Glass etching

Glass-Cutting. Etching on Glass

I do not here mean to enter into the history of engraving on stone, as that subject has been already sufficiently illustrated by several men of learning well acquainted with antiquities. I shall only observe, that the ancient Greek artists formed upon glass both raised and engraved figures; as may be seen by articles still preserved in collections, though it is probable that many pieces of glass may have been moulded like paste; for that art also is of very great antiquity 204. It appears likewise that they cut upon plates of glass and hollow glass vessels all kinds of figures and ornaments, in the same manner as names, coats of arms, flowers, landscapes, &c. are cut upon drinking-glasses at present 205. If we can believe that learned engraver in stone, the celebrated Natter, the ancients employed the same kind of instruments for this purpose as those used by the moderns 206. They undoubtedly had in like manner a wheel which moved round in a horizontal direction above the work-table, or that machine which by writers is called a lapidary's wheel.

If this conjecture be true, what Pliny says respecting the various ways of preparing glass is perfectly intelligible. It is turned, says he, by the wheel, and engraven like silver. In my opinion we are to understand by the first part of this sentence, that the glass was cut by the wheel, like stone, both hollow and in relief, though it is possible that drinking-cups or vessels may have been formed from the glass metal by means of the wheel also 207. In the latter part of the sentence we must not imagine that Pliny alludes to gravers like those used by silversmiths, for the comparison will not apply to instruments or to the manner of working, which in silver and glass must be totally different; but to the figures delineated on the former, which were only cut out on the surface in a shallow manner; and such figures were formed on glass by the ancient artists, as they are by our glass-cutters, by means of a wheel.

Many, however, affirm that the art of glass-cutting, together with the necessary instruments, was first invented in the beginning of the seventeenth century. The inventor is said to have been Casper Lehmann, who originally was a cutter of steel and iron; and who made an attempt, which succeeded, of cutting crystal, and afterwards glass, in the like manner. He was in the service of the emperor Rodolphus II., who, in the year 1609, besides presents, conferred on him the title of lapidary and glass-cutter to the court, and gave him a patent by which every one except himself was forbidden to exercise this new art. He worked at Prague, where he had an assistant named Zacharias Belzer; but George Schwanhard the elder, one of his scholars, carried on the same business to a far greater extent. The latter, who was a son of Hans Schwanhard, a joiner at Rothenburg, was born in 1601; and in 1618 went to Prague to learn the art of glass-cutting from Lehmann. By his good behaviour he so much gained the esteem of his master, who died a bachelor in 1622, that he was left his heir; and obtained from the emperor Rodolphus a continuation of Lehmann's patent. Schwanhard, however, removed to Nuremberg, where he worked for many of the principal nobility; and by these means procured to that city the honour of being accounted the birth-place of this new art. In the year 1652 he worked at Prague and Ratisbon by command of the emperor Ferdinand III., and died in 1667, leaving behind him two sons, who both followed the occupation of the father. The elder, who had the same christian name as the father, died so early as 1676; but the other, Henry, survived him several years. After that period Nuremberg produced in this art more expert masters, who, by improving the tools and devising cheaper methods of employing them, brought it to a much higher degree of perfection 208.

That the art is of so modern date seems to be confirmed by Zahn, who speaks of it as of a new employment carried on at that time, particularly at Nuremberg. He describes the work-table as well as the other instruments; and gives a figure of the whole, which he appears to have considered as the first 209. It may be seen, however, from what I have already quoted, that this invention does not belong entirely to the moderns; and, to deny that the ancients were altogether unacquainted with it, would be doing them an injustice. It was forgotten and again revived; and this is the opinion of Caylus.

I must here remark, that before this invention there were artists, who, with a diamond, cut or engraved figures on glass, which were everywhere admired. Without entering, however, into the history of diamonds, which would require more materials than I have yet been able to collect, I will venture to assert that the ancient artists employed diamond dust for polishing or cutting other kinds of stones. Pliny 210  speaks of this in so clear a manner that it cannot be doubted. The same thing has been repeated by Solinus 211 Isidore 212 , and Albertus Magnus 213 , in a manner equally clear, and Mariette 214  considers it as fully proved; but it does not appear that the ancients made any attempts to cut this precious stone with its own dust; I mean to give it different faces and to render it brilliant. Whether they engraved on it in that manner I cannot pretend to decide, as the greatest artists are not agreed on the subject. Mariette 215  denies that they did; whereas Natter 216  seems not to deny it altogether, and Klotz 217 confidently asserts it as a thing certain. But the last-mentioned author knew nothing more of this circumstance than what he had read in the above-quoted writers.

