Thursday, January 31, 2008

Irradiated Glass, the Amethyst Color of Greed

Sometimes called desert glass, or sun-colored amethyst glass, these pretty purple bottles are fake; their color is artificially produced by gamma radiation in a lead lined chamber by an unscrupulous merchant with one motive – profit.

Irradiated glass is a problem for bottle collectors and a nightmare for insulator collectors. That’s because there are so many irradiated insulators on eBay and some are gorgeous and exhibit previously unknown colors. Even though some sellers do admit their insulators have been ‘altered’, the foremost objective of their fakery is immediate profit with no regard for the effects on the insulator collecting hobby.

Thankfully, experts like Dwayn Anthony at the National Insulator Association have created a comprehensive collection of fakes to help warn amateur enthusiasts; over the past six years they've conducted extensive research and subjected many different makes and models of insulators to different types of radiation to photograph and catalog the results.

Radiation of old glass produces colors without historical precedent. It isn’t natural and it's irreversible. It isn't natural because no druggists bottles, cough medicines, hair tonics, lotions, whiskeys or sodas were ever made that color amethyst, or in those particular shades of cobalt blue, or those unnatural shades of amber... A rare or unusual color today probably means that somebody somewhere tampered with the chemical composition of the glass (using gamma radiation) to make it a unique specimen, and now unfortunately that piece is ruined forever.

Here is a Digger on eBay selling irradiated glass which he admits is altered (but not in the headline, and only after suggesting that it could be the product of the sun's own ultraviolet light) and his page contains some information about the history of manganese in glass making. He should probably stop this practice altogether... Dumpdiggers is of the opinion that Digger Dave is ruining the historic glass he finds, while fostering deception.

Here's a Ball fruit sealer jar that's a weird color of amber... Dumpdiggers found this on BallJars.net after doing a Google search on the words ‘irradiated glass bottle’. Don’t give this guy a hard time though as I don't believe he's the source of these irradiated fruit sealer jars.

The Chemistry of Glass is at the core of this controversy, and the history of North American glassmaking is subdivided by the price of lead and the US Civil War. You see up until the 1860's lead had always been used as the principle clarifying agent (vitrifying) in making clear glass from what would otherwise be green glass (due to iron impurities in sand).

Even before the American Civil War 1861-1864, the element Lead Pb was a valuable strategic commodity and used for all manner of industrial applications, the most important being the manufacture of munitions. But lead was also used to line the insides of British East India tea boxes, and as the principle ingredient in white paint and clear glass. In the industrial markets of London in the summer of 1853, the price of pig lead climbed from £17.77 all the way up to £23.40 per ton and eventually peaked at £24 in the spring of 1856 - the rise was affected in part by the Crimean War 1853-56. The price of lead affected the price of glass in England and North America. During the 1850’s, almost all of the small glasshouses that had appeared along the new railway lines in Upper and Lower Canada failed.

In 1864 William Leighton, a son of Thomas Leighton developed a successful soda lime formula for glass that didn’t require lead.

From this point on all North American glasshouses were classified as either flint glass (with lead), or green glass houses which used soda lime. The New England Glass Company in Boston is probably the most famous lead glass house.

1860 – 1880 Canadian Glass Houses

Of the four dominant glass companies operating in the early 1860s, the Canada Glass Works in Hudson, Qué, 1864-72, and the Hamilton Glass Company, Hamilton, Ont, 1865-96, were "green" glasshouses that used Leighton's soda lime recipe to make green hued window glass and bottles which ranged in colour from aqua through green to olive green and amber.

The St Lawrence Glass Company, Montréal, 1867-73, and the Burlington Glass Company 1874-98 in Hamilton, Ontario however were lead / flint glass houses.

Flint is a colourless glass mineral that occurs in nature and has been known since ancient times – flint is a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of quartz, and is categorized by geologists as a variety of chalcedony or ‘chert’ which can sometimes contain fossilized shellfish. Flint is usually dark-grey, black, or deep brown in color and when crushed into powder and added to molten sand and soda mixture it becomes a decolorizing agent that masks out the natural iron molecular impurities present in every grain of sand.

