The life of a handmade glass
From the pontil mark to the hand finished rim. What are the quirks and beauties of handmade glass?
Why is it that we still desire glassware made by hand when we have the precision and perfection of machine made glass?
What is it that makes handmade glass so special?
A ‘Pontil Mark’ is the definitive tag of a piece of hand blown glass. A term that outside of the glass world would perhaps seldom be recognised but from here onwards, anytime you find yourself with a piece of glass in your hand you will also find yourself checking for the pontil mark.
So what is it exactly ‘the Pontil Mark’?
Hot blown glass is made on the end of a blowing iron. A wine glass or vessel that is completely made by hand is passed from a blowing iron to a pontil iron for the piece to be finished. This is a technically tricky and lengthy process that requires the expertise of a highly skilled maker. The pontil iron is attached to the base of the piece by taking a gather of hot molten glass from the furnace and pressing it against the base of the piece that has just been formed. The molten glass fuses with the base of the piece and at the other end where the opening will be, the piece is freed from the blowing iron. When the piece is fully formed it is knocked off the pontil iron by chipping it with a blunt knife between the now hardened gather of glass at the end of the pontil iron and the base of the glass piece until they separate.
The mark that this process leaves on the base of the glass is the ‘Pontil Mark’, a kind of glass navel marking its origin. It appears as a slightly rough patch usually out of sight at the base of a piece.
While the pontil mark is indeed confirmation of a piece being handmade, I believe the strongest indication that you are in the presence of handmade glass is the look, the feel and the overall quality that is instantly apparent.
A pontil mark on a Colour Twist Wine Glass
Handmade glass has an individuality and character all of its own. While an experienced glass maker can achieve near symmetry it is never possible to reach the precision that a machine can. If you imagine a set of handmade wineglasses standing side by side with a set of machine glasses. In the handmade set you will see the height vary slightly, the bowl, the stem, the base all vary a bit. The thickness of the glass from place to place a subtle change from piece to piece.
You become familiar with each glass as an individual and the different character of each glass appeals to you at different times and in different ways.
Looking closer you can sometimes see soft lines running through the glass. This is the touch of the glassblower, his simple tools hand shaping each individual curve.
The impression of fluidity in the perpetual flux of a handmade piece creating softness and character is achieved through the use of these tools and the breath of the maker blown into the glass through the blowing iron.
"The thickness of the glass from place to place a subtle change from piece to piece."
The contrast between the warmth and life of this set of handmade glasses and the machine made ones is stark. The machine glasses are cold, austere and hostile by comparison.
Through this technique there is sometimes the occurrence of a bubble. Another lovely quirk that is not seen in machine glass. Another indication of the presence of a crafts person. A human touch.
For some makers, bubbles in the glass are a desired effect that they strive to create. For others it is a natural phenomenon, a birth mark, part and parcel of the life of handmade glass.
Holding a handmade glass it will feel more substantial in your hand. There is a sense of quality in the smoothness and weightedness of the glass. There is surprisingly a difference in the sound the glass makes when touching off other glass or even against your finger tips when gripped. There is the silence of quality and weight instead of the shallow pat of a machine made glass. The satisfying deep chime of toasting glasses would say more itself than a thousand words.
"The satisfying deep chime of toasting glasses would say more itself than a thousand words."
Above all the quirks and beauties of hot blown glass, I believe the optimum delight with a truly handmade piece is the smoothness of the hand finished rim.
While there are many makers of handmade glass there are very few who completely finish by hand. Mostly the piece is blown and shaped attached to a glass ball at the end of the blowing iron. The piece is not transferred to the pontil iron to be hand finished, instead it is cut from the ball and smoothed by machine after it has been annealed.
To the eye this makes quite a difference as the cut and machine finish will have an aspect of sharpness compared with the gentle curve of the hand finish. It is of course particularly apparent in a wineglass or beaker where the rim will connect with your mouth.
The soft sensuality of the hand finished rim against your lips is the ultimate pleasure when drinking from a handmade glass. There is no parallel to be drawn between the hand finished rim and the machine finished rim.
And there, considering all of the above an answer appears to my question; Why do we choose handmade over perfection?
The answer is; we live through our senses and we instinctively strive to please them.