Family History Home: Caring for Heirloom Crystal and Glass

By Denise May Levenick Premium

Don’t be afraid to use and enjoy Grandma’s crystal at your family gatherings. Many pieces of antique cut crystal and pressed glass are more sturdy than they look and need only a little extra care to maintain their sparkling beauty.

antique glass

1. Crystal or glass? It’s not always obvious, but a few clues will help you know the difference.

Crystal is heavier, and often thinner than glass. Tap a crystal glass and you will hear a melodic ring; tap glass and you will hear a clunk. The edges of cut crystal may be sharp or polished and smooth; molded crystal or glass may have similar edges but will often show a join or seam from the mold. Glass is typically thicker than crystal. The clarity and sparkle of crystal can’t be rivaled by glass; hold a piece of crystal to the light and watch the rainbows dance.


2. Crystal and glass have been popular wedding gifts for generations, and it’s likely you may have inherited your grandmother’s crystal cake plate or candy dish.

Repurpose specialty items to suit your lifestyle by thinking outside the dining room. A small cut glass sauce bowl makes a beautiful desk tray for paper clips or coins. A crystal wine glass makes a lovely vase for a small nosegay.

3. Grandma knew that salt and vinegar would damage silver serving dishes.

She was careful to use glass and crystal dishes for pickles, relishes, salted nuts, and other condiments, but never for anything heated such as gravy or hot vegetables that might cause the dish to crack from heat.

4. Always store crystal and glass upright. Do not rest glassware on the delicate glass rim or crowd dishes in the china cupboard.

Minor chips can often be ground off by a china and glass repair service. Check your local listings for a glass shop or service specializing in fine china repair.

5. Just say NO! to the automatic dishwasher when it’s time to clear your crystal from the table.

Harsh modern detergents, high heat, and the risk of jiggling and chipping are good reasons to hand wash your antique and vintage crystal. Wash heirloom crystal separately from other dishes and flatware using fresh warm water. Remove any jewelry from your hands to avoid scratching the surface, and pad the sink with a thick kitchen towel or mat. Use a small amount of liquid dishwashing soap with a sponge or soft cloth. Rinse in warm water and place on a padded countertop to be hand dried with a soft cotton towel. Avoid rubbing any metallic edges or painting.

6. Be aware of temperature differences to avoid shattering.

Glass and crystal are temperature sensitive and may shatter if hot liquids are poured into cool or cold glass, or if cold liquids are poured into warm glass.

7. Many types of modern and vintage glass are durable and dishwasher safe, but accidental chips and scratches can be a risk regardless of how the piece is washed.

Minimize potential damage by careful handling and washing of special items, whether fine crystal or pressed glass.

8. Never use antique or vintage glass or crystal in the microwave or conventional oven.

Even though it may be convenient, don’t risk putting your precious glassware or crystal in the microwave or oven! Better safe than sorry.

9. Added minerals of lead, magnesium, and/or zinc give crystal it’s unique properties.

Lead crystal is undoubtedly beautiful, but many people worry about drinking from glassware that may leach the mineral into their favorite vintage. Studies have shown that alcohol stored in crystal decanters absorbs lead at levels that should be avoided, but beverages are typically consumed within a short window of time minimizing potential risk. Fortunately, modern lead-free crystal aims to offer the beauty and strength of fine crystal with the advantage of eliminating health concerns, and the bonus of making the crystal dishwasher safe.


Explore More Family History Home:

Caring for Heirloom Linens

Caring for Clocks and Watches

Saving Photos from Magnetic Photo Albums


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