Antique Detective: Carved Rock Crystal Has Long History

By Anne Gilbert
   I often write about items that are out of the average persons’ price range, but can be of interest and have collecting possibilities. Carved rock crystal objects are an example. When they show up at estate sales, auctions and specialty antique shops, prices can range from the low hundreds to over a million dollars. Christies and other major auction galleries hold these nature artifact auctions several times a year. There is however a good opportunity for a discovery when a carved rock crystal object is mistakenly identified as cut glass and priced for only a couple of hundred dollars. Believe me it does happen.
   When mounted on a metal or wood pedestal they make a dramatic display on a shelf. When not mounted collections are placed in glass door cabinets.
   Rock crystal carved objects go back to the Early Egyptians (5000 B.C.) who made jewelry from crystal as well as early weapons and flint tools. They believed it to possess the divine essence of creation.
   During the Renaissance in Europe various courts set up workshops where master craftsmen created collections of what were then called “rock crystal curiosities.” The carved objects were valued as much as fine diamonds are today.
   Between the 16th and 19th centuries rock crystal was used to create engraved seals and snuff boxes as well as chalices, covered goblets, inkwells and jewelry.
   The Medici family of Florence had the first great collection of rock crystal in Europe. Pieces were often mounted on precious stones and embellished with enamel. This was all done with the primitive tools of the time.
   CLUES: Rock crystal is a mineral. Glass is man made. During the late 19th century there was renewed interest in earlier engraved rock crystal pieces. Herman Ratzersdorfer, an Austrian engraver and jeweler began creating objects in the style of Renaissance masterpieces in his workshop from 1845-1894. This was at the height of the Renaissance Revival. They could hardly be distinguished from the authentic Renaissance objects brought to him for repair or restoration. They are often passed off today as Renaissance.
   These days supposedly carved rock crystal items, actually made of molded glass have been coming from China for years.
   Authentic 19th century carved rock crystal can be affordable when bought as a single item. Often a single goblet shows up at auction or eBay for $200 or less. Do your research. You could get lucky.
   Photo: Natural mineral pink quartx from 1stDibs

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