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Antiques Column: Taking a Chance on historic vase

Handkerchief Vase
Handkerchief Vase
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The Chance brothers, Lucas and William, had been working together as ‘Chance Brothers and Company’ at the Smethwick glassworks in the West Midlands since 1832 when William bought into Lucas’ business to save it from bankrupty.

The company had a mixed history but is probably best known for its handkerchief vases, which were actually an imitation of an Italian original. Paolo Venini and Fulvio Bianconi designed the first handkerchief vase or ‘Vaso Fazoletto’ in 1949.

Chance handkerchief vases provided buyers with a far more affordable alternative and quickly became popular in their own right. Chance took the ‘handkerchief’ metaphor one step further than their Italian counterparts, adopting not just the look and shape but also embracing the material and design to resemble actual handkerchiefs incorporating polka dots, striped and gingham patterns. Their first vase was produced in 1957 and they were in production until 1981 with new designs regularly available. The aforementioned ‘Gingham’ for example wasn’t released until 1977.

The handkerchief vase was made in a huge number of designs including a large variety of textured and coloured glass and more dramatic examples such as the ‘Pop Art’ and ‘Psychedelic’ designs of the 1960s.

The designs were applied to the glass through the process of screen-printing. This was done before the shaping of the vase and allowed the transfer to be heat-fixed during the shaping process. Squares of sheet glass were re-heated to 700°C so they became pliable. The larger vases were then formed by manually pushing the sides with a willow stick while the smaller vases took the shape naturally. Chance handkerchief vases were manufactured in huge quantities and are very easily found today so the rarer sizes and designs are more coveted.