I’ve never met a category like Late Persian glass. Many people hate it. Many people think it’s all modern junk, made for tourists. Most people – in fact darn near everyone – seems to know almost nothing at all about it. So, due to a happy twist of fate in the summer of 2012 when I was offered what I believe was one of the largest intact collections of Late Persians (outside of the Middle East, at least), I jumped at it. I knew nothing about Late Persians – in fact – I knew nothing about Persia at all.
What I did know – and have come to enjoy even more – is that these are delightful pieces of hand-blown glass, with all of the uniqueness that affords. They come in a variety of rich and wonderful colours, and they come with lip finishes that you will not find anywhere else in the world. They are, in short, delightful.
Where do I find it? Well, the foundational element (just over 100 pieces) came from the collection of Marlena Fairbourne. Marlena was one of the first people (that I’m aware of) who found this fascinating and under-collected glass, and she spent much of the 1990s and 2000s putting together her collection from acquisitions around the world. My casual question in an email to Marlena (“So what IS late persian glass?”) turned into, well, this site, and since then, I’ve been looking all over the world for others. Ebay was a good early source, but the bottles have literally come from all over. I’ve purchased glass from Australia, England, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, India, the USA and of course from here in Canada. There may be a couple more countries, but those ones come quickly to mind. Remember that both wine and rose water were exported from Persian as early as the 1600s and by the trading companies of at least three different nations. Add on top of that the export of glass containers (rose water sprinklers, which seem to have made their way in some number to India, at least) in substantial quantities over 300 years as well, and there’s a lot of it out there, at least ostensibly!
Are there fakes? Absolutely! Even today, I buy new types of fakes to document them, and I get “caught out” buying what I believe are originals, only to learn when they come out of the box that they are 20th or 21st century bottles. It’s very much a learning curve. I’m sure my work will help others avoid some of the pitfalls – but I wouldn’t suggest collecting Late Persians unless you are comfortable buying a lot of fakes in with the originals.
I canvassed some of the major museums that studied glass or Islamic arts, but thus far at least, have found no one who is knowledgeable about this type of glass. In a way, it makes sense. “Late” Persian means “new” Persian – in comparison to Early and Mid-Persian. And really – who wants to study the new stuff when the older stuff is always so much sexier? It might be 17th century glass, but in a country and a culture that boasts of 7th century glass – which would you choose to focus on? And in a region with an estimated 10,000 untouched archaeological sites, dating back before recorded time – which ones do you think will be studied first?
So here we have them…the poor cousins, the youngest siblings, the late-to-the-dining-table Late Persian glass bottles. They may not be gilted, inlaid or wheel-cut like their older siblings, but they still have a story to tell. Hopefully, enough of it will wind up here to make it interesting for visitors.