One of the most unusual types of antique glass that collectors can investigate, Vaseline glass is absolutely fascinating due to its color, history, and radioactive components. This incredible glass has certain chemical properties that actually allow it to glow in the dark under a black light.
What Is Vaseline Glass?
Vaseline glass gets its name from its yellowish color that looks similar to petroleum jelly. It's also known as uranium glass, due to the fact that there is uranium dioxide in each piece of Vaseline glass. The uranium dioxide gives it the distinctive yellow-green color.
The term "Vaseline glass" is used in other countries to refer to different glass formulations:
- In Australia, Vaseline glass is the name for glass with an opalescent rim. Glass that contains uranium is actually called uranium or citron glass.
- Glass makers and collectors in the United Kingdom use the term Vaseline glass for glass that is opalescent. This type of Vaseline glass is called "Primrose Pearline."
Safety of Vaseline Glass
Because Vaseline glass contains uranium, many people wonder if it's dangerous. As long as you use it properly, Vaseline glass is safe to have in your home.
Vaseline Glass Is Radioactive
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vaseline glass is one of a few antiques that are considered radioactive. The uranium used in the glass was important for its color, but it also makes the glass slightly radioactive.
Vaseline Glass Is Safer Than Household Electronics
Although Vaseline glass does have some tiny degree of radioactivity to it, but not in levels that would be harmful to humans. The glow is also not caused by radiation but because ultraviolet light causes the electrons in the glass to become excited and emit photons. Vaseline glass was reported to be safe by the U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission in a 2001 report that examined the potential for harm and found that you're more likely to be exposed to higher radiation from everyday household electronic items than you are displaying Vaseline glass in your home.
You Shouldn't Eat or Drink From Vaseline Glass
Even though the radiation levels in Vaseline glass are low, the EPA suggests that people refrain from eating or drinking out of items made from this material. That's because it could be possible to ingest small chips or fragments of the radioactive material.
Vaseline Glass History
Uranium dioxide has been used to make glass for centuries and pieces have been found as old as from 79 A.D. It became popular to add uranium dioxide to glass in the 1830s and an interest in Vaseline glass boomed around the 1880s. Some of the most common glassmakers were Adams & Company, Steuben Glass, Baccarat and Cambridge Glass Company. Vaseline glass makers began with the yellow pieces and eventually added in iron oxide to make pieces with the green color, which were referred to as uranium glass. Technically, the yellow and green pieces are both uranium glass.
The glass faded in popularity after the 1920s as regulations were enacted in 1943, heavily restricting the use of uranium due to its use in World War II. This lasted until 1958 when the laws were loosened and glass makers began producing Vaseline glass again in limited quantities, but in 1970, the EPA reports that all US manufacturers ceased production of radioactive glass. Some uranium glass is still made overseas.
How to Identify Vaseline Glass
You can identify Vaseline glass primarily by its color and whether it can glow under a black light. Vaseline glass collectors have popularized a saying regarding the glass: "If it doesn't glow green, it's not Vaseline." These tips can help you identify true Vaseline glass:
- Color - Examine the color. The glass can range in color from a bright yellow to a greenish-yellow shade.
- Glow - When placed under ultraviolet or fluorescent light, it should glow a bright green color.
- Texture - Take a look at the texture. The glass is usually translucent and has been described as having an "oily" look to it.
- Type - Know the types of piece. Vaseline and uranium glass pieces tended to be dishware, pitchers, mugs, antique bottles, vases, chandeliers, jewelry, and figurines.
Vaseline Glass vs. Depression Glass
There are a couple of other types of antique glass that people confuse with Vaseline glass. One of these is depression glass, which was popular around the same time period as Vaseline glass, and many of the same companies manufactured it. It can often be mistaken for Vaseline glass because it tends to be translucent and can have a green or yellow tint to it. However, it is only considered Vaseline glass if it has the distinctive yellowish to yellow-green coloration. Depression glass came in an extensive array of colors like red, pink, purple, blue, white and black.
Vaseline Glass vs. Custard Glass
Custard glass is another type of yellow glass that was popular during the same time period. It also is made with uranium and will glow under an ultraviolet light. However, custard glass has an opaque rather than translucent appearance. It also has a "fire test" that collectors can use to identify it. If a piece of custard glass is held up to light, a reddish opalescence sheen should appear. This does not happen with Vaseline glass, so it's a good way to tell the two apart.
Vaseline Glass Values
Many individual pieces of Vaseline glass sell in the range of $20 to $50, but they can be worth more or less depending on a number of factors. The condition of the piece is very important, with scratches, chips, and repairs having a negative effect on value. Older items tend to be more valuable than newer pieces, all other factors being equal. Additionally, rare pieces, such as those with multiple colors of glass or featuring unique and interesting designs, can fetch much more than average.
The best way to know if a piece of Vaseline glass is valuable is to look at the recent sales prices for similar items. Here are some sample values for Vaseline glass pieces:
- A pair of vintage Vaseline glass candlesticks in good condition sold for $40 in April 2021. They were a simple design.
- A Vaseline glass dish in the shape of a fan sold for about $75 in April 2021. It was in excellent condition and featured a pretty decorative motif.
- A multicolored Vaseline glass epergne in the shape of three trumpet flowers sold for more than $1,000 in March 2021. It dated to 1890 and was in excellent condition.
Building a Glowing Collection of Vaseline Glass
While some collectors enjoy finding Vaseline glass pieces for their novelty, others enjoy the glass for its unique beauty and coloration. If you want to start looking for Vaseline glass pieces at your local antique store, make sure you bring a black light flashlight along with you to test out its glowing properties. You'll be surprised at the beauty you discover. And if you think you'd be interested in other unconventional glass collectibles, you might enjoy learning about antique glass insulators.