Because of the high price of lead in the 1860’s, pure manganese and manganese dioxide (specifically the mineral pyrolusite which is the primary ore of manganese and occurs as black or dark bluish-gray powder) was substituted as the glass makers 'soap’ - the element worked just as well as lead to counteract the green discoloration caused by impurities. (Pure manganese is a silvery white brittle metal that does not occur in nature and was not isolated and identified as an element until 1774 – pure manganese was exported from Germany to England and America between 1880 and1914 - this was the great era of manganese glass. )

Manganese was the most common vitrifying agent in clear glass made in the American industrial revolution – it was used right up until World War One and war with Germany cut North American supplies. It was at this time that selenium was discovered and soon replaced manganese as the vitrifying agent of choice in clear glass.

When exposed to the radioactive isotopes Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137, most manganese glass will turn amethyst, while glass made with selenium will become either straw, wheat, or honey colored.

Irradiated Glass in rural Canadian Antiques Markets

A few years ago Dumpdiggers went shopping for early Canadian glass bottles at the Aberfoyle Antiques Market in Southern Ontario, Canada – it was July 2001, and while wandering the 'antiques village', this author spotted three separate displays of irradiated glass showcased in various windows and doorways and being sold at premium prices. Upon questioning the vendors, Dumpdiggers learned that all three shopkeepers had bought the merchandise from the same individual, on the same day.

That fakery isn’t tolerated in Toronto, and so 'sun-coloured amethyst' glass ends up out in the country bazaars, at village antique shops and flea markets where the vendors are hobbyists and the customers are tourists or cottagers with summer homes in the area. Out there the dealers feign ignorance when you point and ask ‘Is that glass irradiated?’

43 comments:

Daniel said...

I have been collecting Flint/Manganese glass for years and can tell you with 100% certainty that this glass will turn purple with no outside forces except sunshine. I've been watching my pieces turn for 15 - 20 years just setting in a sunny window. I wish there weren't unscrupulous dealers faking this beautiful color but it is NOT unnatural! The chemical reaction that occurs is simply the changing of the manganese to magnesium oxide by way of solar ultraviolet radiation. To tag all this glass as fake is just WRONG!

Richard said...

Old glass absolutely can turn purple in sunlight. The fakes are a real probem, because they diminish the value of the authentic sun-purpled glass.

Gimmer said...

I just bought a lamp font on eBay that is a deep purple. It is etched glass (frosted)with cut flowers. I never have seen them in anything but clear. Can you get a rich deep purple doing this to glass? It's not the end of the world if this was treated I am just feeling funny like this font was not always this color.

Anonymous said...

If it's a deep purple it likely was irradiated within the last 50 years to enhance appeal and increase marketability to unsuspecting buyers. It looks nice but in the antique world it's better to leave something the way time has altered it and nothing more.

Jerry Gard said...

Hi, I live out here in California, have collected insulators for many years, and have taken purple Califonias (c. 1917) off poles myself, so I know they are not faked. I have also put a couple of dozen items on my roof(about 10 are up there now) and the ones that turn begin to do so in less than a year, and in about 3 years they are about as purple as they will get, and that is less in some and more in others. These are root beer mugs and reamers,mostly. I have read on the web that this takes many years but that is simply not true. I like the color that develops and it is completely natural and none of my pieces are fakes, as I can watch them turn. Jerry Gard, Los Altos, CA

Anonymous said...

If irradiated glass did not sell no one would do it. I process about a thousand pounds of glass a week, if it was clear my only option would be the city dump because no one pays for clear glass, so I'm being "green" by turning garbage into cash.

Mr Niceguy said...

Serious collectors refuse to buy anything that has been irradiated or has an unnatural (read: original) color. Yes, there are numerous sun-colored amethyst bottles (jars, etc) out there, but the irradiation makes them far darker than the sun will. Most of us believe that irradiated bottles are worthless, since they are not original. The sad part is that many are irradiating rare bottles without regard to actual value. Many of us will buy clear or aqua bottles if they have a value. But to assume that changing their color makes them more valuable is ludicrous. When you try to increase the cost on these ($50 for an amber Coca Cola hobbleskirt, even though there have never been any amber hobbleskirts manufactured) means you are either targeting a higher end buyer or trying to defraud some unsuspecting consumer.

