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The Antique Detective: Sulphides a Unique Art Form

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Double-sided Napoleon & son, sulphide portrait medallion. Credit: Seidenberg Galleries, 36 East 12th St., New York, NY

Bakewell decanter with sulphide portrait. Credit: The Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh, PA




News Article

Sulphides a Unique Art Form

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, November 2006 

Would you know an example of a sulphide if you saw one ? Chances are you have seen some of the most common examples such as paperweights or marbles with a full figure of a white, opaque animal or a cameo head of a famous person enclosed in glass. Technically they are known as “cameo incrustations”.

Antique dealer Jack Seidenberg has been selling them to collectors for decades. “A sulphide is more of an academic piece that requires an appreciation for the technical skills needed to produce them,” he told me.

 “Among the rarest are those with a double portrait, made by a famous glass house like Baccarat. They can sell for $12,000 to $14,000.The art of sulphide making is thought to date back to Bohemia in the 13th century.

By the late 18th century sulfides encased in glass were made in France by the porcelain designer Duprez . In the early 19th century in France, Baccarat, Clichy and St.Louis created sulphides for the luxury markets of Europe. They exported them to the United during the 1840s.

By the 19th century improvements were made and patented by Apsley Pellatt of England.In an involved process the figures to be “incrusted” were made of china clay and super-silicate of potash, ground and mixed.

After being molded into a figure they were slightly cooled, and reheated just before they were inserted. Pellatt introduced what he called “Crystallo-Ceramie” at his Falcon glass house in Southwark London in the 1820s. The white ceramic paste subjects were portraits of famous and historic figures. They were enclosed in are variety of deep cut glass objects from drinking vessels to handled cups and vases.

By the mid 19th century such American glass houses as New England Glass Co., Pairpoint and Webb and Sons were making sulphides. Another American glass house, Atterbury patented another type of process in 1865. It used pressed glass and sulphide figures impressed permanently in the bottom of objects that were painted white, giving the effect of being set into the glass.

The Bakewell Glasshouse of Pittsburg made mantel ornaments, plaques, tumblers and even door knobs with sulphides of important political figures.Some sulphide objects are on color grounds or embellished with single or multiple garlands.

CLUES: In the late 19th century cheap imitations were made with the design pressed into a glass object that left an intaglio (design) impression that was then filled with plaster of Paris and glued onto the surface.

Some advice from dealer Seidenberg includes “condition is all important. The piece should be clear, not chipped or worn down.” Most of the examples on Ebay are antique sulphide marbles and paperweights made from the 1960s on.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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