A word about hyacinth glasses


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.

French examples

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).

English vases

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.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I’m kicking myself because I think there were tons of these in my grandmas’s house. When we cleaned out the piles of crap I remember saying what would this strangely shaped vase be for? It’s too small to hold more than a flower or two and short ones at that. Now I want some and I’m not paying $20 (or more!) a glass!

  2. Ha! I just added the link. That’s where I got some images. Not a lot out there about these on the internet, take it from me, the obsessed one.

    I will email him. I wonder if he would sel me some. Though I like the crude English glass ones best.

  3. Great post, Elizabeth… it’s fun to read about these things. I like the French brown-and-blue ones the best, although they probably best show off just a limited color range of hyacinths.

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