Wheelnuts said...

It's irreversible? I'm sorry but it is! I've had a zapped bottle returned to its natural colour by a mate. Unless he had an identical bottle with bubbles in the same spots, process was reversed. Will also work on sun coloured items. Why you would do it has me fooled, BUT IT CAN BE DONE!

Anonymous said...

I CERTAINLY DISAGREE WITH THE PERSON OR PERSONS SAYING THAT THE OLD CLEAR GLASS WILL NOT TURN PURPLE WITHOUT ALTERING IT. WALK ANY OLD FARM FIELD AND MOST OF THE BITS OF GLASS WILL BE PURPLE OR A PINKISH COLOR DUE TO LAYING IN THE DIRECT SUNLIGHT. IT MAY MAKE SOME PEOPLE MAD THAT SOME ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS, BUT THE MAIN PEOPLE WHO BUY THIS STUFF ARE PEOPLE WHO JUST LIKE THE COLOR REGARDLESS OF HOW IT GETS THERE. YES, BOTTLES THAT NORMALLY SELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING, SELL FOR DECENT PRICES AFTER BEING ALTERED. IF YOU ARE SKEPTICAL, JUST DON'T BUY IT. DAVE B. ISN'T SELLING HIS BOTTLES TO FOOL ANYBODY. I'M SURE MOST OF HIS PURPLE BOTTLES ARE BEING SOLD TO HOUSEWIVES AROUND AMERICA WHO JUST LOVE THE COLOR REGARDLESS. WHY NOT SELL A $3 COMMON BOTTLE FOR $15 OR $20. SOUNDS LIKE HE IS A GOOD SALESMAN MAKING A GOOD PROFIT, INSTEAD OF MISLEADING ANYBODY, CHECK HIS FEEDBACK. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, DON'T BUY IT. IRRADATING IS JUST A SPEEDIER PROCESS THAN THE SUN.

Anonymous said...

Pothunters are distroying our nations history. Shame on you for calling yourself a historian. Where are your ethics?!

Robert Campbell said...

well I'd like to think I'm morally superior to those submitting comments anonymously

Anonymous said...

wow!!!! I sell purple glass on ebay and had no idea it wasn't real either. After reading your article I still don't know. Are you saying no purple glass is authentic? I can assure you my intention was not to mislead anyone. I thought it was beautiful and many others agree. I don't think anyone is trying to mislead anyone. Watch your accusations buddy. All business people's intention is to make money. If you think otherwise you have a lot to learn. Do you really think it's greedy to make a 5$ profit per bottle. We're doing the best we can just like everybody else. Don't demonize people it isn't realistic or mentally healthy. In the future you may want to present your thoughts as information without character insults like labeling people greedy.

Anonymous said...

You aren't morally superior to anyone. You are an equal. Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

It's common bottles being processed
the bottles digger don't care for and toss or smash. People love coloured bottles there cheap and look great
collectors know which have been processed so there not FAKE bottle
end of all the oh dear me of deep purple bottles there here for life.
enjoy and just keep collecting your bottles, deep purple.

Anonymous said...

I am an artist who happened upon some of these bottles at a flea market. Here is the thing: purple glass is difficult to find and when I stumbled on these bottles, I was in heaven. For people who collect for the love of a piece and not merely for the investment, there is no issue.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you for attempting to ruin somebody's way of making a living. It would be one thing if he were killing puppies or molesting children, but he's selling purple glass, for god's sake. Do you know why? BECAUSE IT SELLS. PEOPLE LIKE IT. Nobody is going to waste time and money selling things on eBay if they don't sell. Who gives a shit about the historical significance of an item if they don't like to look at it? Get over yourself. I would never ever buy from somebody like you. You're just like those ridiculous ads on TV during election time that candidates put out to bash each others. Don't think I'm alone in this, either. Clean up your business act. Be informative, but don't try to ruin other people by linking directly to their eBay page. Shame.

Douglas Watts said...

Thanks to Rob Campbell for an excellent overview.

