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posted: 4/20/2013 5:51 AM

A handblown glass item from Italy

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  • This chalice is Italian and probably made on the Venetian island of Murano.

      This chalice is Italian and probably made on the Venetian island of Murano.
    SHNS photo courtesy Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelm

 
By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. I have attached photographs of a handblown glass item that -- to me -- looks like an ostrich. It was found in my mother's attic, but I have no idea where or when she obtained it. It is 12 inches tall. Can you give me any information as to what it is and its current value, if any?

A. This "ostrich" did not come from an egg laid by a giant African bird. Instead, it came from the blowpipe of an Italian artisan, who was probably working on an island located in the Venetian lagoon -- namely, the island of Murano.

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This type of work was often done in the mid- to late 20th century, and such pieces can be either very artistic or just attractive and made for the tourist trade. We feel that because the ostrich component of this design is rather awkward, this particular piece was made for tourists.

However, we are working from photographs and may be misjudging the piece. You should examine your chalice very closely to make sure that it is not signed with a name such as "Venini," "Seguso," "Barovier and Toso," "Salviati" or "Cenedese."

Such signatures are often found on paper labels, but occasionally the name will be scratched on the base. Finding such a signature would make all the difference in the world when it comes to monetary value.

The history of glassmaking in Venice is a long and distinguished one. One of the first glass furnaces was not on the island of Murano, but on the nearby island of Torcello. This early glassworks can be dated to the eighth century A.D., but the glory days of Venetian glass were during the 15th and 16th centuries, and included operations on the island of Murano.

Why were glassworks located on islands? There were at least two reasons. The first was that the glass furnaces often caught fire and such a fire could threaten a whole city. So, these dangerous operations were confined to islands. Secondly, the glass commerce on islands could be closely regulated; trade secrets were easier to keep and workers were easier to control.

The Venetian glass industry declined during the 18th and much of the 19th century, but toward the dawn of the 20th century it began to bloom again. Full-scale revival was under way in the 1920s, but World War II hampered this redevelopment. After the war, in the 1950s, artistic Venetian glass flourished -- but so did the making of glass for the tourist industry.

The large chalice with its whimsical bird-embellished base was probably made sometime during the early third quarter of the 20th century. Its red and amber coloration suggests a type of heat-shaded glass called "Amberina," which is primarily an American product from the late 19th century.

This particular chalice, which was meant either to be either a table or mantel decoration, is not heat shaded, but is assembled from two different colors of glass. We feel this piece is from the 1960s or '70s and is tourist-quality glass because the details are so sloppily made, with the head and neck looking more like a snake than a bird.

Still, this is a very attractive and decorative piece, and at 12 inches tall, it is a very good size. For insurance-replacement purposes, it should be valued in the $300-$400 range.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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