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The Story of Glass 1/2

You use glass every day but do you know about it's long and fascinating history? We're pleased to share the first of two blog posts exploring the incredible story of glass from pre-historic to modern times. 

Long before humans developed many uses for glass, it formed naturally in the environment. Fulgurites are created when lightening strikes on sandy beaches or in deserts. Similarly, Moldovite and Lybian Desert Glass are two examples of glass formed when meteorites strike sand.


Moldovite, produced when a meteorite struck sand in Czech Republic

Obsidian is formed when molten volcanic lava is cooled instantly by sea water. It comes in many varieties including black, mahogany with iron inclusions and snowflake with quartz inclusions.

Obsidian was the first glass used by humans, cut into knives and spear points for hunting and shaped into beads and other jewelry for adornment. Being so useful, obsidian was traded extensively throughout the ancient world.  


Black Obsidian, created when hot lava meets cool ocean water 

Although the Roman historian Pliny wrote that Phoenician merchants in 5000 BC produced the first glass, archaeological evidence suggests the first man made glass originated in Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3500 BC. 

Because Mesopotamians had a written language, cuneiform, we know how they used glass. The first manual of glass making dates to 650 BC, found on tablets in the library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal. For the Mesopotamians, glass as a material was sought-after, being similar to semi-precious stones.

Cuneiform tablet on glassmaking 650 BC, a copy of an Assyrian text from 2000 BC Source:  Brill, R. H. 1972

Beads were the very first items produced. Little did the earliest glass makers know that beads would be made for centuries to come and traded throughout Europe, Africa, India, the South Pacific and North America. 

Indonesian glass beads
Indonesian Glass Beads

Despite appearing at times to be a simple material, the technical requirements for glass production are quite complex, with knowledge and expertise needed on heat sources, tools, furnaces and chemical components of input materials including sand and metals. The original glass makers also drew knowledge from allied trades of pottery making and metal smithing. After beads, tiny vases and jars with rims were among the first glassware products. 

Amenhotep Iii - Glass Vessel with Handles ca. 1450-1350 BC (New Kingdom) Solange Spilimbergo Volpe
Amenhotep Iii - Glass Vessel with Handles ca. 1450-1350 BC (New Kingdom)
Source: Solange Spilimbergo Volpe, via Pinterest

Until 100 AD “core glass” vessels were made by forming the glass around a solid metal rod that was taken out as the glass cooled. Glass was time-consuming and expensive to produce and the resulting product was thick and heavy. The use of glass was therefore mostly restricted to the elite. 

A rapid expansion of glass-making occurred around 100 AD in the Roman Empire with the invention of glass blowing. This enabled glass to be produced more quickly, at lower cost and produced thinner, lighter glassware suitable for daily use. As such, after the 1st century AD, glass became more commonly available throughout Europe with items traded world-wide. Roman glass has been found from that period in archeological digs as far away as India and China.  

Roman Glassware
Roman glass vases, 2nd century AD 
Source: Vassil, Public Domain License


Another important development during this time were glass molds, used to produce cups and carafes with ornate designs. Ennion was perhaps the greatest master of Roman molded glass.

Mold blown glass vase
One-handed jug, signed by Ennion
Source: Ennion: Master of Roman Glass


From the 8th century and through the late 1200's Venice grew to become a major centre of glass production in Europe. Venetians were prolific glassmakers. Vases, carafes and wine glasses were items of value, symbols of wealth and cherished personal belongings. 

Murano glass maker at work
Glass production in Murano, Italy 
Source: New York Times

Because glass making involved hot kilns, the industry was a constant fire hazard to Venice, a city with buildings of wood. Glass production was off-shored to the island of Murano in 1291. This had the added benefit of protecting the trade secrets of the remarkable Venetian glass artisans, techniques that continue to be practiced to this day. Millefiori, which means "a thousand flowers" in Italian, is one of the best-known Murano glass making techniques. 

Venetian millefiori beads
Venetian Millefiori beads
Bohemia in what is now Czech Republic, is another European region that developed large glassworks beginning in 1250. The region is naturally endowed with high quality chalk and potash that produces clear, hard glass. Bohemian crystal, which contrary to popular belief contains no lead, became famous for its excellent cut and engraving. Exquisite Bohemian chandeliers hang in palaces around the world as symbols of wealth and power, most notably the 43 chandalliers that hang in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
Some of the 43 Bohemian chandeliers hanging in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles
Check back for our second blog on the story of glass that will cover modern glass uses and fabrication and what makes Nature's Design Glassware a high form of the art. 
Thanks for reading,
Jess and Ryan



Brill, R. H. "Some Chemical Observations on the Cuneiform Glassmaking Texts." Annales du 5e Congrès de l’Association Internationale pour l’Histoire du Verre. Liège: Edition du Secrétariat Général, 1972, pp. 329-351.

Christies Real Estate. Refracted Glory: the story of the chandelier.

Corning Museum of Glass. Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead

Glass of Venice: history of venetian beads.

Lightfoot, Christopher. Ennion: Master of Roman Glass

New York Times. Murano Glass, An Ancient Art Revealed.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History.

Yeon, Haram. History of the European Glass Industry.