Fakery is a 1,500 year tradition; think of medieval charlatans foisting pieces of wood upon Popes and bishops as being a part of the 'True Cross.'

The key to clearing the market of this fakery is to make it no longer profitable to make the stuff and to sell it, since all these folks care about is making a buck off otherwise well-meaning honest people. Take away the money incentive and they go away. So first, don't buy the stuff and tell everyone you know not to buy the stuff. Boycott purple glass and the people who sell it. Make them feel the heat. Publicly ostracize and shun them. Embarrassment is a good method: ask sellers to personally attest whether the stuff has been faked or not. See if they lie or feign ignorance. If they are truly unaware their stuff has been faked, tell them it has and tell them to either label it as such or remove it from sale. If they refuse, let others know these sellers are willfully or recklessly representing fakes to their customers as originals. Dealers and sellers don't like their reputations in the marketplace besmirched. Pester them on e-bay; ask questions by email. Let them know you know. Let them fear their precious e-bay rating might take a swan dive. These are all legitimate things customers can do to defend themselves; it's not retribution, it's self defense. And it's not just self-defense, it's defense of the integrity of the artifacts themselves and of the future of the collecting hobby and all of the honest enjoyment which flows from it.

And to those it's okay because, 'it sells,' so does water sold as gasoline. To say that is admitting willful fraud simply due to the customer believing you were being honest. What a terrible thing to admit, let alone use as a business model.

simplesue said...

I found all of this debate interesting and educational. Thanks for an interesting post and discussion, I am just learning about glass made with Manganese and how it can change to lavender.

Anonymous said...

i sell 1000s of these irradiated bottle to people and i tell them that they are irradiated. it speed up the process about 50-75 years and lets us enjoy the great purple color today instead of waiting for the sun to turn them that color. most of the natural turned ones will be a pink color because they wont quite have reached the purple stage. i have brought new collectors into collecting glass and some are now collectors of much higher dollars stuff. i have a lot of people very happy with the color. A lot of newly weds are buying them as cheap ways of decorating their wedding tables. it is to bad that a few unscrupulousness people ruin a good thing. it can be sold in an honest way to make people happy , ore for the designers than the rare collectors. also i have heard you can heat up the glass and the color will go back to its original color , but it is hard to do. i heard this from one of the top insulator collectors. they had a lot of fraud in their market early on. it seems they know more about the wrong colors than most bottle collectors. i hope you enjoy the great color today and i hope glad you dont have to wait 60-75 years for it to happen naturally.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a slightly purple pint milk pitcher in poor condition. I intend to leave it in the sun to see what happens because I like purple glass. Thanks for all the information, I did not realize there was so much heated controversy out there. I might get a 254nm bulb and see what happens purely for the color and scientific observation.
ps to Daniel manganese turns to manganese oxide, not magnesium oxide.

Anonymous said...

heyhey Just a dump-digger here saying Ya its better to have the bottle turned by the sun naturally because that the shit! Natural.. however If i had a purple making machine.. i would turn all the white ones i don't pick up into purple and tell people they are done un-natural .. if it sells.

Anonymous said...

Last year I inherited several boxes of old bottles and jars that were in my grandmothers cellar for, presumably, decades. I took several of them out and lined them up on the windowsills of our kitchen, and those which were on the sills of windows that we often open to let in fresh air, and were exposed to direct sun for several hours every day, quickly returned various shades of purple, from a light lavender to a few becoming deep, dark purple, and only in about one year. Some of the bottles and jars in the windows that cannot be opened, despite having UV filtering glass, also turned somewhat, but nowhere near as much as the others.

I personally find the purple beautiful, and was curious about its cause, though deduced logically that it had to do with some mineral additive in the glass, so I did some research and learnt that the manganese in the mix of the glass when exposed to intense sunlight that changes. I also learnt that gamma radiation can do this (and also makes certain people turn into giant green hulks as well). I then came across this page in my quest to learn more, and found perhaps the most asinine load of bs out of some blowhard who has some problem with other people turning a buck, and thinks that some old glass is "ruined" forever. I love the bottles and jars I have, and even more those that have turned purple, but they are still just glass jars and bottles and the world will surely not implode if I decide one Tay to take them out to the woods and use them all for target practice. Heck, I might do that, just to spite the idiots who think that old glass is some special thing simply because it is old.

