From the Archive: Exotic Glass Shades of the Time

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Example from the Macbeth–Evans Glass Shades Catalogue of 1912.

Example from the Macbeth–Evans Glass Shades Catalogue of 1912.

Verde Iridile, Agalite, and Cuirass: These romantic trade names were the marketing monikers for a popular series of Arts & Crafts-inspired lighting shades of deceptive beauty.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then certain makers of high-end, labor-intensive Arts & Crafts glass shades (Handel, Tiffany) would have blushed with pride at the sight of this contemporaneous shade lineup from the Macbeth–Evans Glass Company. More likely they were red in the face.

Another Macbeth-Evans Glass Shade, from their catalogue No. 42.

Another Macbeth-Evans Glass Shade, from their catalogue No. 42.

Combining the richness, detail, and warmth of hand-made art glass with the efficiencies of mass production, shade companies like this one found ways to evoke the character and beauty of expensive iridescent finishes, fine leaded construction, and delicate pierced brass overlays—without the costly “hand” part of the equation.

Of particular note, the Agalite line (produced with Bournique Glass Co. and highly prized by homeowners and collectors today) featured colored swirls of molten opalescent glass pressed into tooled iron molds to produce remarkably detailed, yet cost-conscious, facsimiles of expensive mosaic work.

A swirled-glass shade  from Macbeth-Evans of Pittsburgh.

A swirled-glass shade from Macbeth-Evans of Pittsburgh.

A stunningly broad and stylistically diverse collection—more than 350 Colonial, Craftsman, Classical, Gothic, Moorish, and Art Nouveau designs—was showcased in Macbeth–Evans No. 42. By comparison, today’s mid-range reproductions appear to lack innovation, sophistication, and artfulness, reflecting changes in manufacture, market forces, and modern ideals of beauty. So: viva antique shades!