Out-of-this-world glass

Next weekend, the Wilton Historical Society is offering a workshop where children may make mercury glass votive holders. Mercury, or silvered glass, is glass that has a silvery appearance.

Mercury is not something to play with, but mercury glass actually contains no mercury, although at one point there were several manufacturers who attempted to line glass with mercury. This procedure was short lived due to both the toxic nature of mercury as well as its expense, but may account for the name.

Also called silvered glass, it contains neither silver nor mercury. According to wisegeek.com, mercury glass is, instead, clear glass which is mold-blown into double-walled shapes. The glass is then coated on the inside with a liquid silver nitrate solution, through a hole in the bottom.

Mercury glass was first created in Germany in the early 1800s. It was used as a more inexpensive material for candlesticks, vases, goblets, and other objects. Silvered glass quickly gained popularity in France, England, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), and the United States. The New England Glass Company showed a large display of the glass at the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1853; included in the display were goblets, vases, spittoons, sugar basins, tumblers, and more.

Although some critics dismissed mercury glass as being too showy and looking too mirror-like, most people found it very attractive. Soon, silvered glass began to be decorated with enamel, etching, paint, and engraving. In the 20th Century, the glass was used to make Christmas ornaments and other household decorations.