Museum of Ancient Inventions: Blown Glass

Blown Glass, Jerusalem, 50 BCE

Glass is made from a mixture of sand, potash, soda, and lime or red lead. It has been called a liquid solid, because it solidifies without crystallizing. Vases and perfume bottles are some of the earliest forms of glass found by historians. The oldest samples come from ancient Egyptian pyramids; they are usually in the form of perfume bottles. These small but ornate bottles were placed with the dead to catch the tears of their loved ones. The discovery, in the first century BCE, that glass could be blown with a pipe seems to have been made in Palestine.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Laura Duch, ’98

I attempted to recreate a simple ancient vase design, but made a top as well so it could be a perfume bottle if need be. As we are not really equipped for serious glass blowing here at Smith, I used scientific glass blowing techniques. I started with a pre-made glass tube, a blowing device that could be placed inside one end of the tube and was attached to my mouth via a thin rubber tube, and a flame of natural gas and oxygen reaching temperatures past 1500 degrees F. In theory, if I rotated one end of the glass tube at a constant rate in the flame, a perfect molten bulb would result at one end and I would blow through the other end, causing the molten bulb to expand and form a hollow ball of glass, that was to be the bottom of my vase. In practice, this was very difficult. My balls were always a little too thin, as you must achieve the perfect rotation while you are blowing. Things looked up when Greg showed me a new technique of getting the molten bulb as before, only this time attaching another piece of glass to the other side of the bulb enabling me to gently pull on the forming ball as I was blowing so as to make it longer and more oval in shape like a true vase. This was hard to learn, but I made some progress after hours of trying. I have to admit my final vase is not my work alone, but was done with Greg’s helping hand. Once the base was finished, I took a steel crafting tool and heated the rim of the vase so I could turn down the edges resulting in the lip of the vase. This part was a little easier than the base making. I gained an appreciation of ancient glass blowing from my project. Glass blowing is not easy and requires skill, dexterity, and lots of practice. I tried my best here, although this little vase is dwarfed by the greatness of those vases made thousands of years ago. It was fun, though.


Ancient Inventions Text




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