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White Star Line crystal & glass, a brief buying guide. Advice for collectors old & new.

by Jonathan Quayle |

Here at Pursers Locker we have been saddened to see the recent large influx of reproduction glass & crystal wares appearing on the open market on auctions sites, we hope that this rough guide will help you navigate the waters of what is right and correct in the world of collecting quality White Star Line & ocean liner class & crystal. This guide is written in conjunction with a blog I also completed on identifying original White Star Line silver plate and how to spot reproductions and fakes, please see my other blogs.

A selection of 100% correct and present crystal, produced for the illustrious White Star Line by Stuart crystal. C-1880 to the 1920/30's.

White Star Line's reputation was always based on the quality of its service to its passengers, with this in mind it makes perfect sense that when choosing the glass & crystal service for its liners they would only buy the best. The crystal services chosen not only had to do the service that would be expected of them at any top flight hotel on land, but all that and more with a life, a hard life, at sea.

White Star Line crystal/glass, and that for any of the major shipping companies was always first rate, it had to be. We can now sail across the Atlantic with little incident and safely, barely realising we are even at sea, at the turn of the nineteenth century it was a different matter, a transatlantic crossing was literally the only way to cross, and without modern technology it could often be a bumpy ride. As a result companies such as Stuart Crystal were employed to create not only beautiful crystal creations for use within the ships dining saloons in a hotel type setting, but they had to cope with the riggers of the possibilities of being thrown around in an Atlantic storm, as well as the early machine dish washers of that era. To cope with this, ocean liner crystal is always of a very thick and heavy gauge. As a direct result of this, some of the heavier and larger examples do survive due to its amazing quality and construction to this day.

Any true piece of crystal produced for White Star Line will be most likely be crystal or lead crystal, thus the grey tone original White Star Line crystal will often sport. Stuart Crystal, and a host of other companies based in and around Stourbridge in the West Midlands in England, supplied all three classes for the liners for the company including for 3rd Class, but items for the lower classes would often be of a very plain nature, but importantly of a very thick and heavy gauge crystal to put up with its harsh working environment. Recent pieces to enter the counterfeit market are on thin glass (not thick crystal). This low grade material was cheaply produced at the time in large quantities. For domestic use in Edwardian times it was perfectly serviceable, it had the look but not the quality of it's more expensive counterpart, for use within a ship it would literally not have lasted five minutes. The material is so thin that once dropped it would shatter instantly, the slightest knock would destroy it. These counterfeit pieces are easy to distinguish from original examples, they will be thin in nature, and of elaborate shapes that would never have been chosen for the rigours of the sea. If they have fine glass handles, or delicate detailed rims, it would never have been issued onboard a ship. If you see a piece with any of these characteristics, our advise is to steer clear.

All pieces of crystal produced for the White Star Line are always pieces made for a ship, by this I mean each piece was never just a randomly chosen piece from a contemporary company catalogue. From the simplest sherry glass to an ornate decanter or carafe, its design will be one that would aid the lowest centre of gravity possible. The vases featured further below in this article are a good example. They have a measured proportion, the tops are not bigger than the base, the bases themselves are all blown to create a much heavier base to counterbalance the top, so that once filled with its contents, it would be hoped they would stay in place in rough weather. The same would be true for all the glasses produced, the foot is nearly always bigger than the top/cup to keep it stable on a table whilst at sea. If the piece is counter to this rule, its most likely not correct.

A common feature found on White Star Line, although not exclusive to every piece, genuine pieces, certainly from the Edwardian period on, will sport a star cut design to the underside of the foot for decoration and to aid in some form of traction to keep itself in place as much as possible on a table or surface on a ship at sea, its a useful signature to look out for on legitimate pieces. 

Another tell tale sign in identifying original and correct pieces of White Star Line crystal is the ware a piece should have if its genuine. Original pieces, no matter what the condition, if the are 100 years old etc, should always sport a beautiful, what I call, a "frost" of ware to the underside or underside rim. This "frost" of ware is almost, almost, impossible to reproduce, so if theres a lack of this feature it might be a sign the glass is not correct. Unfortunately examples are appearing on the open market repurposing generic domestic non ship shaped but old pieces of glass from the Edwardian period, but it's a helpful indicator if there is no ware, it's likely to be incorrect. I have compiled a detailed list below of the correct signs of ware on genuine pieces as a useful guide.

White Star Line were a very loyal company, they returned time and again to the same trusted suppliers, Stuart crystal was a firm company favourite and trusted supplier, their reputation was second to none. but other companies would have also been used, mostly supplied through the retailer based in Liverpool, Stonier & Co.

The following pictures are all my own, they follow a chronological order in date of manufacture. Most items are or thought to be by Stuart Crystal. They are laid out below as a guide to detail original pieces that have been through my hands over the past decade.

1, White Star Line Victorian crystal:-

This stunning c-1880's Victorian wine cooler is an incredibly rare example of early steamship crystal. This type of item would have been common place within the First Class accommodations of the early White Star Steamers, but in the proceeding 140+ years, very little seems to have survived. In 20+ years of dealing, this is only the second of these I have had or seen. Again reiterating its marine design credentials, it's clear to see how its low form and splayed out base would aid its stability whilst at sea. Each panel is designed with grape vines, all hand etched, to indicate its use as a wine cooler.

