Once called poor man’s silver in England, mercury glass became a favorite across social classes for its resemblance to the more expensive lookalike.
From its origins in early nineteenth-century Germany, mercury glass, also known as silvered glass, has enjoyed a loyal following—first among those for whom sterling was too dear for the budget and later with collectors who loved its antique look. Above: A mélange of mercury glass, linens, and gilded bibelots graces a china cabinet.
From a distance, it might be hard to tell the difference between mercury glass and silver, but closer inspection will reveal the true nature and nuances of this tarnish-free counterpart. The name itself is a misnomer, for it contains no mercury. In truth, it is composed of double-walled clear glass with a silver nitrate solution poured between the layers through a tiny hole, which is then plugged.
The shiny surface offers an appealing mirror-like appearance that reflects light and produces an enchanting Victorian-era ambience. Mercury glass can take many shapes, from candlesticks and vases to saltcellars and sugar basins. More unusual pieces, such as gazing balls, doorknobs, and jewelry can also be found.
Although these much sought-after curios come in a variety of colors—turquoise and pink are especially popular for Christmas ornaments and votives—the original silver shade is still the most desired in the collectibles world. Above left: Tree toppers become dainty bud vases when turned upside down.
Text Karen Callaway
Photography Stephanie Welbourne Steele
For more on mercury glass, see “All that Glitters” on page 74 in the January/February 2017 issue of Victoria.