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review of English Pressed Glass - Raymond Slack


Paul S.:
Title:  'English Pressed Glass 1830 - 1900'         Author:  Raymond Slack.
Published by Barrie & Jenkins - London 1987.        Publisher's Price £30.00
Single edition of 2000 copies.          ISBN 0-7126-1871-6
208 pages.           Size:  25 cms. tall - 20 cms. wide
Hardback with attractive dust jacket showing (on the front) examples of Davidson yellow and blue Pearline and on the reverse a picture of a matt black Sphinx from Molineaux, Webb.
The table of contents follows a fairly traditional route through the early history and origins of the pressed glass trade, together with helpful explanations of manufacturing processes and an overview of geographical distribution and transport during the period in question.
Subsequent chapters then guide the reader through the individual manufacturers in the north east and in Lancashire - presented in almost overpowering detail, and it simply isn't posible in such a short review as this to convey the depth of information given.   We learn, amongst other things, that the Sowerby Ellison Street Works became the largest pressed glass manufactory in the world employing approaching 1000 workers, and the author also gives an outline history of the variety of designs and inovations in the manufacture of this popular glass .   
At a time when the sun never set on our empire, neither apparently did the furnaces ever get cold.  They were hot for 24 hours a day for 365 days a year.   Much of the C19 was indeed our heyday for manufacturing ingenuity and inventiveness and many new processes were developed which enabled us to be competitive.   All of the well known manufacturers receive a detailed airing, and accompanying a wonderful text are many high quality coloured and black and white illustrations of better known and the not so well known pieces of pressed glass
Some useful trade advertisements are also shown together with examples of catalogue pages, and the author indicates the many instances where he has made reference to the Pottery Gazette records.   These alone add a genuinely historical aspect to the book, bringing with them much of the reality of life and times of the C19.
Nothing is for ever, of course, and as the C20 was dawing, the massivness of the pressed glass industry was on the wane - a cumulative effect of competition and, the author tells us, restrictive practices being operated by the unions at the factories.   Whereas in the C20 century it was competition from the far east, 120 odd years ago we were apparently up against America, Belgium, Holland, France and Germany. They were starting where we had been half a century earlier, hungry for success and with the benefit of avoiding our  mistakes.
We learn also that with the outbreak of war in 1914, thousand of metal moulds were melted down for munitions, with the factories themselves turning more to making industrial glass rather than household wares.    There may be an element of benefit for the collector here, in that for those moulds destroyed it does mean that there will be a much reduced  availability of that pattern, compared with those moulds that escaped the crusher. 
It has been said of Raymond Slack's - 10 years in the making 'magum opus' that this really is two books in one - an accurate text providing the history and manufacturing background -added to which he then gives us 65 pages of very detailed Design Registrations, Marks and Nos. for the period in question.
This book really does have to be exprerienced to be aware of the depth of information presented, although this does not come cheap.   At the time of writing copies are available on the internet, but you will have to dig deep to buy one  -  anything from sterling £70 to £125, depending on whether you prefer signed copy, or not.   However, it really is worth putting on your Christmas list.
For the technically minded, the quality of the book is of a high standard  -  with the sections being sewn rather than glued, and the spine having a quite reasonable French Groove, thus providing some support to the text block and preventing the pages from sagging and rubbing on the shelf.     The headbands are admittedly stuck on, but lets be honest you wouldn't expect them to be sewn in, on a mass produced book like this.
Paul S.

I can second what has been said about this excellent book - I have been lucky enough to get hold of a copy second hand.  Very good on the less well known manufacturers.

And very readable. I read it over the course of two days and didn't have the urge to get my red editing pen out, as is often the case.

Paul S.:
I did in fact visit Raymond Slack prior to writing the above rather short review, just to discuss one or two matters of interest for me personally.     He was in fact a proof reader by profession, during his working life, and this exactness and accuracy does come thru when he speaks, and shows in the quality of the text of the book.
However, what blew my mind away during the visit was the unbelievably extensive library that he possess, re books on glass.            It may be no exageration to say that he has arguably the best library on glass in the U.K. (and that includes the big Museums) -  I cud had died for those books... I can only hope that his collection doesn't get broken up  -  but in these days of recession, I don't know who might have the money to buy the books and keep them together.      What if you and I club together Christine, do you have any piggy banks we might raid......................   ;)      Glad you enjoyed the book, and didn't have the urge to get your red pen out.         Paul S.       

I'm an editor by profession and strangely find it easier to spend money on books about glass (even about stuff I don't collect and despite the inadequacies of the editing and proof reading)) that I do to spend it on the glass itself!   :24:


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