Mercury or Varnish Glass

Andrew Lineham Fine Glass, London (by appointment only)

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Mercury or Varnish Glass - History and Makers.

Back to Mercury and Varnish Glass glass stock page.

Manufacturers first tried to produce silvered glass using many different silver coloured compounds including tin, bismouth, and mercury. These early attempts arose from the mercury techniques  used by the factories making looking glasses (mirrors) hence the term Mercury glass.

Mercury glass (also called Varnish or silvered glass) is double walled glass with a layer of silver nitrate or mercury trapped in the cavity between. This thin layer produces a rich silver tone  similar to silver plate. Therefore many items are fashioned to imitate solid silver objects, such as candlesticks and communion goblets. 

The silver layer is sealed into the object at the base by a round disc seal. It is important that this seal remains intact. Value and condition can be dramatically reduced if this seal is lacking.


The first patent for silvered glass was taken out in 1849 by Hale Thomson and Edward Varnish. The wares are therefore relatively scarce and very desirable. They staged a major display of their wares at The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. Thomson & Varnish were retailers and dealers in glass only and did not manufacture the wares themselves. Some of the finer glasswares were made at James Powell's Whitefriars glassworks.

The disc seal on the base of the item will bear the inscriptions: E Varnish & Co Patent London or Hale Thomson's patent London. The more expensive wares were 'flashed' or cased in a colored glass and cut through to the silvering beneath, such as the exquisite 'Master Salt' illustrated above. (for further details see our British Glass  page)

All our items are antique and complete with the original seals intact.

No English Mercury glass items sold by Andrew Lineham Fine Glass are later than 1851.

From the 1860's onwards the majority of silvered glassware was produced on the European continent.

In Germany this type of glassware is known as Bauernsilber- Peasant silver.

For more information on James Powell please visit History of Whitefriars

Further reading: Hajdamach: British Glass 1800-1914. pg 271

Evans, Ross & Werner, Whitefriars Glass: James Powell & Sons of London, pg 30.

Various Marks :  Hale Thomson (left)   and  Thomson (right)  Varnish & Co (above)





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Last modified: 01/14/10 (note American date arrangement)