Antique vaseline glass is a yellow or yellow-green glass that, when put under an ultraviolet light, turns a beautiful, fluorescent green. To get the yellow color, glassmakers added between one-half to two percent uranium dioxide, or uranium salts, to their formula. Vaseline glass will actually set off a Geiger Counter, but the radiation involved is low and not harmful.
The history of this glass is rather obscure. Some experts credit Central Europe and Bohemia in particular, as being the point of origin for antique vaseline glass in the early 1800s. In 1836 a pair of candlesticks made of vaseline glass by Whitefriars Glass Works in London was given to the Queen of England. During this time period, some glass manufacturers switched from blown glass to pressed glass, a more efficient production method, and continued to use uranium dioxide as a colorant. During the late 1800s some companies added heat-sensitive chemicals to the mix that gave the finished glass an interesting milky-white edge.
The popularity of vaseline glass continued through the turn of the century and peaked in the 1920s. From the 1920s to the 1930s some glassmakers added iron into their formulas, which changed the color of the glass to a green without any hints of yellow. Thus, another controversy was born. Today there is a debate as to whether this green glass is actually vaseline or whether it was really a sign of the beginning of Depression-glass production.
With the advent of World War II, the era of vaseline glass was over after uranium was pulled from the market for government use. Uranium restrictions were loosened in the years after the War, and a few companies started making vaseline glass again, including Fenton in the United States.
Antique vaseline glass was made into everyday household items. Imagine a splendid home during the Victorian era. The formal dining table is set for dinner, including goblets, salts, spooners and a pickle jar, all in vaseline. There are beautiful red roses with accents of baby's breath arranged in a graceful vaseline glass flower vase. The hostess is wearing a necklace made from vaseline glass beads. The china place settings and the glass are all glimmering in soft candlelight as the gentlemen escort their ladies to the table.
Who made vaseline glass? Such well-known companies as Fenton and Fostoria in the United States had vaseline glass lines. Germany's Walther Glass made some beautiful pieces. Thomas Webb & Sons, known today for their art glass, and Sowerby Glass, known today for their high quality pressed glass also made vaseline glass. Both Webb & Sons and Sowerby were located in England.
Today, people collect Depression glass patterns for their inherent beauty and, perhaps, as a bittersweet reminder of a past that is not so far behind us.
Understanding some of the history of antique cut glass can only add to your overall appreciation of your collection.