Monday 5 January 2015

Cheers to a new year…from an old glass!

True to our promise, here we are to start the KCM's 100 Hidden Histories for 2015! 
To celebrate the New Year and the new blog, we thought we’d raise a glass, but not in just any old cup. We’re celebrating with the museum’s set of pale yellowish-green glass known as Vaseline Glass. The set seems like regular pieces of tableware… if a bit sickly in colour… but it has an explosive secret! Vaseline Glassware is another name for Uranium Glass. That’s right; it’s glass that had uranium added to the glass mix before melting. The amount of uranium could range from a trace amount of about 2% to a staggering 25% uranium found in some 19th-century pieces!

Being serious folks, we examine artifacts carefully and analytically. So to inspect our uranium glass we called in some sensitive equipment from our local technical supplier (a neighbourhood high school science lab). Our weapons of choice; an ultraviolet blacklight and a Geiger counter. True to uranium glass’s reputation, the glass began to glow a vibrant bright green under the ultraviolet light. This glow-in-the-dark display drove our team of professionals into fits of laughter. Then we turned on the Geiger counter.
Not so much laughter.
The glass registered on the Geiger counter at once with clicking. Lots of clicking. Experts explain that Vaseline glass is not harmful, that the emissions from the glass are just slightly stronger than the normal background radiation we are all exposed to on a daily basis.
But that clicking sure makes a person suspicious.

The date of our three pieces is not known – no maker’s marks are present to pinpoint a production date. Uranium glass was popular from the 1840s up until World War II – that’s when access to uranium became restricted / halted by American embargoes. In the late 1950s restrictions were lifted but only a few companies resumed manufacture of Vaseline glass. It is worth noting that what they produce today is solely decorative; Vaseline glass dinnerware is no longer made.

Our Vaseline glass collection includes the pitcher shown above, as well as two rugged drinking glasses – perfect for sharing a radioactive toast with friends. Here’s to you and to the New Year!

click... click... click

Discover more information (and some great pics) at the Vaseline Glass collector's website: