The English are particularly fond of the Hyacinth. It is a domestic flower—a sort of parlour pet. When in “close city pent” they transfer the bulbs to glass vases (Hyacinth glasses) filled with water, and place them in their windows in the winter.
David Lester Richardson, Flowers and Flower-Gardens (1855)
Please indulge me as I continue to rant about one of my favorite obsessions.
Forcing hyacinth bulbs on specially-made glasses originated, as you might suppose, with the Dutch. It had become common by the middle of the eighteenth century; Madame Pompadour is said to have had about 200 hyacinths going on glass at one time. The vases/glasses were produced throughout Western Europe, but most famously in Britain and France. Ceramic examples produced by Sevres, Wedgwood, Derby, and Staffordshire can be found in museums and antique showrooms; these often included apparatuses for holding the flower stems up once they had bloomed (this can be somewhat of a problem).
Hyacinths, like tulips, had become commonplace by the nineteenth century and many households had them growing in pots and glasses inside. It’s thought they may have helped with stuffy houses and apartments. (No Glade plug-ins available in those days.) I suppose the oldest of the hyacinth glasses/vases I’ve been able to find (some are shown at the top of this) might date to the late nineteenth century, though I’m hesitant to believe anything I read on ebay. These come in squat, bulbous forms, and tall, columnar forms. They are thick glass, with bubbles, plenty of irregularities, and, often, rough pontil breaks on the bottom (where the glassblower’s stick separates from the vessel). I also have a clear glass Dartington vase, probably mid-twentieth century.
The most inexpensive, yet still nice-looking vases might be the crackle glass ones I bought from a semi-forgotten vendor whose name might be Stillwell (though I can’t find it on the web). As little as three years ago, the vintage examples might be found on ebay for less than $20; now they go for considerably more, and most must be purchased from U.K. sellers, thus adding a hefty shipping fee. The urge to collect—it must be satiated. Anybody else know more about these?
A word about the two borrowed images (the one at top shows some of my glasses). The others are from this website, authored by Dutch enthusiast and collector Wim Granneman.