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Getting There Safely: Packing and shipping cut glass

Did you know when shipping glass two boxes are always better than one? Or cotton gloves used when drying cut glass helps prevent dull finger prints? These tips can be found in this guest column by Vickie Matthews.

This article originally appeared in The Hobstar, the monthly newsletter of the American Cut Glass Association (ACGA). It is being reprinted with permission from the author and the ACGA.

By Vickie Matthews

Shipping cut glass is not as difficult as you might think; by always following a few simple rules, you can ship your best pieces with peace of mind. I have listed below the most important guidelines to follow.

Best Practices for Shipping Cut Glass

ABCG crystal pitcher

Large brilliant cut crystal pitcher, circa 1910, from the Personal Collection of Shirley Temple Black, measuring 7 3/4 inches, chipping to ridges of handle, moderate scuffing and a tiny fleabite to the underside, otherwise presenting well, realized $425 during an auction presented by Heritage Auctions. (Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Use new boxes, as they lose one-half of their strength after the first shipment. Glass must be packed using two boxes, or as we say, a box within a box. Choose the inner box to allow for at least 2” of packing around the glass. The most usable sizes of boxes are a 12” x 12” inner and a 16” x 16” outer box. Pack each individual piece of glass in enough wrapping so you cannot feel any of the hard edges of the glass. Bubble wrap is not suitable for use in wrapping glass.

If you wish to experiment, wrap a piece of glass in it and feel in between the bubbles. When you do so you will feel the glass, especially in the teeth area. If you can feel the glass item, it is not wrapped well enough. The best wrapping material is enough sheets of newspaper to make handles and edges impossible to feel.

After wrapping correctly, place it in the inner box with at least 2” of crumpled newspaper between the glass and the inner box. Then stuff the box full so that no movement can take place. Place the sealed inner box in an outer box that allows at least 2” of packing between the inner and outer box. If you use peanuts or Styrofoam pieces for this exterior space, pack it down firmly so it can’t “settle.”

If you use a packing service, don’t assume they know what they are doing. Give shippers these instructions, or, best of all, pack the glass yourself. Some services use solid or spray-in foam packing, which is excellent for single items, but not when several items are shipped in the same box.

Separate Before Shipping

If the glass to be sent has one or more parts, take it apart and send each large piece in separate boxes. When shipping decanters, be sure to pack stoppers separately from the decanter. If a piece is multi-parted, insure each package for the value of the entire piece. In the event one part is lost or damaged, the other pieces have little or no value. Insure only for the amount you have in the piece, as shippers will need to see a receipt for the value or a recent appraisal. Check with the shipper on their insurance. Some do not insure against breakage just lost in transit. Also check with your Home Owner’s Policy and see if you are covered.

If you want to ship more than one piece in the inner box, the best technique is to have each piece in its own box with enough cushioning inside to allow no movement. Do not use peanuts in the inner box, as it allows heavy cut glass too much movement.

Close the box securely with 2” packing tape and place a label with the addresses on the inner box as well as the outer box. Don’t forget to include a letter if one is required. Be sure to label the top of the outer box for ease of opening. Place FRAGILE stickers on the top and sides, and you are ready to ship.

A Word of Caution

If you are sealing your box and say to yourself, “I hope this makes the trip,” don’t send it. Repack it! You must feel that the glass would survive a 36” drop on to a hard surface. If you are shipping to or from an extra cold or hot location, tell the receiver to put it inside and let the box come to temperature for several hours before opening. Consistency of temperature is very important to cut glass.

Shipping Services

The USPS has several advantages: they will pick up your shipment if you wish and they have many

teeth view of cut glass vase

The ability to clearly feel the teeth of a piece of cut glass after wrapping indicates a need to rewrap.

different speeds of delivery available. We use them for very expensive items as they offer registered mail, which is great. These packages are treated very carefully and are locked up and signed for at each stop along the way. It requires a little more trouble in the preparation but well worth it. All seams have to be taped over with paper tape so no one can gain access to the inside of the box, for this new boxes are the best. Someone has to sign for these and if no one is home they would have to pick up their package at the nearest Post Office. The USPS also provides tracking, signature confirmation, delivery confirmation and many more safety features.

UPS has the advantage of direct home delivery even in the rural and foreign areas. Plus, they offer many different speeds and methods of shipping. They will also pick up your shipment and they also have packing stores that are trained in packing. However, again, take along your instructions for the best way to pack your special glass.

