Q: I have a small number of three-face pieces that were given to me after they were found in a box after a death in a friend's family. They knew I collected glass and thought I might enjoy these. I am hoping you might be able to give me some directions as to whether they are originals or reproductions, and what might they be worth if they are originals.
A: Some people call these items "pattern glass," and some refer to these sorts of objects as being "EAPG" — or "Early American Pattern Glass." But no matter what the category designation might be, these are pressed glass items in the "Three Face" design.
This highly popular pattern originated in 1878 and was initially made by George Duncan and Sons of Pittsburgh. It is said that the pattern was created by John Ernest Miller who reportedly used the image of his wife, Elizabeth, as the model for the face — but that is really just speculation.
The originals were made in a variety of forms, but all came in clear colorless glass with some having frosted faces and bases. Examples with decorations are known to exist but Duncan did not make this pattern in colored glass. It was non-flint (no lead used as a clarifying agent) soda lime glass that has a wonderful clarity and crispness.
You have a real reason to be concerned as to whether her pieces are originals or reproductions. Three-face items have been reproduced since the 1930s with knockoffs being made by such companies as Imperial Glass, L.G. Wright, Duncan-Miller and brought into this country in large amounts by AA Imports.
Sadly, the majority of three-face pieces we see are reproductions, and collectors sometimes have trouble telling the new from the old — and that circumstance has helped keep prices down on this very distinctive pressed pattern glass design. Some say that all you need in order to determine if your examples are old or new is a black light. It is reported that old genuine examples will fluoresce yellow-green, while reproductions will not.
This may or may not be reliable, but there are certain other signs that you can check. First, there should be visible wear where bases have been scooted along tabletops and lids have brushed against lower rims. The bases are the best place to look and a lack of small scratches running every which way (be suspicious of scratches that run parallel to each other) is a cause for concern.
Also, the eyes on old examples are normal looking (not dead and creepy); the tiara and necklace look crisp; and the frosting should not be grainy, chalky or blotchy. We believe your open compote, pair of celery vases, covered sugar and creamer are probably old, partially because the details look good, the glass looks right, and the bowl of the compote appears to be wafered to the base — something that would not have happened on reproductions. As for value, it is probably around $250 to $350, but you might check with Green Valley Auctions/Jeffery S. Evans in Mount Crawford, Va., for more accurate pricing information.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.