Why does any of this matter? Like the prospect facing Pitcairn in 1912, a designer in stained glass today would discover that there is no commercially-produced red glass on the market that matches the striated ruby of the middle ages. There are streaky copper-based reds produced by several factories, but when placed side by side with a medieval sample they are inadequate. What the Bryn Athyn craftsmen and Lawrence Saint achieved is absent from today’s palette.
In my attempt to obtain a similar glass, I sent a sample of the Bryn Athyn red to the Lambert’s factory in Germany and they were unable to match it. Reviewing Lamberts’ attempts with the glassblowers I know from my association with the Wheaton factory in Millville, the verdict was that the color was accurate but the intricacy of the striated pattern was not well replicated owing to the larger size of the Lamberts’ sheets.
I made two discoveries; first, the sheets did, in fact, have accession numbers which linked them to further documentation in Corning’s archive. Secondly, the sheets were identical in appearance to the Bryn Athyn striated ruby right down to their surface markings. By studying the sheets in the Cathedral basement I had already discovered that each of the Bryn Athyn sheets bore a code inscribed with a diamond. These markings indicated the formula number and order the sheet was made on a particular day.
For instance, 875-11 would indicate the 11th sheet made that day from formula 875. Since the ruby color would continue to strike as it was reheated, the Bryn Athyn craftsmen learned by experimentation to fire the red sheets to a temperature above the point at which the glass would be fired by the glass painters later in the window- making process; otherwise the color would continue to darken. The temperature of the second firing (typically 1180 degrees F) was also inscribed on the sheets. Apparently Saint used the same coding system he had learned at Bryn Athyn as his sheets were identically marked. We may never know if Saint’s formula is exactly the same as the Bryn Athyn formula, which Ariel Gunther may have taken to his grave, but I feel confident in saying that they must have been very close. At least they appear visually identical.
Unlike the way that his materials are organized at the Smithsonian, the Corning files contain samples of glass packaged in the same envelope as the formula.
The Corning materials are complete and revealed many variations of the illusive red glass.
Obviously I was very excited by this find. One of the boxes appeared to contain roundels and rectangular sheets of glass that had been individually wrapped in layers of paper towels. The receding flood waters had turned these into tightly fitted paper-mâchécocoons. From my research I was aware that the Saint factory produced all of their colors in the form of roundels with the exception of the striated reds which were made in the muff method and flattened into rectangular sheets. Tantalizingly, there were rectangular shapes in the box. Immediately I knew that I was looking at complete sheets of Saint’s red glass and I asked if they could be unwrapped. As the items did not obviously bear accession numbers, the Registrar was willing to soak them in the Conservator’s sink and the paper wrappings gradually came away. The beautiful sheets of Saint’s striated ruby glass were at last revealed.
Corning’s collection consists of 9 large metal boxes each the size of a filing cabinet drawer.
The first one I opened was labeled, “Lawrence Saint - Formula and Ingredients”. It contained envelopes and small bottles of chemicals. Theoretically, one could recreate Saint’s colors from these materials. Most glass makers’ recipes were closely guarded secrets, but Saint wanted his formulas to be preserved in the event that his windows needed to be restored in the future.