Crystal stemware marks go unnoticed on most pieces of fine glassware, but stemware is often marked with an acid etch on the bottom, sometimes around the rim of the foot and sometimes in the center of the foot. The stem or the bottom of the bowl may be marked on pressed glass stems. You may be surprised to find that your crystal or glass stems are marked with an initial or entire word, or that they contain coded numbers and letters that identify the maker and sometimes the designer.
Look at the bottom of a crystal stem with a magnifying glass or loupe. Use the magnifier to locate any maker's marks, and use the loupe to read the marks if they are not readable with the magnifier. Check along the edge of the foot as well as the center, as these are the common marking areas. Once you find a mark, you may recognize it instantly as the full name of the maker etched onto the stem. This is common with Fostoria glass or the English crystal makers, Stuart and Waterford.
Steuben glass is usually marked with a stylus in script, and the writing is less than 1 inch wide. Orrefors and Kosta also mark crystal with a stylus and often Orrefors is marked only OF followed by numbers. These Swedish glass companies use a series of numbers to identify date and designer and provide more coded information than American crystal.
Identify the crystal stemware markings with books and online research. Bob Page and Dale Fredericksen, of Replacements fame, are the leaders in crystal stemware identification information, and they authored "Crystal Stemware Identification Guide" in 1997. It is a good starting point. Online research for the exact name or initials on the stemware can also be helpful, and there are identification guides for specific companies, with line drawings of company shapes, cuttings and etchings, for individual makers.
Locate the name of the cutting or etching to complete the identification of crystal stemware. Although the base of American stemware may identify the maker and designer, the shape and etching names were likely on labels that disappeared in the first washing.
The shape has a name or number, and the cutting or etching will also have a name or number. To further confuse, there are different blanks with the same etching, so the shape may not be the correct one for identification of the stem. Some of the shapes and etchings are so similar that identification is a challenge. The "Crystal Stemware Identification Guide" has line drawings of the shapes and etchings alphabetized by maker, so if you know the maker of the crystal, check line drawings or photos of glassware produced by that company.
The Replacements website (see Resources) has photos and line drawings of crystal stemware with names of cuttings and etchings. Once you select the name of the company, click on the blue image gallery line to the left to speed the research.
Identify crystal stemware with no markings by narrowing the search. Try to identify the era or age of the stemware and work with that knowledge by refining research to the era. Crystal stemware is a designer product that has followed fashion trends. "Glass design closely mirrors furniture design," Harry Rinker tells us in "Stemware of the 20th Century: Top 200 Patterns." Thin, delicate hand-blown stemware was popular from about 1915 to 1960, when heavy colorful stems became fashionable and remained in favor until after the American Bicentennial. By 1980, clear pressed crystal of a medium weight was in vogue.
For example, Depression-era crystal stemware was often produced in pale transparent colors, so a pale pink thin stem with an etched design would likely be a Depression-era pattern.
Narrow the research by color or style, and sometimes recognition of similar stems will lead to the manufacturer's name. Unmarked stemware is a challenge, because there are so many different makers, cuts, etchings, eras and colors. Persistence helps.
Take an unknown crystal stem when visiting antiques or collectibles stores or shows, and ask for help. Many glass experts are willing to share information and ideas, and are a free source for identification of crystal stemware and glass.