UK: looking back at the north-easts historic glass past

Three 18th century wine glasses made in Newcastle, north-eastern UK, by famed craftsman William Beilby (1740-1819) in about 1765, were sold recently at auction. The six-inch flutes, bought for 40p eac…

Three 18th century wine glasses made in Newcastle, north-eastern UK, by famed craftsman William Beilby (1740-1819) in about 1765, were sold recently at auction. The six-inch flutes, bought for 40p each at a car boot sale, were sold for almost GBP 19,000. Less than 100 armorial glasses made by Beilby are known to exist and can be found in museums all over the world, including Newcastle“s Laing Art Gallery, and even when damaged they are worth tens of thousands of pounds. When the glasses were made, Newcastle was the largest glass producing centre in the world, with the Beilby family as key figures. The Beilbys are especially known for their glass painted with enamel colours painted on to goblets, bowls and other glassware. These techniques were pioneered by William Beilby in about 1760, who then taught his brothers Ralph and Thomas and sister Mary. Marie-Therese, assistant keeper of fine and decorative art at the Laing Art Gallery, said: As a family the Beilbys were pioneers. Their decorated glass was colourful, durable and long-lasting as they perfected the art of firing the enamel colours on to the glass whereas before, most colours were painted on to the glass and soon flaked off. Coupled with the fact that they used locally-produced glass (acknowledged as some of the finest quality in the world at the time) they quickly established an international reputation and their work was soon being commissioned across Europe. The glass-decorating workshop was active for a relatively short time but even today they are considered to be unrivalled in quality and skill. William honed his skills as an apprentice in Birmingham learning enamelling and became the first man in England, possibly the world, to fire enamels into glass. William and his brother Ralph started their business at Amen Corner in 1760 and, by the 1820s, there were no fewer than 40 glassworks within half a mile of Newcastle city centre. One of the annual highlights of the town was the annual procession when 7,000 glassmakers took part wearing glass top hats and carrying glass walking-sticks, swords and pistols. The three Beilby glasses are believed to have been part of an original set of five, with the other two having both been sold at auction. One achieved GBP 8,500 at Christie“s in 1990, while the other made GBP 9,000 at Bonhams in 2010. Four Beilby tumblers, also discovered at a car boot sale, sold for BP 18,000 at Christie“s in 2005.