Pictures on Glass

Silhouettes and Pictures on Glass
Pictures on glass from the Glass

Silhouette picture on glass
Typical silhouette picture
on glass from the 30s
or 40s, probably Benton
Glass Co of Michigan.

Pictures on Glass: A short explanation

Pictures on Glass can take any of four forms. There are the silhouette pictures on glass which were popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, like the one on the left. There are paintings done by artists on the reverse of sheets of glass and then framed. These have been made throughout the 19th and 20th century, and are still made today in many different countries in many different styles. Thirdly there are paintings done with a very fine brush on the inside of bottles such as Chinese snuff bottles. When this technique is combined with engraved gold or silver leaf on the inside of a glass vessel or the reverse of a medallian, it is known as eglomise. And fourthly there are pictures on glass which may form part of a stained glass window (see our page on Stained Glass).

Silhouette pictures on glass were sold from gifts and novelty shops, or as advertising promotions given away by companies. The picture hand painted or screen printed onto the reverse side of the glass was usually black and in the form of a silhouette, most often of a lady in crinoline dress and a man in top hat or period costume. Other scenes were also common, and some companies made these pictures in color.

The glass was either flat or convex, and the advertising promotion pictures often had a calendar or a thermometer attached, as well as the company name and contact details. Behind the silhouette the background could be gold or silver patterned foil, or colored card, or a picture often of an outdoor scene. Most commonly they had a thin metal frame.

Butterfly wings were sometimes used for the backgrounds, but this practice was banned in some parts of the world and it became fashionable to produce imitation butterfly wing backgrounds. The Reliance Company of Illinois specialised in this kind of background, which they were at pains to explain was a hand-painted process, not real butterfly wings.

Another major producer of silhouette pictures on glass was the Benton company of Benton Harbor, Michigan. Many of their pictures have colored scenic backgrounds and black silhouettes of people or sometimes just a few trees and birds in black silhouette around the edges of the picture. Thin metal frames with colored bands like the one shown above left were also typical of this company.

There were many other companies making silhouette pictures during their heyday. Some, like the Newton Company of Iowa (who specialised in advertising promotion pictures) and the West Coast Picture Company of Oregon, are still so far as we know, operating today. But it is nearly half a century since they made their silhouette pictures on glass.

There was often a gap between the glass and the background which allows a shadow of the silhouette to fall on the background, an added attractive feature.

Their value today is higher if they have an undamaged picture and all the original features of frame, background, backing and hanging attachments. A few years ago prices ranged from $5 to about $90 (in 2001). There is an enthusiastic collectors' market for these momentos of the past.

If you would like to see a range of silhouette pictures on glass, there will be a good assortment for sale on ebay - take a look by clicking Silhouette pictures.

To see a wider range including all kinds of reverse painted pictures on glass - click Reverse paintings on glass

And then there are the pictures that are painted or printed on the front of glass - click Pictures on glass to see some of those.

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References and Sources:

1: Encyclopedia of Silhouette Collectibles on Glass (1992) by Shirley Mace.

2: Vintage Silhouettes on Glass and Reverse Paintings (2000) by Shirley Mace.

3: Silhouettes (1997) by Kevin McSwiggan, a Shire Publication.

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