Life is Short — Eat Dessert First!

EAPG cake stands

I turned 50 this year. Yep – half a century old. And instead of worrying about “getting old” I decided to celebrate with a “Life is Short, Eat Dessert First” party!

We hired a bartender to make ice cream drinks. We had 3 chocolate fountains with a gazillion items to dip including strawberries, marshmallows and homemade potato chips. And we topped it all off with a ton of finger desserts including cake balls, mini cheesecakes, brownies, dessert bars and cookies. Of course, I didn’t even think about setting the food out until it arrived…

Ah – Salvers to the rescue!

So what’s a salver? Salver came from the Latin word salvare’ which means “to save.” And in Europe during the 17th century a salva tray – filled with samples of the food that was going to be served – was given to the “taster” before the King took his first bite.

The popular name for a salver is cake stand. And although cake stands were first mentioned in 1620 – in the United States they were manufactured around 1770 when prosperous families began serving extravagant dessert courses that often included a pyramid of footed cake stands filled with candied fruits, nuts, puddings, cakes and tarts.

Cake Stand Pyramid

English author Hannah Glasse describes an example in her 1760s recipe book, The Compleat Confectioner:

“In the middle a high pyramid of one salver above another, the bottom one large, the next smaller, the top one less; these salvers are to be fill’d with all kinds of wet and dry sweet-meats in glass, baskets or little plates, colour’d jellies, creams, & biscuits, crisp’d almonds and little knickknacks, and bottles of flowers prettily intermix’d, the little top salver must have large preserv’d fruit in it.”

Now – I admit I had not read Hannah’s book before my party. Nor was I trying to re-create a 1770 dinner party (I’m not THAT old!). I just wanted to find a way to put out all of my desserts AND make the table look nice. And since I had recently purchased a collection of cake plates – thank heavens – all I had to do was unwrap them, wash them and set the table.

Now I’m hooked. I LOVE cake stands! And I’m searching for them on all of my antiquing trips. So far most of the cake stands I’ve been able to find are round – but I’ve found a few that are square, hexagonal and even octagonal. And I’ve even snagged a purple slag cake stand and two Vaseline salvers.

Square Milk Glass Cake Stands

Green Depression Glass Cake Stands

Ceramic Ruffled Cake Stand

You can pick up most EAPG and Depression glass cake stands for less less than $100. If you run across colored glass cake stands however, like sapphire blue (1870 and 1910) or Vaseline (1850 – 1940) you can see prices that range from $250 – $500.

But don’t think for a moment  that cake stands are only for cake – just ask Martha Stewart.   She suggests that you can use them as
centerpieces, candelabras or even flower stands.

Hmmm.  A functional — usable antique.  Imagine that!

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Amberina Glass

Nice selection of Amberina!

One day Michael and I went to an antique show in Valley Junction.  We were browsing — you know just walking by the booths — looking in occasionally.   We had been there about 30 minutes when Michael stopped dead in his tracks.   In front of him was an entire booth of  1950’s amberina glass — and he was mesmerized.   

The colors were bold and many of the pieces were over-sized.  Michael didn’t know what it was — where it came from — or how it was made.  All he knew is that he wanted it!   We bought a few pieces that day — and then set out to learn more.     

 LESSON ONE
The first lesson that we had to learn is that there is a big difference between what many dealers call “old” amberina and “flashed on” or “painted” amberina. 

Old amberina was made from a batch of amber glass that contained gold.  Adding gold to the mixture made the glass very heat sensitive.  And glassblowers quickly learned that if a piece got too close to the furnace after blowing — a red color would develop on the part that was reheated.  These “mistakes” were discarded until 1883 when Joseph Locke and Edward D. Libby of the New England Glass Company decided to capitalize on these occurences and patent the process.    

"Old" Amberina

To create a piece of old amberina glass — glass blowers blew and shaped a piece using the amber glass that contained gold.  They left the piece attached to the pontil rod and re-inserted it into the furnace glory hole after they were done shaping it.  The part of the piece closest to the fire turned a ruby color with the color graduating from red at the top to amber at the base.  If a piece was “slightly overheated” the red color turned a reddish purple or fuchsia shade. Today, this deep fuchsia shade seems to be the most desirable among collectors – not only is it very beautiful, but this fuchsia coloring almost always indicates a late 19th century piece.  

Amberina became very popular in the late 1880’s and other companies tried to replace the look.  They used two different methodologies.  The first one is called “flashed-on.”    

The glass on the right is flashed on amberina

Take a look at the flashed-on piece in the picture on the right.  Notice how the coloring is not as graduated as the piece on the left.  Flashed on pieces are NOT made of heat sensitive glass.  To make flashed-on amberina glass makers took a piece of amber glass and applied a top-coat of gold to the piece.  The piece was then re-heated.   The glass made in this fashion does not change colors — only the coating changes color.  Often times you’ll find flashed-on pieces where the coating is flaking off.    

Painted on amberina

Other companies created an amberina effect by painting the entire glass surface with a mixture of copper oxide and yellow ochre and then firing the piece.  After cooling, it was repainted and reheated to develop the ruby color. Pieces made in this fashion are easy to recognize because they have an iridescent finish.  

Many new collectors confuse “old” amberina with “flashed-on” or “painted” amberina.   And that can be a costly mistake.  “Old” amberina is hard to find and very collectable.   “Flashed-on” and “painted” amberina has LITTLE to NO VALUE.    

LESSON TWO

The second lesson we had to learn was the difference between “old” amberina and 1950’s amberina.   “Old”amberina wasn’t seen much after 1915.  But in the 1950’s a new, bold and modern amberina hit the market. 

1950'S Amberina Compote

Just like old amberina — the glass used to make 1950’s amberina is heat sensitive.  But instead of using gold in the glass — glass companies like Blenko, Pilgram and Kanawha used selenium or iron to transform their pieces. 

1950's Amberina Banana Boat

This chemical change had a huge impact on the final color of these pieces.  Instead of soft ambers and purple-reds — vibrant yellows and bold oranges and reds were created.  And once again the public responded to this unique color combination.  Amberina became a favorite color choice throughout the 50’s and 60’s.    

Old amberina is still the most difficult to find and the most expensive to own.  But 1950’s amberina has it’s followers.  A lot of collectors remember seeing 1950’s amberina in their parent’s and grandparent’s home — and they want to bring some of that nostalgia into their lives.    

1950's Blenko Decanter

So what happened with Michael’s collection?  

It’s been more than 15 years since that day in Valley Junction and now Michael has 40+ pieces of 1950’s amberina glass in his collection — most of it Blenko.  He proudly displays it in the cabinets and window sills of our walk-out basement.  And he’s still shopping — forever on the lookout for giant Blenko floor decanters — some of  which go for $500 – $800.  Yep — that man-of-mine has expensive tastes!