glass" but know of no justification for this.
These pieces (right) are in one of the last Pearline patterns; registered by Davidson's in 1903 registration number 413701 and named "William and Mary" by US collectors (see William Heacock's publications).
The lemon colour was produced by adding uranium to the glass mixture (in those days before people knew about bombs made from uranium). If you shine an ultra-violet lamp onto Davidson's lemon pearline glass it will glow green (fluoresce) because of these ingredients.
This design (left) by Davidsons is clear blue without the pearline white edge. It was introduced when "pearline" was becoming less popular in 1908. Its registration number was 533040, and this number was stamped into the moulds, so it can almost always be found if you run your finger gently over the glass. It was produced in several colours (clear, blue, green, amber) and in vast quantities over a 40 year period, from 1908 to the 1940's. In later years the pieces often had chromium plated attachments.
The First World War marked the end of
the Art Nouveau period and also the end of the
parallel fashion for pressed glass patterns based on classical cut
crystal designs. The "Art Deco" period
in the 1920's and 30's was a period
of strong, bold colours and simple shapes.
Cloud Glass was heavy pressed coloured glass with a small amount of darker glass added at the last minute to the molten glass to produce cloud-like streaks. Each piece was hand finished and had its own unique pattern in the glass. It was made in a wide range of shapes in amber, brown, purple, blue, green, orange, & (rarely) in red & grey.
The Davidson glass company had special links with New Zealand & Australia; the founder's brother had emigrated to Australia towards the end of the nineteenth century, and set up trade with England. At one stage a barter system was set up, with shiploads of glass going to New Zealand & Australia in exchange for shiploads of food for Britain. Cloud Glass was exported in large quantities. Many pieces were also taken overseas by emigrating families.
"Amber Cloud Glass" was the first colour
in "Cloud Glass" made by Davidson's of
Gateshead, followed in 1928 by a
transparent version, which Davidson's
Sometimes the same mould was used with a slight modification for different pieces. For example the vases sometimes had a turnover rim and sometimes were flared.
Many people can still remember a Cloud Glass bowl taking pride of place on the family sideboard when they themselves were children. It was very practical as well as beautiful. The vases are heavy and very stable; they can hold tall top-heavy flowers without falling over. The bowls are sturdy and a delight to look at when the sun shines through the coloured glass.
Dressing table sets were popular in the 1930's, comprising a tray and containers for things like powder, trinkets, & hair- pins, usually with a bedroom candle stick.
The same designs were used by Davidson's for all their colours during this period. Jade Glass, black opaque glass, and several colours of clear glass, as well as all the colours of Cloud Glass were made in these same shapes.
During the Second World War Davidson's along with most other European factories, switched to war-related production; Cloud Glass was only briefly revived after the war.
Pressed glass should not
be dismissed as inevitably inferior, just because some of the cheap forms of mass produced glass are pressed. It is equally true that some
of the most expensive glass in the world is
pressed such as the glass made by Rene
Lalique in France.
For this kind of good quality pressed glass, a work of art is first created in plaster and then a metal mould is made from that original model. High quality glass is then pressed into the mould and subsequently hand finished to ensure high quality.
After the war Davidson's, along with other glass manufacturers in Britain, had a short heyday supplying orders from overseas where demand had built up during the war years. For those first few years they were not allowed to meet orders from British retailers because the Government needed the foreign exchange. So for a few more years there was a pent up demand for glass on the domestic market, which kept British glassmakers very busy. Davidson's invested in new machinery and somehow did not foresee that their boom would only be shortlived. They ran into financial difficulties in the late 1950s and in 1966 were taken over by the company which had supplied much of the electroplate decoration which had been added to glassware in the 50s and 60s. Davidson's glassworks finally closed in 1987.
If you are looking for Davidson glass, you can usually find items on offer on ebay. See what items are currently offered for sale - click
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