Federal Express: We do not use them very much except when we need something to arrive overnight as their air service cannot be beat. We also find their insurance is not a true insurance but a declared value only. With this you would need to check with your local agent to get the details. The tracking is first rate with them and again delivery is to the door even in rural areas and foreign countries.

Just follow these few rules and you can ship your best pieces with piece of mind.

BONUS COLUMN: Cleaning cut glass

What gets your cut glass dirty? Greasy hands, dust, and air pollution are the most common culprits. I find the best way to clean my glass is to use a plastic or fiberglass wash tub; 16” x 24” x 6” is a good size. ACGA member Nick Boonstra once told me about a plastic photo developer’s tray that is 14” x 17”x 2” high and has a lip for splashing and easy lifting. This type of tray also has an overflow drain, which sounds great!

Never clean glass in the kitchen sink due the hardness of the sink itself and the danger of hitting the metal faucet. I use a nylon scrub brush with a plastic handle on the top, with bristles at least 1” long so it will get in all the cuts. Do only one piece at a time. If you have cleaning help, do not let them clean your cut glass, as no one will take as much care of it as you will. After all, it is not just beautiful to look at, but it is also an investment.

Hands-On Approach Helps

Cut view of glass vase

Using a nylon scrub brush with bristles that measure at least 1 inch long is recommended for effectively cleaning the cuts and edges of this style of glass.

Do not put cut glass in the dishwasher, particularly stem-ware. Besides the heat, there is a lot of movement due to sprayers, and chips might occur. All jewelry must be removed before you start cleaning due to the chance of scratching your glass or damaging your jewelry. It is recommended to wear lightweight plastic or rubber gloves when cleaning cut glass to avoid having the glass slip from your hands. In addition it serves to protect your hands from the oft times sharpness of the cuts. J. Hoare’s “Pebble” pattern, with its nail-head cutting, is especially treacherous to handle without gloves.

After you get all your equipment together, fill the tub about half full with baby warm water with a little glass cleaner detergent added. Baby warm water is really the proper term. The two enemies of glass are heat and vibration; and in a great many cases the cut glass piece you are washing is your “baby.” If the glass is really greasy, add a little dish-washing detergent. Another fellow ACGA member, Louise Boggess recommends a detergent known as Simple Green. There are, of course, many fine dishwashing detergents on the market.

Make sure you scrub all the cuts in the pattern and the serrated top edge. Rinse with clear water in a separate plastic tub and dry with an old worn towel that doesn’t leave lint. Also, wearing a pair of cotton gloves while drying your glass will prevent those dulling finger prints. If you may be so inclined, you may see how good a cleaning job you did by putting the item under a black light. Any grime left in the crevices of the cuts will show up as an orange color.

Different Pieces (Decanters) Require Extra-Special Attention

Cut glass bowls, trays, dishes and platters are probably the easiest items to clean. With these you have a negotiable surface to work with. However, the usual precautions should be taken. These items are also the easiest to dry.

Cleaning decanters presents a special problem. First use the cleaning method as described above. Rinse the inside of the decanter until it is free of all suds, then place it in a plastic dish rack upside down to drain. The decanter must be completely dry before replacing the stopper or it will “fog up” (due to the temperature/humidity differential between the inside of the glass and the outside air). I find that if you cut up an old cotton sheet in narrow strips about 36” long and use a 1/4” diameter wooden dowel to insert these into the decanter, you can then swirl the strips around inside and remove most of the moisture.

After fully draining, rinsing out the inside with acetone (that you can get at any hardware store) will greatly accelerate the drying process. After pouring about a 1/4 cup into the decanter, hold your finger over the opening and shake vigorously, then discard the acetone. You must take care with the acetone, as it is flammable and could damage your furniture. (When using any chemicals to clean glass, exercise safety to the fullest extent; protect your hands with lightweight rubber gloves, wear eye protection, and have plenty of ventilation).

Careful and Consistent Cleaning Is Best

When you go to use the item again, rinse it out in warm water to make sure no chemical film has remained, and always clean the inside of decanters after use – as alcohol or water left in it can damage the surface of the glass. (Water residue is mostly lime deposits left after evaporation has taken place.)

