Gibraltar Crystal - A History of Glass

Glass Blowing

The earliest traces of glass were found in Mesopotamia dating from 3000 to 2000 BC, from there the art probably spread to ancient Egypt. One of the first recorded accounts of how glass was invented is given by the Roman historian Pliny. Writing in the first century A.D., Pliny relates how a group of Phoenician sailors camped one night on an unknown beach, lit a fire and set their cooking pots on blocks of natron (soda), the cargo they were carrying. The next morning when they woke they found that the heat of the fire had fused the sand of the beach and the natron into glass. This theory might belong to legend but the formula is correct and it was the Phoenicians who first inhabited Gibraltar! Glass is an artificial material. It is one of the commonest man-made materials and has been in use now for over 5,000 years. Glass needs the action of intense heat on silica to create it. It is formed naturally by the heat of volcanoes or after lightning strikes a beach or desert.

Glassblowing - The Beginning

Primitive man used obsidian (naturally formed glass, now regarded as a semi-precious ornamental stone) to make knives and arrowheads. In the first century BC, the greatest discovery in the history of glass making was made - glass could be inflated like a bubble on the end of a hollow pipe, allowing it to be shaped when blown. The fine art of glass blowing was thus born. The main ingredients of glass are sand (silica) and soda, a flux which helps lower the melting point of the mixture. Lime is usually added to make the product stronger. The raw materials are crushed into small grains and melted in a furnace to make it a thin liquid, ready to be shaped. The basic tools for shaping glass have changed little. A blowing iron is used to take the first gather of glass from the furnace. Once blown, the glass is rolled on a highly polished slab of metal -known as marvering, and then shaped by using a variety of tools. Separate gathers of glass are added to create different features.

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