The question which properly belongs to my subject is, whether the Greeks and the Romans used diamond pencils for engraving on other stones. That many ancient artists assisted their labour by them, or gave their work the finishing touches, seems, according to Natter, to be shown by various antique gems. But even allowing this to have been the case (for at any rate I dare not contradict so eminent a connoisseur), I must confess that I have found no proofs that the ancients cut glass with a diamond. We are however acquainted with the means employed by the old glaziers to cut glass: they used for that purpose emery, sharp-pointed instruments of the hardest steel, and a red-hot iron, by which they directed the rents according to their pleasure.

The first mention of a diamond being used for writing on glass occurs in the sixteenth century. Francis I. of France, who was fond of the arts, sciences, and new inventions, wrote the following lines with his diamond ring upon a pane of glass, at the castle of Chambord, in order to let Anne de Pisseleu, duchess of Estampes, know that he was jealous:

Souvent femme varie,
Mal habil qui s'y fie.

The historian recorded this not so much on account of the admonition, which is not new, as because it was then thought very ingenious to write upon glass 218. About the year 1562, festoons and other ornaments, cut with a diamond, were extremely common on Venetian glasses, which at that period were accounted the best. George Schwanhard the elder was a great master in this art 219 ; and in more modern times, John Rost, an artist of Augsburg, ornamented in a very curious manner with a diamond pencil, some drinking-glasses which were purchased by the emperor Charles VI.

I now come to the art of etching on glass, which properly was the subject of this article. As the acid which dissolves siliceous earth, and also glass, was first discovered in the year 1771, by Scheele the chemist 220 , in fluor-spar, one might imagine that the art of engraving with it upon glass could not be older. It has indeed been announced by many as a new invention 221 ; but it can be proved that it was discovered as early as the year 1670, by the before-mentioned artist Henry Schwanhard. We are told that some aquafortis having fallen by accident upon his spectacles, the glass was corroded by it; and that he thence learned to make a liquid by which he could etch writing and figures upon plates of glass 222. How Schwanhard prepared this liquid I find nowhere mentioned; but at present we are acquainted with no other acid but that of fluor-spar which will corrode every kind of glass; and it is very probable that his preparation was the same as that known to some artists as a secret in 1721. The inventor however employed it to a purpose different from that for which it is used at present.

At present the glass is covered with a varnish, and those figures which one intends to etch are traced out through it; but Schwanhard, when the figures were formed, covered them with varnish, and then by his liquid corroded the glass around them; so that the figures, which remained smooth and clear, appeared when the varnish was removed, raised from a dim or dark ground. He perhaps adopted this method in order to render his invention different from the art known long before of cutting the figures on the glass as if engraven. Had he been able to investigate properly what accident presented to him, he might have enriched the arts with a discovery which gave great reputation to a chemist a hundred years after.

I mentioned this old method of etching in relief to our ingenious Klindworth, who possesses great dexterity in such arts, and requested him to try it. He drew a tree with oil varnish and colours on a plate of glass, applied the acid to the plate in the usual manner, and then removed the varnish. By these means a bright, smooth figure was produced upon a dim ground, which had a much better effect than those figures that are cut into the glass. I recommend this process, because I am of opinion that it may be brought to much greater perfection; and M. Renard, that celebrated artist of Strasburg, whose thermometers with glass scales, in which the degrees and numbers are etched, have met with universal approbation, was of the same opinion, when I mentioned the method to him while he resided here, banished from his home by the disturbances in his native country.

