Sowerby Art Glass - Overview


In 1870 most of the companies in Britain making pressed glass were mainly producing items in clear flint glass. Some items such as candlesticks were made in green uranium glass but very few items were made in transparent coloured glass.


John George Sowerby was born in 1850. As the oldest son he would have been expected to take over the company at some future date and in 1870 had probably already been working for the company in some capacity for a number of years. The 1871 Census describes him as a 'Glass Agent'.

It may have been decided that the company needed to introduce some colour into their products and JG was allotted this job. In 1871 at the age of 21 he became a 'manager and colour mixer'. In this first year he registered a patent (number 2433. Sowerby, J. G. Sept. 15 1871) for a mould to produce an article with more than one colour of glass. This would have been complicated and difficult in practice and just a few pieces survive that were produced using this method.

Also around this time a separate art glass department was opened in the Sowerby factory. Unfortunately, unlike the later Stained Glass and Studio Pottery departments which were opened at Sowerby's in the late 1870's, very little is known about this department and no factory records exist.

In his memoirs, George Sowerby a cousin of JG and later manager of the Stained Glass Department, says that Sowerby's employed a small group of expert glassblowers who were bought over from Italy, presumably to work in this new department.

As well as making art glass, these workers, were probably familiar with producing coloured glass. This may have been one of the primary reasons for employing them as by 1877 JG had, presumably after much experimentation, produced the new type of opaque glass, 'Vitro-Porcelain'.

The workers in the Art Glass department were probably also responsible for producing some of the more difficult to make pressed glass such as nugget and tortoiseshell.

Sowerby's Art Glass was never advertised or signed and apart from glass donated to the Laign and Shipley Art galleries by family and friends of the company and a few recorded exhibitions very little is known about the glass produced there.


Simon Cottle has written an excellent, and so far, the only account of the glass produced by this studio, in a chapter called 'Art and Venetian Studio Glass' in his book Sowerby, Gateshead Glass. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in Sowerby glass.


Of the Art Glass department, Cottle states that 'it is probable that by the end of 1888 it had ceased to operate'.


The only documented glass which would have been made by the Art Glass department is Sowerby Venetian which appears on Page 14 of 1880 Pattern Book VIII.


There are also pieces of a Green Wrythen glass which are believed to have been made at Sowerby's.


Please find separate menu items to Sowerby Venetian and Green Wrythen Glass.