Of exemplary design

Tall, elegant and colorful, this vase with rock crystal engraving is of a kind presented in 1903 by its manufacturer to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Design as an example of its very best.

Rock crystal relates this highly polished decoration to that found on Renaissance and Baroque objects cut from naturally occurring crystal — a near colorless and transparent quartz that could also be highly polished.

A closer look at this vase reveals broad shallow cuts made with a small stone wheel. These cuts form arrangements of stylized flowers and leaves. They are particularly effective on cased glass such as this vase, cut through an outer layer of colored glass to reveal clear glass below.

This vase was made by Christian Dorflinger & Sons, who introduced their rock crystal line in the late 1890s to compete against the stone wheel decorated wares being exported to America by English firm Stevens and Williams. Lacking workers skilled in stone engraving, Dorflinger recruited English engraver Walter Graham to develop rock crystal. Rock crystal became the most expensive of its three primary lines of glass, more luxurious than both its acid etched Kalana and its conventional richly cut glass.

Born in Alsace and an 1848 immigrant to the United States, Christian Dorflinger opened his first American factory in Brooklyn in 1852. However, he is best known for his factory in White Mills, Pennsylvania which was in production from the 1860s until the First World War. Dorflinger was sufficiently prominent that the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Design sought examples of his finest work for their teaching collection. Among all Dorflinger's products, two rock crystal vases similar to this were chosen.

Dorflinger's gift (this and this) can still be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, successor to the Pennsylvania Museum. The Dorflinger Glass Museum in White Mills has a fine collection of Dorflinger glass and is currently restoring several of the original company buildings including its cutting shop.