It is probable that Schwanhard and his scholars kept the preparation of this liquid a secret, as the receipt for that purpose was not made known till the year 1725, though it is possible that one older may be found in some of those books which treat on the arts. In the above-mentioned year, Dr. John George Weygand, from Goldingen in Courland, sent to the editor of a periodical work a receipt which had been written out for him by Dr. Matth. Pauli of Dresden, then deceased, who had etched, in this manner on glass, arms, landscapes, and figures of various kinds 223. We find by it that a strong acid of nitre was used, which certainly disengages the acid of fluor-spar, though the vitriolic acid is commonly employed for that purpose 224. That the Bohemian emerald or hesphorus, mentioned in the receipt, is green fluor-spar, cannot be doubted, and will appear still more certain from the history of this species of stone, as far as I am acquainted with it, which I shall here insert.

In the works of the old mineralogists, fluor-spar is either not mentioned, or is classed among their natural glasses and precious stones; and in those of the first systematic writers it is so mingled with quartz and calcareous and gypseous spars, that it is impossible to discover it. The old German miners, however, distinguished it so early as the sixteenth century, and called it fluss ; because they used it to accelerate the fusion of ores that were difficult to be reduced to that state. Agricola, who first remarked this, changed the German name into fluor, an appellation, which, like many others, formed by him from German words, such for example as quarzum  from quarzspatum from spatwismuthumzincumcobaltum, &c., became afterwards common. If a passage of the ancients can be quoted that seems to allude to fluor-spar, it is that of Theophrastus, where he says that there are certain stones which, when added to silver, copper, and iron ores, become fluid 225. The first systematic writer who mentioned this kind of stone as a particular genus, was Cronstedt.

Besides being known by its metallurgic use, fluor-spar is known also by having the colours of some precious stones, so that it may be sold, or at least shown as such to those who are not expert judges; because the first time when heated in the dark it shines with a bluish-green lustre. It is possible that fluor-spar may have been among the number of that great variety of stones which the ancients, with much astonishment, tell us shone in the dark; though it is certain that the principal part of them were only light-magnets, as they are called, or such as retain for a certain period the light they have absorbed in the day-time. The observation, however, that fluor-spar emits light after it is heated, seems to have been first made when artificial phosphorus excited the inquiry of naturalists and chemists; and when they began to search in their own country for stones which, in the property of emitting light, might have a resemblance to the Bologna spar, made known about the year 1630. It is well known that the latter is prepared for that purpose by calcination. Stones of the like kind were sought for; and among these fluor-spar, which is not scarce in Germany.

In my opinion, the observation was made in the year 1676; for in that year Elsholz informed the members of the Society for investigating Nature, that he was acquainted with a phosphorus which had its light neither from the sun nor from fire, but which, when heated on a metal plate over glowing coals, shone with a bluish-white lustre; so that by strewing the powder of it over paper, one might form luminous writing. I doubt much whether this experiment was ever tried; at least I find no further account of it in the papers of the Society, nor in the re-publication of the above author's first dissertation, which appeared in 1681 226.

As far as I know, Kirchmaier, professor at Wittenberg, was the first who disclosed the secret, in the year 1679 227. Both call this phosphorus the smaragdine; because the ancients speak much of luminous emeralds, and because green fluor-spar is often exhibited as an emerald. Kirchmaier calls this mineral also hesperus  and vesperugo ; and these names have been often given since to fluor-spar, as in the receipt before-mentioned for making a liquid to etch on glass. Kirchmaier's information, however, must have been very little known; for the Jesuit Casatus, who, in 1684, wrote his Treatise on Fire, was not acquainted with it, as he has inserted only the words of Elsholz. This observation must have been new to Leibnitz himself, and to the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, in 1710; for the former then mentioned it to the Society as a philosophical novelty 228.

I shall remark, in the last place, that the manufacturing of vessels and ornaments of every kind from solid fluor-spar was begun in Derbyshire in the year 1765 229. The articles formed of it are in England called spar ornaments, and sometimes blue John. Many beautiful colours must, as is said, be brought forward by means of fire. But the heat must be applied with great caution; for fluor-spar, as is well known, by a strong and particularly a sudden heating, cracks, and loses its transparency. Since writing the above, I find that M. Raspe 230  denies this bringing forward of colours by fire.


204  Mariette, Traité des Pierres gravées. Par. 1750, fol.

205  The two ancient glasses found at Nismes, and described in Caylus' Recueil d'Antiquités, ii. p. 363, were probably of this sort.