Some people have recommended the use of a hair drier to speed up drying the interior of decanters

ABCG trumpet fluted vase

American Brilliant Cut Glass trumpet fluted vase, 12 inches in height, no condition issues, sold for $18 (with buyer’s premium) through Fuso Auctions, Willoughby, Ohio

and carafes. I have not used this method. If you do, remember the effect of heat on cut glass and start on low cycle. There are some good glass cleaning products on the market. Look around, ask around, shop around.

Vases are also hard to clean and dry inside. Never use a bottle brush or anything with metal parts as this can scratch the interior. That may have been what put those scratches in the very tip of the trumpet vases that you see now and again. A good policy that a dealer shared with me recently is to use distilled water in your vase when in use and change the water daily. This saves those deposits of stains and minerals from the flowers themselves from spoiling the beauty of your vase.

Probably the most difficult cut glass item to clean is a flower center – especially wide ones. They are bulky and unwieldy in handling. Naturally, the bigger the cut glass item, the more difficult it is to clean, but the right materials, a little “elbow grease” and a lot of patience will turn out a sparkling piece of cut glass you can always be proud of.

Five safety points to remember

1. Never place cut glass in direct sunlight, as the possibly concentrated temperature of direct sunlight over an extended period of time may cause the item to crack. Also, if you receive a package of cut glass as a shipment or if it has been sitting in a warm or cold place, do not unpack it immediately. Let it sit inside and come up to room temperature slowly over a period of eight hours or so.

2. Check your cabinet shelves for sagging. You may need to place the heaviest pieces nearer to the sides where the shelf supports are. To check this, kneel down and look along the front edge of the shelf from the side of the cabinet; only minor bowing should be allowed. A minimum of thickness of 1/4” for shelving is acceptable and shelf supports should more than adequate.

3. If the glass is to sit on a hard surface, you may want to place small dots of felt or plastic on the bottom of the piece. Apply these where the glass surface makes contact with the table or shelf surface so the piece is stable with no rocking; a minimum of three or four should be used. These may need to be replaced after each cleaning, but are well worth using. They will protect the glass as well as your fine furniture. Another thought is to place the items on doilies; all those leftover doilies that grandma made can be put to a nice use. They can also be easily obtained in dry goods, craft shops, department stores and, of course, antique shops.

4. If you live in an area where there is a possibility of earthquakes, you can secure your glass with a wax-like product. There are two kinds: a green one used by florists, and a white one sold at antique shows and some shops. I prefer the white one, as it seems to be easier to remove and does not seem to harm the surface of your furniture.

5. Be careful with the size of the light bulbs you use in your cut glass lamps. We use a maximum of 25 watts for each bulb. We also test the color of the bulb and choose the one that puts out the whitest light; as some of them put out a yellow or amber color. I prefer the bulbs made for oven use, as they are small in size and this keeps the bulb further away from the shade. Also, after cleaning your prisms, check the wires holding the prisms and make sure they have not pulled loose. During this process, a towel should be wrapped over the base to prevent damage from falling prisms.

About the American Cut Glass Association

In the 39 years since its formation, the ACGA continues to evolve with the times, while focusing on their multi-faceted mission. That mission is to foster knowledge and appreciation of American Brilliant Cut Glass as a distinct art form; for historic preservation of cut glass as an early American art form; to create a record of some of the outstanding works of art and to provide a place where it may be seen, honored and respected; and to provide information and opportunities for fellow cut glass enthusiasts to learn and connect.


This national organization is also represented by chapters, within four regional districts of the U.S. At present, there are 19 chapters. Each year, usually during the month of July, the ACGA hosts its annual convention. The event features lectures, workshops and the American Cut Glass show.

In addition to the opportunity to participate in the convention, membership to the ACGA includes a subscription to the group’s newsletter, The Hobstar; access to reproductions of original catalogs distributed by cut glass companies; special chapter events referred to as Brilliant Weekends; a membership special for collector’s insurance through Huntington T. Block Insurance Company; receipt of an ACGA membership directory — published annually; and the opportunity to request complimentary assistance from the ACGA’s Pattern ID committee, to confirm the identity of unknown patterns.

There are three levels of membership within the ACGA: Online (internet access to the benefits mentioned here) $35; Bulk Mail (online access, plus printed copies of The Hobstar and directories — bulk mail delivery) $55; First Class (online access, plus printed copies of The Hobstar and directories — delivered via first class mail) $65. Membership is renewed annually.

Learn more about the ACGA at or by sending an email to