Novelty items in glass, known as friggers or as Nausea glass, were widely sold in the 19th century, and those that have survived intact are assiduously collected today.
The name of Nailsea is now mainly associated with novelties, but the firm began by making bottles and window glass. By the turn of the 19th century it was using pale green window glass and
deep coloured bottle glass to make domestic articles like this small jug and bonnet glass, both decorated with 'marvering' applied chips and flakes of white glass.
Glass novelty items, also known as friggers, originated in the 18th century. Glassmakers used the day's left-over glass to show off their skills, and the results - hats, bells, bugles, drumsticks, staffs,
walking sticks and swords - were paraded through the streets on gala days. Some eventually acquired a commercial value and began to be made officially in working hours.
One factory closely associated with friggers was Nailsea, near Bristol, set up to make bottle and window glass in 1788. It soon expanded its range and by 1835 was one of the four most important glassworks in England.
The majority of glass produced there was tinged green from impurities in the local sand, and sometimes decorated with other colours. Nailsea later became a generic term for 18th- and 19th-century coloured novelties.
Some of these pieces had domestic origins, such as rolling pins. Early ones were of clear, brownish-green glass, but by 1800 pale green or dark blue pins were enamelled.
Transfer-printed pictures appeared around 1850. Early pins often held salt and were hung over the fireplace to keep it dry. Pins were also made that took exactly one pound of tea - a useful gift for newlyweds.
Some of the most popular friggers were gimmel flasks, made by fusing together two flasks with their necks pointing in opposite directions. They often had pink and white spiral decoration.
Sometimes walking sticks were made hollow so they could be sold filled with sweets; others had solid, spiral stems. Glass rods were widely believed to have the property of attracting germs out of the atmosphere, so they were hung on the wall and wiped clean daily to keep the household healthy.
Tobacco pipes - with curved, bobbin stems between 25cm / 10 inches and 64cm / 25inches length and knitting needles were other 'useful' novelties, but the majority were simply decorative. These include bells, hats and witch balls. Glass bells had been made since at least the 17th century. They are generally decorated with spirals of colour or with white loops.
Hats were often made in pale green glass and can be small or near life-size. Though mainly decorative, they were often inverted for use as pin-tidies. Witch balls, hollow globes of opaque white or coloured glass, were hung over windows or doorways to deflect the evil eye; smaller ones are sold today as attractive Christmas tree ornaments.
NOVELTY GLASS COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Nailsea glass is extremely collectable and high prices are paid for some of the more ambitious pieces. These will come on the market only rarely, and then only at fine art auctions or at the shops of high-class dealers.
Flasks, bells and other, smaller friggers will also be found at fine art and local auctions, at
antiques fairs and in antiques shops. They're unlikely to be found at flea markets or car boot sales, although some of the small enamel animals may well go unrecognized at the latter.
Though these are essentially novelty items, condition is no less important than with pieces of art glass. Any painting or transfer printing should be clear and not too rubbed or worn. Chips and cracks will devalue, as will surface wear or scratching on flasks.
Walking sticks should be examined carefully as the ferrules (the opposite end to the handle) are prone to chipping. Rolling pin ends are also vulnerable.
Bells should be looked at with care. The tiny glass clappers are often missing, but this should not detract too much from the value of the piece.
Check the handles for damage and make sure they are firmly fixed to the bell. Avoid any with unsightly plaster of Paris joins; the bell and handle may be a marriage rather than a clumsy repair.
BELLS, BALLS AND HATS
Witch balls and hand bells have been much copied and reproduced. French factories, in particular, produced excellent copies of bells, and modern Bohemian ones can be found. Glass hats were being made in the USA around 1900, but these are generally more elaborate than the earlier English versions.