206  Natter, Traité de la Méthode antique de graver en Pierres fines, comparé avec la Méthode moderne. Lond. 1754, fol.

207  Of this kind were the calices audaces  of Martial, xiv. 94, and those cups which often broke when the artist wished to give them the finishing touch.

208  See Sandrart's Teutsche Akademie, vol. i. part 2, p. 345, where there is much valuable information respecting the German artists. Compare also Doppelmayer's Nachricht von Nürnberg. Künstlern.

209  Oculus Artificial. iii. p. 79.

210  Lib. xxxvii.

211  Cap. 52, p. 59.

212  Origin. xvi. 8.

213  De Miner. lib. ii. 2.

214  Traité des Pierres gravées, i. pp. 90, 156.

215  Ibid. p. 156.

216  In the preface, p. 15.

217  Ueber den Nutzen d. geschnitt. Steine. Altenb. 1768, p. 42.

218  Le Veil, iii. p. 19. This anecdote however is not mentioned by Mezeray, Castelnau, or Laboureur; and Bayle must have been unacquainted with it, or he would have introduced it into his long article on the Duchesse d'Estampes.

219  Doppelmayer, p. 232.

220  Abhandlungen der Schwed. Akad. xxxiii. p. 122.

221  Halle, Fortgesetzte Magie. Berlin, 1788, 8vo, i. p. 516. This author says that the invention came from England, where it was kept very secret; but the honour of the second invention belongs to H. Klaproth.

222  Schwanhard, by the acuteness of his genius, proved what was before considered as impossible, and found out a corrosive so powerful that the hardest crystal glass, which had hitherto withstood the force of the strongest spirits, was obliged to yield to it, as well as metals and stones. By these means he delineated and etched on glass, figures of men, some naked and some dressed, and all kinds of animals, flowers, and plants, in a manner perfectly natural; and brought them into the highest estimation.—Sandrart, Teutsche Akademie, i. 2, p. 346.—Doppelmayer, p. 250, says, “After 1670 he accidentally found out by the glass of his spectacles, upon which some aquafortis had fallen, becoming quite soft, the art of etching on glass.”

223  Breslauer Sammlung zur Natur- und Medicin-Geschichte. 1725, January, p. 107. “Invention of a powerful acid by which figures of every kind, according to fancy, can be etched upon glass.—When spiritus nitri per distillationem  has passed into the recipient, ply it with a strong fire, and when well dephlegmated, pour it, as it corrodes ordinary glass, into a Waldenburg flask; then throw into it a pulverised green Bohemian emerald, otherwise called hesphorus  (which, when reduced to powder and heated, emits in the dark a green light), and place it in warm sand for twenty-four hours. Take a piece of glass well cleaned and freed from all grease by means of a lye; put a border of wax round it, about an inch in height, and cover it all equally over with the above acid. The longer you let it stand the better, and at the end of some time the glass will be corroded, and the figures, which have been traced out with sulphur and varnish, will appear as if raised above the plane of the glass.” This receipt has been inserted by H. Krunitz in his Œkonomische Encyclopedie, xi. p. 678.

224  Klindworth covers the glass with the etching ground of the engravers; but in the Annals of Chemistry for 1790, ii. p. 141, a solution of isinglass in water, or a turpentine oil varnish, mixed with a little white lead, is recommended. Complete instructions for acquiring this art may be found there also.

225  De Lapidibus, sect. 19.

226  See Ephemerid. ac Nat. Cur. 1676, Dec. 1, obs. 13, p. 32; and Elsholtii De Phosphoris Observationes, Berol. 1681, 4to.

227  G. C. Kirchmaieri De Phosphoris et Natura Lucis, necnon de Igne, Commentatio Epistolica. Wittebergæ, 1680, 4to.

228  Miscellanea Berolin. 1710, vol. i. p. 97. The fluor-spar earth, or phosphoric earth, as it is called, which in later times has been found in marble quarries, and which some at present consider as an earth saturated with phosphoric acid, is mentioned by the Swede Hierne, in Prodromus Hist. Nat. Sueciæ. Henkel had never seen it.

229  Watson's Chemical Essays, ii. p. 277.

230  Descriptive Catalogue of Tassie's Engraved Gems, Lond. 1791, 2 vols. 4to, i. p. 51.