Sleek and silver mercury glass shines for the season.
Holiday Shimmer

If you want to add a little sparkle to your home during the holiday season, consider decorating with pieces of mercury glass.

Like many collectors, Kim Rogers is mesmerized by its luster. "From the beginning, I was attracted to the refinements of mercury glass. It has sheen to it, yet it's not flashy or new," she says.

All That Glitters
Mercury glass projects the same sense of volume, color, and sheen as silver. But unlike silver, it is surprisingly lightweight and does not require polishing. Frequently referred to as "silvered glass" (it doesn't contain mercury), mercury glass is fragile and often difficult to find in pristine condition. Painted pieces, in particular, usually have some peeling. However this imperfection is not a deterrent to collectors such as Kim. "The beauty of mercury glass is that no two pieces are alike because they are handmade, hand-painted objects," she enthuses. "Some of my pieces are crooked, have bubbles in them, and often peel, but that just makes them more beautiful."

A sophisticated metallic veneer and simple shapes make mercury glass the perfect holiday accessory. As Kim attests, "Every room needs a little bit of luster."

Collectors' Tips

  • Although mercury glass provides the sheen of silver without the polishing, it quickly clouds and peels if its seal is broken. To protect your pieces from damage and oxidization, replace a missing seal with malleable wax or a wine cork shaved to fit.
  • Untarnished mercury glass has more monetary value, but the majority of objects on the antiques market are tarnished. Decorated and/or colored pieces tend to fetch higher prices than plain ones.
  • Some makers stamped their glasswork, but these pieces are exceedingly rare. Virtually all the mercury glass on the market today is unmarked.
  • If you are more interested in look than authenticity, contemporary versions are available--especially gazing balls, lamps, and Christmas ornaments.

"Holiday Shimmer" is from the December 2004 issue of Southern Living.