The Hunt for Vintage Glass!
The thrill of the hunt—finding that long-hidden cache of beautiful vintage glass stones or Victorian brass buttons—remains one of our greatest inspirations and pleasures at Grandmother’s Buttons! This winter Anna, Kristy and I (Susan) had an especially fruitful trip to several warehouses in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where old stock from the area’s once-thriving jewelry industry has been stockpiled.
Below are some of our first designs made with treasures from this trip: three necklaces and earrings featuring vintage goldstone glass doublets from Western Germany.
For years we were confused about goldstone, thinking that it was an actual mineral. It is rather a special type of glass, first created by the glass artisans of Venice in the 1600s. Silica, copper oxide, and other metal oxides were melted until the copper ions are reduced to elemental copper. The vat was then sealed off from air and maintained at a constant temperature to allow metallic crystals to form. The resulting coppery, glittery glass was used only in fine jewelry and buttons, due to its beauty and its difficulty to produce correctly. In fact, the other name for goldstone, aventurine, came from its unpredictable nature: “aventura” in the original Italian means to take a risk or chance, and “avventurarsi” means to take a risk and gain something from luck rather than skill.
The first non-Venetian producers of goldstone were in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic, where we source our hand-pressed glass buttons). Glass artisans in Italy, Bohemia, and Germany were soon creating multi-colored beads and buttons with glittering copper accents.
These rose opal goldstone octagons are unlike any vintage glass I’ve ever found: the bits of copper are suspended with delicate perfection in a blush rose glass. Dating from mid-century Germany, these pieces were made in Bavarian cottage workshops by glass artisans who had perfected their craft before World War II in Gablonz, Czechoslovakia (now Jablonec, Czech Republic). Called Suduten Germans, they were expelled from Czechoslovakia shortly after the war, often having only 48 hours to pack a few belongings and cross the border to Germany. Many took their most precious iron glass molds with them, and in very little time were establishing glass workshops in the Bavarian town of Neugablonz. Czechoslovakia then fell under the Iron Curtain, and Germany became the primary manufacturer of glass beads, stones, and buttons for jewelry and fashion.*
Our other two new pieces feature goldstone doublets or buttons mixed with opaque turquoise and spring green glass. As far as we’ve been able to tell, no workshops in Germany or the Czech Republic are currently producing mixed goldstone glass of this type or quality. We sometimes see lampwork beads with goldstone accents made in China or India, but the copper color is much darker and duller than in these vintage items. We are so happy to have been able to rescue these rare examples of the glassmakers’ art for you to enjoy!
*After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, this situation was reversed: the newly freed Czech Republic reentered trade with the West, old glass factories were reopened, and lower Eastern European wages allowed Czech beads and buttons to undersell German ones, to the eventual doom of the German industry. Of course, now the Czech glassmakers are facing similar challenges from India and China. Only the Czechs, though, seem to be carrying the art of hand-pressing glass buttons forward into the 21st century.