You're standing in a thrift shop where the 19th century chairs are piled high and every antique sideboard is supporting double its weight in trays, lamps, and tchotchkes. In your periphery, you spot a many-colored glass vase on a shelf. In your breathless awe, you suspect it might be original Murano glass. How can you tell?
Murano glass — like Roquefort or Champagne — refers only to glass objects produced in a certain region: Murano, a series of islands off the coast of Venice, Italy. The practice of glassmaking in this region dates to the late 13th century, when a law mandated the glass workshops move from Venice to Murano to spare the heavily-wooded city the risk of fires. There, within Murano's seven isles, glassmakers originated multitudes of styles of glass masterpieces, such as opaque milk glass ("lattimo"), multicolored flower-like patterned beads or bowls ("millefiori"), filigree lamp shades, and ombré, two-toned vases ("sommerso"). These glassmaking innovations in decorative objects, chandeliers, drinking glasses, vases, and more, have made Murano glass the GOAT, the most prestigious brand in glassware.
Most vintage and glassware sellers will go through the trouble of verifying whether their wares are true Murano glass or otherwise in the style of Murano and tag the object as such. After all, it's in a reseller's best interest to note the artist and method to set a proper price for their product. However, for all the information (and imitations) out there, it can be hard to confirm that a piece is the product of revered and protected Murano glassmaking, especially if it was made before 1980, when a law required that a certificate of authentication accompany each Murano-made creation.
So how do you identify true Murano glass?
Don't be afraid to ask questions about the piece's age, production technique, and origin. If the alleged Murano glass was produced after 1980, the seller should have documentation that includes its maker, materials, and production process. If it predates the certification system, there are other indicators.
Look out for labels, signatures, and identifying marks. Stickers with the specific workshop or factory name used to be a solid sign of authenticity, but counterfeit stickers are even easier to produce than counterfeit glass. As such, imitations might also bear labels like "Made in Italy," "Made in Venice," or "Made in Murano," where the use of English is a giveaway. It's worth a quick Google image search to compare your object's label to that of art glass in the same style and by the same glassmaker as listed and sold on a certified Murano antiques website. While different Murano makers might use different stickers for their art glass, any labels (fonts, coloring, materials) should be consistent by artist or workshop.
Look for a signature of the artist. Glassmakers would often sign their name in their glass creation before it hardened. If it looks like a signature has been carved into the glass after hardening (leaving a frayed or brittle impact), it's likely not original Murano glass. After all, what kind of legit Murano glassmaker would deface their work like that? You may also want to confirm that the artist name imprinted blows glass in Murano. Of course, this signing practice is not common to Venetian drinking goblets, mirrors, or chandeliers.
Don't forget to check the price tag; this is another clue! Real Murano glass is costly to reflect the quality materials and time. The listed price should also align with similar art glass you can find on sale at verified Murano glass retailers.
Suspected Murano art glass that you spot in the wild may well have had its markings and labels shaken off in the changing of hands over the years. In that event, you have to inspect the glass you hold for certain characteristics of genuine Murano glass craftsmanship.
One of the first things the human brain registers when taking in an object is color. For art glass, bright and striking color can vouch for the Murano real deal. The vibrant hues of Murano glass come from the expert layering techniques that have been passed down since the 13th century and are not easily duplicated. An art glass's wan color would signal a poor dupe. Intensity of color is the Murano glass signature.
Murano glassmakers pioneered the infusion of the finest materials, including precious metals, semi-precious stones, or rare gems, in their glossy works of art. Any gold you see in the object should be 24-karat; real agate should be translucent and have multicolored bands; and real alexandrite costs $15,000 per carat and would certainly impact the price of the art glass.
Even with the highest of standards in quality, authentic Murano glass has its flaws. Because authentic Murano glass is made by hand, you can expect imperfections — asymmetry, bubbles, and variation in colors and materials. Some Murano glass objects will even have a Pontil mark, a raised area on its underside that marks where the glassmaker detached the metal rod from the piece. That said, not all defects are excusable: If the object's colors bleed or the glass itself appears cloudy, these are not common mistakes made by Murano's master glassmakers and should set off your alarm bells.
When it comes down to it, true Murano glass is so special, you can feel it when you behold it. Many who have encountered the work of Murano glassmakers remark that the objects emit a powerful glow. It's this kind of preternatural beauty that makes Murano glassware so special. You might say even the reproductions are worth collecting, provided at a much more accessible price point. Still, nothing compares to the real deal.