Cut glass decoration has been used since Roman times, but until the 18th century designs were limited to simple, shallow cut patterns. Two major developments brought about a change in this; the invention of lead glass in the 1670s by George Ravenscroft and the development of overlay glass. The improvements of the glass enabled craftsmen to show off their skills.
Most of the finest cut glass of the 18th and 19th centuries was produced in Ireland, Britain and America. Production in Britain was greatly affected by changes in taxation as an Act of Parliament passed in 1745 introduced a tax on glass according to size and weight. This led to changes in glass design as makers, keen to avoid high taxes, concentrated on smaller, lighter wares. Three more acts were passed later in the century increasing the taxes even more and it wasn’t until 1845 when these taxes were repealed that cut glass really started to flourish.
British glassmakers were able to avoid some taxes by setting up factories in Ireland. Glassware made in Ireland during this period is known as ‘Anglo-Irish’ and major factories were established in several cities, most notably Richard Williams and Co. in Dublin and the Belfast Glassworks in Belfast.
When the taxes were eventually repealed British glass production began to flourish on the mainland. Among the major, and now very collectable, manufacturers were B & J Richardson and Thomas Webb and Sons both established in the 1830s near Stourbridge and F & C Osler Glasshouse established in 1807 in Birmingham.