Friday, August 01, 2008

2008 Friday Fun - Glass and superstition

Courtesy of my friends at the Black Country Bugle
One of the industries for which the Black Country has become world famous is the production of glass. For centuries this region has been renowned for the highest quality bottle glass, window glass and decorative glass, whether it be the lighthouses of the world, the thousands of square feet of glass of the Crystal Palace of the 1851 Great Exhibition, or the finest lead crystal that decorates the banqueting tables of royalty.

It is no surprise that Dudley Council should have one of the finest collections of glass in the world and that this collection is on display to the public at the Broadfield House Glass Museum in Kingswinford. Recently there have been a couple of new additions to the display - one a pair of historic pieces returning to the collection after many years on loan and the other a "lucky" new acquisition that reflects the best in Stourbridge glass design of the 1930s.
Our photograph shows a beautiful pair of Victorian wine goblets from the mid 19th century. These truly are Victorian goblets as they were once used by the longest reigning British monarch herself. They were used by Queen Victoria at the opening of the Royal Exchange in London in 1844, and they are back on display at Broadfield House after many years on loan.

The wine glasses are 10 inches (26cm) high and are engraved with figures of Britannia and the sea-god Neptune, as well as crowns with roses, thistles and shamrocks. The feet are decorated with the shields of the Corporation of London, the Mercers' Company and Sir Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange in the reign of Elizabeth I, and the foot of one of the glasses has the inscription "Used by Queen Victoria on opening the Royal Exchange October 28th 1844."

The goblets were loaned to the Royal Exchange in 1991 and were greatly admired by the current queen when she re-opened the building in October that year following a major refurbishment.

London's Royal Exchange was founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham as a centre of commerce for the city. The land, a roughly triangular patch between Cornhill and Threadneedle Street, was provided by the Corporation of London and the Worshipful Company of Mercers and the building was officially opened by Elizabeth I in 1571. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A replacement was built and this opened in 1669 but it too was destroyed by fire in 1838. The current Royal Exchange building was designed by Sir William Tite and opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. It ceased to be a centre for commerce in 1939 and in 1991 it reopened after refurbishment as a luxury shopping centre.

Councillor Charles Fraser Macnamara said: "These glasses have been away on loan for a long time, and I am delighted that they are now back on display at Broadfield House for local people to enjoy. They are one of the great treasures of the council's glass collection and show that Dudley has a collection of truly national and international standing."

Joining Queen Victoria's wine goblets on display at Broadfield House is the latest addition to the collection - a rare Stuart Crystal cocktail set decorated with lucky charms and symbols.

The 1930s set, which consists of a shaker with chrome top and six individual cocktail glasses, was purchased at Fieldings Auction in Stourbridge in late May. The shaker is painted around the sides with six different lucky symbols, with a black cat, a wishbone, a sprig of white heather, a horseshoe, a four-leaf clover and a running pig. One symbol appears on each of the glasses, which also have coloured bands down the stem. The complete cocktail set is now on show in the museum in gallery seven on the first floor.

Good luck charms and symbols are familiar to us all. Black cats have long been associated with witchcraft but in Britain and Ireland it is still considered good luck to have a black cat cross your path. However, in those countries where witch hunts were prevalent a black cat crossing your path is considered bad luck.

The wishbone, or furcula, is the Y-shaped sternum bone found in birds that forms an attachment point for the wing muscles. Traditionally two people pull on each side of the bone, and when it breaks, the one who gets the larger part is said to have a wish granted.

Lucky white heather is a Scottish tradition that reached England in Victorian times, after Queen Victoria had popularised Scottish holidays and all things Scottish. Finding white heather (Calluna vulgaris) growing wild is a sign of happiness and for this reason it is often used for a bride's headdress or bouquet. In Lowland Scotland white heather is a sign that fairies have set foot where it grows, and in the Cheviot Hills and along the Scottish border burning heather will bring on rain.

Horseshoes have a long tradition in folklore of warding off evil spirits and bringing good luck, although there are variations as to whether the shoe should be hung points up or points down. Other variations insist that the horseshoe must have been used and must have been found and not bought. One of the stories surrounding the horseshoe is that St Dunstan (10th century Bishop of Worcester and later Archbishop of Canterbury) was a blacksmith by trade and that he nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to shod the Devil's horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after the Devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is hung over the door.

The four-leaf clover has long been considered a symbol of good fortune, no doubt due to its rarity. Horticultural experts estimate that there are approximately 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every one four-leaf clover. According to legend, the first leaf represents hope, the second is for faith, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck. It is possible for clover to have more leaves and the highest recorded was an 18-leaf clover.

Most of the good luck symbols on the Stuart Crystal cocktail set are well known but the choice of a lucky pig is a little unusual. There are very few good luck traditions attached to pigs, in fact the opposite is largely true and pigs are considered signs of ill omen. Traditionally, sailors and fishermen consider pigs to be bad luck, so much so that they will not even say the word while they are at sea. Those that meet a pig on their way to their boat will not sail that day and the extremely superstitious will not even allow bacon or pork on their boats. Pigs are also said to be able to see the wind. However, in spite of this pigs are sometimes used as lucky charms because of their connotations with piggy banks and so they are symbols of wealth. Of course, the pig has a special place in Black Country folklore and it may be for this reason that the Stuart Crystal designers decided to include it in their lucky cocktail set. Perhaps readers will be able to tell us the traditional stories behind the pig being a good luck symbol.

Queen Victoria's Royal Exchange glasses and the Stuart Crystal lucky cocktail set are on display at Broadfield House Glass Museum, Compton Road, Kingswinford. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 4pm and admission is free. For further information contact the museum on 01384 812745 or visit the website at

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