Bottlenut said...

I've been hitting the dumps since the mid 70's and there was a lot of sun colored glass to be found. Some of it was fairly dark too, but nothing like a severely irradiated piece.

Anonymous said...

To say that glass can not turn nearly purple naturally is completely wrong. As a youngster in the early 50's I distinctly remember the outside glass doorknobs going to the sun porch in my grandparents house being very purple while the inside ones were lighter amethyst in color. The doors were multi pane glass. The house was built around 1870.
I also have found/dug bottles in Maine that were very dark amethyst, nearly purple.
About all the "doctored" glass I have seen has more of a bueish purple color

Anonymous said...

Digger
Just think if I didn't introduce these
FRIENDLY irradiated BOTTLES to Canada we wouldn't have been having these friendly
e-mails . it all comes down to deep inside we both love them how can you not love Purple .Dam the world loves them and always will. Take care all my
bottle buds .

James Bailey said...

James B.said....I wont argue over any of it but I want whatever bottle or jar I buy or dig to be left just the way it was found.I to love the different colors of purple but if it has been altered unnaturally it has no value whatsoever to me.

scott berry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dfwhunter said...

Hey Guys,

I have hundreds of old worthless clear bottles that I have dug over the years and I would love to turn them PURPLE for my own pleasure as display items. Can anyone tell me exactly what type of UV Lamp to buy and where to buy it?

Anonymous said...

Hey Guys,

I have hundreds of old worthless clear bottles that I have dug over the years and I would love to turn them PURPLE for my own pleasure as display items. Can anyone tell me exactly what type of UV Lamp to buy and where to buy it?

Recovering Hillbilly said...

It's ridiculous to say that glass cannot be naturally sun colored. It is an old and often practiced habit in the mountains of N.E.Ga for some folk to put all their favorite pieces on stumps and tables outside every summer to stand in the sun all season. Beautiful amethyst glass is slowly created.

PY Pyshora of Chico, CA said...

My husband & I lived in the high desert country of Northern California for several years back the 1950's & 60's... He was a Dept. of Fish & Game biologist & it was his job to drive literally hundreds of miles into the desert for research projects. There were many abandoned homesteads in the area with many dumps left behind with household items, sugar bowls, covered large butter dishes, bowls of high quality pressed or cut glass, doorknobs, little/large bottles etc. Majority of them were already turning color from the desert sun. He would bring them home & I loved the colors so much & with limited resources in those days of 50+ years ago to do much research I put them out in the sun because they 'came in from sunny places'. Most of the pieces have turned purple, amethyst & some pale yellow & I still love them...NEVER have been irradiated!

scott berry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have been interested in old bottles and other glass since I was a child. My aunt collected bottles and I was fascinated that some turned purple over time. But being into archeology as an adult, I think this is going to really confuse people who may try to find the date on some of these later on. Other than that, there were so many pieces made of most of this that I think it's great to enjoy it in clear or purple - whatever is pleasing to you - if you buy it or find it. I think the author here is trying to warn people that it reduces the resale or collectible value very much. I have never seen one "turned back". I don't think the chemical process works that way, but I'm not a chemist. You might think of it as a refinished antique, which is worth much less once the finish is redone. The original finished pieces are far more valuable to a collector because the want to have it the way it would have looked when it was new. I believe the author is passing on information to help people like me know about the radiation being done. I did not know, and I would rather not buy that type. Someone on ebay would not return my messages after a week of trying to contact her, asking if a bottle was that color naturally or if it was painted. It was very dark purple. Now I know why. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

love reading about this subject. I have collected bottles for a couple years scuba diving and left some junker/ plain clear bottles outside and discovered some turning color, even purple after couple years. for my own personal collection I have started using water sterilizer ultra violet lights. in just a few weeks I've turned quite a few bottles light purple, even blue to a light red. not selling any bottles only doing this just for some color in my collection. most of these bottles were destine for the dump anyway.

dana mennerich said...

thought I'd share some info on this subject. I find bottles scuba diving and discovered some junk bottles left outside had indeed started turning light purple. I have set all these extra plain bottles in the sun and after a few weeks you can see some very subtle color change. so to help speed up the process I started using ultra violet lights used in water treatment industry. not all lights work the same, different brands work faster than others but they do speed up the process. you have to be carful not to look at these lights as they will damage your eyes like watching welding. I'm doing this for my own collection purely for some color in my collection. I'm not selling these bottles and never plan too, I just like the color plain and simple...

dana mennerich said...

