Glass goblets are the most common utilitarian form of stemware. They have a historical lineage dating directly back to ancient Europe. The strongest tradition of elaborate glass goblets comes from an island in the Venitian Archepelago called Murano. Murano can trace its glassblowing history back 1000 years through dating of ancient shards. The technique they use in the free hand manufacture of these goblets is a modification of the same techniques developed under the Roman Empire approximately 2000 years ago, in what is now known as the Middle East, when the first bubble was blown into the already 3000 year old medium.
The Venitians took glassblowing and brought it to its highest level of technical refinement in the 15th and 17th centuries, and their secrets were jealously guarded. Until just over 100 years ago, anyone who divulged factory secrets would be killed and thrown in a canal. The Bicchieri (Bee-Key-Air-E) or goblets made in Murano are done even today in the traditional way, all by hand. The glass is gathered out of a furnace that burns approximately 2000 degrees ferenheit (1100 C.) worked by hand, blown with breath and added to with more bubbles and bits (gathers of liquid glass) to make the finest and most difficult to produce form of stemware ever made.
This tradition has made its way into other parts of the world and can now be found in microcosm in many countries, the most prevalent of which is America. The most common form of glass goblet today is factory made. Similar industrial processes to the original free hand technique are used but today the human interaction with the glass is minimized to speed production, avoid error and make near identical product.
The goblets found in restaurants and stores are typically made by a combination on machine and man and are usually made in India, Poland or Sweden. The people who practice the tradition of freehand goblet making are few and very dedicated, and the pieces they make are not only functional, but a true works of art.
Written by Ryan Staub.