The development of glass as we know it now most likely began in Venice around the year 1400.
Even in the ancient world, people have been using glass to drink wine for much longer, but the design we typically associate with it – basically a bowl, a stem, and a base – is medieval.
At that time, Venice served as the hub of the glassblowing industry. The Venetians had mastered the art of purifying their alkaline supply, enabling them to produce “cristallo,” a highly prized variety of clear glass.
The stem most likely originated from the church.
On the metal cups used for holy communion, the stem was already present. The stem would have made it simpler for the priest to raise the chalice in front of the congregation so that everyone could see it.
“Glass illness” affected early wine glasses.
The Venetian glassmakers unintentionally lost some of the elements that made the glass durable when they started to cleanse their raw materials to remove components that were generating color. Such elements included lime, which served as a stabiliser.
As a result, in regular air, the original clear glasses could begin to deteriorate rather quickly.
The English discovered the secret to stronger glass.
A crucial moment in the development of glass came when the Royal Navy asked glassmakers to stop cutting down oak trees to fuel their fires. They were depleting fast and still needed for ship building. So English glassmakers turned to sea-coal. This immediately made the furnaces hotter and reinforced the glass because it burnt at considerably higher temperatures.
George Ravenscroft was given the task of attempting to improve and beautify glass in the 1670s.
Glass was made even stronger by the addition of lead oxide and flint, which also gave it the potential to resemble crystal nearly.
Lead oxide allows the different colors of light to travel at different rates, a process known as dispersion, which makes glass sparkle by changing how the light passes through. In the UV, it also fluoresces a little.
In the early 18th century, you weren’t in charge of your own glass.
The wine glass was kept away from the drinker in the early 1700s. Your footman or valet would have brought you your glass and filled it for you as well. After gulping down its contents, you would give it back to them.
However, the wine bottle and glass went to the dinner table in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Finally, the ability to top oneself up!
Originally, a wine glass was more like a shot glass.
A little Georgian glass from 1700 is perhaps seven times smaller than the glass you’d be handed in a pub today if you asked for a large red wine.
The tax on glass, which was in place from the 1700s until the middle of the 1800s for around a century, is an evident factor in why they began small. The wine glass grew when the financial strain was lifted.
Industrialization also meant we could make larger ones that were standardized in shape and form.
We are fortunate to have a wide variety of wine glasses available to us today, and this is entirely due to the glass industry’s early pioneers.