I've been saving all my old clear bottles from late 1800's to early 1900's and placing them outside. within a few weeks you can tell which ones are starting to turn color. then I place these bottles next to an ultra violet light which is used in water treatment(to kill bacteria in contaminated water). the light speeds up the color change and in a few weeks you can see a big change in the color. waiting to see how dark they will get. only doing this for my own collection and all these bottles were junkers anyway. not selling any, just like the color plain and simple. also you must be carful not to look at these light as they will damage your eyes like watching welding...

scott berry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I understand there is excessive controversy surrounding the artificial "purpling" of antique glass... However, I have been an avid bottle digger/collector since the early 80's, and have dug thousands of clear glass items over the years. I live in the west, and have put hundreds of these pieces outside to purple in the natural sunlight. I can swear to no attest, that some bottles, etc. will turn DEEP purple over a year or two with nothing more than good old sunshine. I have never used artificial irradiation, and to declare that ALL glassware that is deep purple as FAKE or 100% IRRADIATED is preposterous! I recall as a kid stumbling across a deep purple coffin flask in the Nevada desert, and being awe struck by it's uniqueness and beauty... It will be a very sad day for all collectors in our hobby if we lose touch with an aspect that (at least for me), was a major part of why I began collecting in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I understand the excessive amount of controversy surrounding the artificial "purpling" of antique glass. However, I have been an avid bottle digger/collector since the early 80's, and have dug thousands of clear glass items over the years. I can swear to no attest, that some bottles etc. will ABSOLUTELY turn DEEP PURPLE without anything more than good old natural sunlight. To label ALL deep purple glass items as "faked" or Irradiated is preposterous! All you have to do is visit any ghost town or old homestead in the west, and observe the shards laying all over the ground. They range in every shade from the lightest lavender to deep royal purple, all NATURALLY sun-colored. I remember as a kid, just getting into the hobby, stumbling upon a DEEP purple coffin flask in the Nevada desert. I was so awe-struck by it's beauty and uniqueness... What a sad day it will be for all collectors in our hobby if we lose that aspect which (at least for me) is such a huge part of why I began collecting in the first place.

Amber Watts said...

I can see both sides of this discussion. My fiancee and I have been collecting glass insulators since we were kids, and the purple ones were always tops! Ive found sun purpled insulators and while I understand they're not the "original" color for all collecting intentents and purposes, the new irradiated color sure adds interest to some of the common and less valuable insulators.

Ive since become a reseller of art glass, murano, insulators, depression glass, etc. Its important when trying to make a profit to reach the customer and their desires, but its also morally important to clearly label the product your selling. I have a small and clearly marked group of sun purpled glass, and many people appreciate and purchase them. Serious collectors looking for specific glass will most likely know how to spot color "fakes", but for the less savvy passive collectors its important to be honest with them.
HONESTY is always the best policy.

Happy hunting, y'all!

Anonymous said...

I like the bottle tumblers who will tell you they are not altering the jars by "cleaning" them. Lol it's exactly the same and some of the world's most renowned collectors will in one breath tell you altering a jar is bad and then fill up a jar with copper bits and chemicals and put it in a machine for 250hours. Lol. Ironic oxymoronic bull shit

Anonymous said...

honesty is the best policy

Anonymous said...

such a but head is the writer of this article. cant he see that most people like the stuff people are not out there to scam anyone about it. people are so dm negative about this it is not right. as this stuff get harder to buy at good prices and cost more and more to "turn" more and more positive attention will be given to it and its price is undervalued because of all the negativity form the bottle collecting world.