Universität Erfurt

Projekt von Dr. Triin Jerlei

Acid-etching: a hidden history of glass

This project is dedicated to the study of acid-etching in glass, especially its use in mass production. The history of acid-etching is still clouded with mystery and different authors often contradict each other. This project aims to fill this gap in the history of glass production and research the evolution of this little-known technology. In addition to the history of sciences and the history of design, studying this technology that was mostly reserved for more quotidian glassware would help to shed light to the consumption of glassware before the late 19th century.

While researchers place the discovery of this technology in the late 17th century, little is written about its use prior to 1853 in Stourbridge, England. Even in the 19th century, as acid-etching was becoming more widely used, it was often overlooked in publications. Critics who often preferred traditional techniques felt that this ‘cheap and meticulous ornamentation was far too common’ and that it was ‘limiting the pay of the toilers and condemning them to exist without thought or feeling for the simple but genuine and lasting pleasure that comes of doing true work’. Even later, as acid-etching becomes popular in Art Nouveau glass, it is not considered a noble technology. In fact, up to 1884, Émile Gallé refused to use acid-etching as a decorative process altogether, finding it unequal to the artistic effects he aimed to achieve. In his opinion, acid ‘does not think nor add anything to the model’; however, he was willing to admit that that it ‘tames some glasses in its own way’. It is probable that this hierarchy of technologies is one of the reasons for the lack of research into the history of acid-etching.

The research questions are:
1.    Where, to what extent and for which purposes was acid-etching used in glass production from the late 17th century until the mid-19th century?
2.    How did the production technologies evolve during that period?
3.    How has acid-etching been received in scientific, cultural and social history through the eyes of different authors?

Methodologically, this research aims to combine the methods used by history of design and material culture with the methods of social history. The technology of acid-etching is analysed through information in scientific publications, as well as descriptions of existing objects and images.


Dr. Triin Jerlei received her PhD from the University of Brighton in 2016 for her thesis Industrial designers within the Soviet Estonian design ideology of the Late Socialist period, 1965-1985. Previously she has studied the history of factory glass in Soviet Union. Her research focuses on the history of mass production, studying the roles of production and factory-made items in society and politics.



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