Several English families were well known for making fine glass. The Richardson family and Webb family of the Stourbridge area started several firms in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Many well known glass artists worked for Ben Richardson including John Northwood, Joseph Locke and George Woodall. Among the most well known pieces made by the Richardson glass house was those of Alphonse Lechevrel of France. Working in England for only two years, he created six very important pieces in 1877 and 1878.
John Northwood received his training and education in glass making at Richardson's glass house starting at the age of 12 years old in 1848. Northwood became a very prolific and skilled craftsman while under the employment of Richardson. In 1860, John and his brother Joseph formed a small glass shop of their own. Once piece that John made was vase called “Elgin” which depicted a scene from the frieze of the Parthenon. This piece came to be known as the first successful carved glass piece in modern times. It took Northwood nine years to complete the extremely detailed vase. The carving of the Elgin vase gave Northwood the confidence to attempt the creation of the Portland vase.
The Portland vase is a glass cameo vase that was discovered in the early seventeenth century. Believed to have been made by Greek craftsmen from Alexandria, it probably dates to the birth of Christ or before. It was discovered in a sarcophagus near Rome. It was purchased by an Englishman and the sold to the Duchess of Portland, where it became known as the Portland Vase. The vase is composed of a very dark blue glass with a white glass layer that was carved to depict two distinct scenes, most likely of mythological origins. The vase still exists today in the British Museum in London.
John Northwood took on the task of recreating the Portland Vase along with glass maker Philip Pargeter. Completed in 1876, the final carved piece was an exact match to the finely detailed Portland Vase. Today, Northwood's example resides at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Many other major cameo pieces were completed by Northwood prior to his death in 1902. Northwood's son, John II, also was an accomplished glass artist and cameo glass carver. He worked for Stevens & Williams. As an interesting aside, John Northwood's other son, Harry Northwood was a very accomplished glass artist as well. Harry came to America in 1880 and started the Northwood Company in 1896 after working for many well known glass houses. One of Harry's students in the glass business was Frank Fenton, who went on to start the well known Fenton Art Glass Company which finally ceased traditional glass making in 2011.
Another extremely well known cameo glass business was that of Thomas Webb & Sons. One of the most talented artists that worked for Webb was George Woodall. Woodall made hundreds of cameo glass pieces in exquisite detail and size. George and his brother, Tom, started working for Webb in the mid 1870's. By the mid 1880's, George was making cameo glass with handtools he developed. A delicately applied chisel was his most often used method of carving cameo glass. By the time he retired in 1911, George had designed and made hundreds of meticulously carved cameo pieces, the finest of which bear the signature “GEM CAMEO”.
A slightly bit later to the cameo glass scene was the French glass houses. French cameo glass was first produced around the mid 1880's, peaking in production between 1895 and 1905. There were many French glass artist skilled in the making of cameo glass. However, a couple of names stand out: Emile Gallé and Daum. Gallé was the most well known French cameo glass artist and his works continue to be the most collectible. He was very well educated and especially well versed in the natural sciences including the flora and fauna of the countryside near the French town of Nancy where he was born. He applied this knowledge of the living world to his glass creations. He first exhibited his cameo glass creations in 1889 at the Paris exposition. It immediately was well received. While signing works of glass art at the time was not a widely accepted practice, Gallé signed nearly every piece he made. Today's collector should be careful to note that cameo glass with a Gallé signature is the most widely reproduced type of cameo glass to be made.
The Daum family of Nancy, France is also a very well known glass maker. They produced cameo glass in the 1890's and 1900's. Their works were often acid cut with enamel and gold decoration. As with Gallé pieces, there are a wide variety of reproduced Daum pieces on the market today.
While most of the English and French cameo production ceased to exist in any real quantity after 1930, there has been a small, yet talented resurgence in the creation of cameo glass today. There are some small studio glass artists creating cameo glass works. Aside from those that are making reproductions of Gallé and Daum pieces, there is a glass artist making extremely detailed cameo glass that harkens back to the days of its peak in popularity. Kelsey Murphy is a glass artist from Wayne, WV that rediscovered the cameo glass making process in the late 1980's and 1990's. Rather than using acid, she uses sandblasting to create very detailed scenes on multiple layers of glass. While it has been said that the Romans were able to create a six layer cameo glass piece, Murphy has the record for creating a 12 layer cameo glass creation. The process of making the glass blanks in that many layers and colors is a chemical and artistic achievement that, so far, is not being accomplished anywhere else. The Pilgrim Glass Company, along with Murphy, developed the glass blanks. However, the company shut off their kilns in 2002. Only time will tell if the art of cameo glass will rise from the ashes in the future.