In the 1700s, Britain was a vibrant and commercial nation. Its growing cities were hubs of sociability, scientific advancement, trade, and finance. From glittering costume and elaborately presented confectionery, to polished mirrors and dazzling chandeliers, glass helped define the social rituals and cultural values of the period. While innovations in glass delighted the wealthy, the material also bore witness to the ambitions of colonization and the horrors of the African slave trade. Glass beads were traded for human lives and elegant glass dishes, baskets and bowls held sweet delicacies made with sugar produced by enslaved labor. Underpinning Britain’s prosperity were aggressive foreign trade policies, colonization and a far-reaching economy of enslavement, the profits of which funded the pleasures and innovations of the fashionable world.
Britain in the 1700s was complex, dynamic, and full of growth, whether industrial, geographical, intellectual or societal. The nation began the century under the leadership of a Dutch king (William III, r. 1689-1702), followed by a dynasty of Germans (the Hanoverians, r.1714-1837). Its aristocracy was educated on European Grand Tours, and its commercial, political and territorial ambitions stretched from North America to India, and from Africa to China. It was a world that fostered exploration, expansion and exploitation.
The British glass industry replaced that of Venice as the global leader during this period but, beyond its presence in dining and drinking rituals, little discussion has hitherto been made of the significance of glass in the lives of the country’s elite during the 1700s.
In Sparkling Company: Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World accompanies a major exhibition at The Corning Museum of Glass in 2021. From portraiture to costume, and science to slavery, the essays contained in this publication offer unique perspectives from noted scholars on the role of glass in defining and expressing the cultural values of Britain during the 1700s.
Join curator Christopher Maxwell and Cheyney McKnight, founder and director of Not Your Momma's History, as they reflect on the exhibition "In Sparkling Company: Glass and the Costs of Social Life in Britain during the 1700s" and consider the experiences of 18th-century enslaved lady’s maids and their role at the dressing table. This event was presented as part of the opening of the exhibition.
Step into the dazzling world of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland in this sparkling recreation of the glass drawing room at Northumberland House, London. This 360° video shows the virtual room that was created as part of the exhibition "In Sparkling Company: Glass and the Costs of Social Life in Britain During the 1700s."