2, White Star Line late Victorian/Edwardian crystal:-

A simple table salt, used within the First & Second Classes of White Star Steamers. This simple wheel cut and acid etched design of repeating disks or circles was the precursor to the diamond cut that would later be chosen for the Olympic Class. It was a standard pattern in use from the 1890's, probably first chosen for the likes of the Oceanic of 1899 and her sister ships. It remained in service until at least the 1920's. This example is the earlier example with the hand cut, engraved and acid etched design. This time consuming method of production would later be dropped in favour of a simpler and far more economical to produce single acid etched White Star Line house flag, which would have been applied by a cooper plate with a template of the house flag, that would be painted with acid then pressed directly to the glass itself, effectively burning the design on to the exterior of the glass.

An example of a spirits glass with the later single acid etched house flag, c-1920's. An interesting feature on this glass was the hand wheel cut measure mark that indicated the correct measure of what ever spirit used within it, an unusual and seldom seen feature. 

A very unusual and elaborate oil or vinegar bottle, the first example I have seen this early in the diamond pattern, this pattern was chosen for the Olympic Class, but the fancy nature of the stopper and elaborate larger scale house flag would seem to predate this, I would guess its age around c-1890.

3, White Star Line, Edwardian crystal:-

One of the rarer examples for White Star Line, a crystal ice bucket, c-1920. It is extraordinary that the company ordered these, although they are of a significant and heavy thick gauge lead crystal, the venerability and very nature of its use, must have seen White Star Line get through quite a few of these on a regular basis. Some research has been done within the Stuart Crystal archives dating this shape as having been ordered in the late teens early 20's, this example must have been amongst the first produced as it sports the more elaborate hand cut and hand etched house flag. Although rare more of these buckets are know to be found with the simpler single acid etched house flag. It beautifully shows off the simplicity of that diamond design that was chosen for use on the Olympic Class. These were also designed to contain a very fine crystal 'frog', a type of stand that sat in the bottom of the bucket, to keep the ice above the melted water, due to their fragile nature they rarely survive, as such are very rare.

A seldom seen White Star Line pickle jar, c-1910. This example would, like the icebucket above, be an earlier example sporting the full hand engraved house flag.

A beautiful First Class table carafe, c-late teens early 1920, this is one of the shapes known to have been used onboard the ill fated Titanic, with several near identical examples having been recovered from the seabed of the North Atlantic.

A beautifully simple water carafe, this design was used throughout the ship and could be found in all three classes, within the staterooms of both First & Second Class, as well as larger giant sized examples for the long dining tables found in Third Class/Steerage. I have seen at least three sizes of this shape.

Perhaps what makes these particular carafes emotive is the pictures of near identical examples still in their intended locations within the wreck of the Titanic, such as this example.

A large c-1920's table vase, most likely used within suites and larger First Class staterooms.

This vase is thought to have been used for celery, although there is some conjecture that they were used for beer, which is a possibility as most examples found in this pattern are drinking vessels. This pattern is commonly referred to as the being in the 'Strawberry' cut design. Thought to have been implemented in the early 1920's. Glasses in this service can clearly be seen in archival photos in use on Olympic in both the A'la Carte and First Class restaurant's.

Three small sherry glasses, beautifully display the specially design larger proportioned flared foot to balance the glass on the table whilst the ship was at sea.

A Guide to the differing White Star Line house flags employed on their crystal services from the 1880's through to c-1930.

A common feature in the sea of recent fake and reproductions on the market at present is the use of modern etching techniques. The house flags on these pieces are usually very bright in nature, sometimes almost white in colour,  below are genuine examples that can be used as a guide. Those listed below have a much lighter, more transparent nature, that as yet, has been thankfully hard to reproduce.

1. Hand cut & engraved Victorian, c-1880.

2. Hand cut and acid etched, late Victorian, early Edwardian. C-1890/1900.

3. Hand cut and acid etched, Edwardian. C-1910.

4. Hand cut and acid etched, Edwardian. C-1920.

4. Single acid etched, Edwardian. C-late teens, early 1920.

5. Single acid etched, Edwardian. C-late teens, early 1920.

6. Single acid etched, Edwardian. C-early 1920's/30's.

7. Single acid etched, Edwardian. Early 1920's/30's.

 The following photos detail the original ware which I title a "frost", its a useful feature to at least gauge the piece has some age, as I have detailed above, this is by no means foolproof as counterfeiters are now repurposing old Edwardian glass which would have its own natural ware, but in unison with spotting the correct house flag, and the correct marine styled shape above, it should give you a better indication of the genuine article. 

1. This ice bucket had an incredible "frost" of ware on its foot, shown here. Also it has significant ware within from its use and the insertion of its 'frog' stand inside.

2. This is exactly the type of ware you would hope to see on the underside rim of a smaller piece of crystal, in this case an oil/vinegar bottle. As you can see theres an overall ware over the foot, which is denser on the outside leading edges, this random ware is very hard to reproduce. 

3. The foot on one of the c-1920's vases, showing the ware on the leading outside edge, complete with starburst hand cut design, a common feature on a great deal of White Star Line pieces of crystal. 



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