Mary Gregory glass

above: Mary Gregory
glass barber bottle.

Mary Gregory jug

above: Mary Gregory
cranberry glass jug.

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Mary Gregory Glass

Mary Gregory Glass

from the Glass Encyclopedia

"Mary Gregory" glass can be divided into old Mary Gregory (made between 1879 to 1939) which was mostly mouth blown and appears to have come primarily from central Europe; and new Mary Gregory glass made after the second world war all over the world, and still made today.

The distinguishing feature of Mary Gregory glass is the stylised white enamel painting usually of a child in an outdoor setting, playing with such things as butterfly nets, bubbles, fishing rods, or hoops. The trees and foliage often have a typical "feathered" style, the figure is oddly old-fashioned in its proportions, and the enamel is fired onto the glass.

This kind of decoration developed from the "painted cameo" glass produced in Europe after about 1870 which itself was developed to compete with the very popular carved cameo from England. Some very beautiful classical scenes in white enamel on Victorian glass are sometimes called "Mary Gregory" glass as the alternative "painted cameo" is not a popular name.

Old Mary Gregory glass is often in the characteristic Victorian colours of cranberry, or bottle green (like the two examples on the left) or clear. The quality of the painting is often higher than modern versions, with "double fired" highlights on key features and around the edges of the clothing. The quality of the glass may be thinner and poorer than some of today's Mary Gregory glass, and it is almost always mouth blown. There is rarely any colour other than white in the painting, although some post-war Mary Gregory pieces have crude dark lines to emphasise mouth, nose and eyes, and dark hair. There are even Mary Gregory pieces with flesh-coloured faces.

Once you have seen a few pieces of Mary Gregory glass you will recognise it easily. It can be difficult to date (see our list of tips below). The easy part is defining what Mary Gregory glass looks like and how to recognise it. The hard part is saying who made it and where.

For a long time it was believed that Mary Gregory glass was produced by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, USA, and painted by a decorator called Mary Gregory who was employed by the company in the 1880's. This story began in the 1920's when the name Mary Gregory Glass was first coined. Extensive research has revealed that although there was a decorator of this name working for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company at that time, Mary Gregory glass was never made by that company.

The "Mary Gregory" designs originated in Europe, probably in Bohemia some time before 1880. Old catalogues of some Bohemian and German glassworks show these designs.

New Mary Gregory glass is still being made in Europe and in the USA and possibly in other glass producing countries.The Westmoreland Glass Company in the USA introduced "Mary Gregory" designs on pressed glass from 1957 until they closed in 1984. The Jeanette Company in the USA has been producing "Mary Gregory" glass since 1982. Their pieces are also pressed glass. Fenton Art Glass Company in the USA has also produced some fine pieces with painted cameo decoration, some of it in Mary Gregory style.

Mary Gregory-style decoration is no guarantee that a piece is old. It can be very difficult to be sure that a piece is old, so we have put together the following list of tips for dating Mary Gregory glass. There are even cases of genuine Victorian glass having a Mary Gregory decoration added later with the aim of increasing it's value, and these are very difficult to detect.

Tips for deciding if Mary Gregory glass is old or new/post World War 2

- provenance:
a reliable history of who owned the piece and when it was bought, supported by documents
- wear: genuine wear on the base of a piece indicates age (but not scratches that could have been added deliberately)
- colour: certain colours are very typical of Victorian pieces, like the bottle green colour of the barber bottle above left. Cranberry (pink) and turquoise blue and clear glass are also fairly typical colours for old Mary Gregory glass.
- figures: Victorian Mary Gregory figures of children are distinctive and unlike a modern picture of a child. They have large heads and short arms. Modern Mary Gregory glass often has the same style of figures, but if the painting looks modern or realistic, then it is inlikely to be old Mary Gregory glass.
- shape: sometimes the shape of a piece or other design features like the rim suggest a Victorian origin, but these have been copied.
- pressed or blown glass: Mary Gregory decoration on pressed glass was introduced in the 1950's; virtually all old Mary Gregory glass is blown glass and has a pontil mark on the bottom
- quality of enamelling: some old Mary Gregory glass had high quality enamelling which is rare on post-war pieces. This included double firing or even multiple firing the enamel so that greater variation in the thickness was acheived. This made it more similar to cameo glass. Double firing was often used on old Mary Gregory glass to apply highlights to key points and to add emphasis to the edges of clothing.
- quality of the glass: modern glass tends to be higher quality, more perfect, than old glass.
- colour in the enamel: there was a source of post-war Mary Gregory which produced enamelling with colour added, either as dark lines for emphasis or flesh colours for faces or dark coloured hair. These features are unlikely to be found on old Mary Gregory glass.

It will be clear that you need to take all of these things into consideration when making your judgement, and even then it is very easy to make a mistake because the old features may be copied onto contemporary pieces or even onto old pieces, largely because of the high prices paid for Mary Gregory glass by collectors.

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Sources: Here are some books which include Mary Gregory glass that you may find helpful. Click on any book cover or title to read more about a particular book.