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History of Lead Crystal in the UK

 Like many cultural advances the history of glass and crystal began with the Roman occupation of Britain and eventually reached a high point in the stained glass windows of the middle ages. In the 1500s new skills were added when highly skilled glassblowers moved to London from Venice and attracted royal patronage from Queen Elizabeth I.

In the mid 1700s George Ravenscroft started his own glass business in London and patented the formula for producing lead crystal. He found that adding lead to glass during the melting process improved the quality. During this period the art of creating patterns by cutting became established and lead crystal was a perfect medium for the art. Many businesses perfected the process and lead crystal and glass became popular creating an established industry. However in the time honored process of all governments they recognised an opportunity for raising taxes and stunted growth and created many closures in the lead crystal sector.

English manufacturers moves their factories to Ireland to avoid taxation and during the period Ireland became the center of lead crystal manufacture, especially in Waterford,  where the famous Waterford glass factory was developed in the 18th century. Unfortunately the Irish tax authorities saw an opportunity to raise taxes and forced many of the companies out of business. Waterfords for example did not start trading again until after World War 2. In the meantime during the 19th century other companies in France, Sweden, Italy (Venice), and Sweden were establishing their reputations and creating famous brands such as Orrefors, Baccarat and Swarovski.

lead crystal with gold engraving by Montbronn of France

Adagio by Montbronn of France

Most fine crystal contains lead oxide. 24% is the optimum percentage for color, weight and hardness, while still ensuring clarity, sparkle and brilliance. 24% Lead Crystal, with its exceptionally high perceived value, has been sought after and treasured for generations, and remains a status symbol even today

Adagio Cased Crystal by Montbronn of France

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