Custom Framing History: Convex Glass
The Victorians had some serious style. There was no “less is more” mentality in anything they did. Fashion, literature, interior design — it was all about luxury and elegance. When it came to custom framing, Victorians celebrated craftsmanship and displayed beautiful, bold frames that reflected the importance of the art that inhabited the frame. One of their signature moves was to incorporate convex glass in their custom framing designs.
What is Convex Glass?
Commonly referred to as “bubble glass,” convex glass is hand blown glass used for photo portraits, mirrors, and objects. The Georgians started the trend with convex mirrors, and the Victorians decided to take it a step further with portraits, objects, and more. Today, most people find convex glass pieces that were used on portraits between the 1880’s through the 1940’s. The styles varied from early photography to crayon portraits, and sizing ranged anywhere from miniatures to 20” x 24”.
Victorian era frames housing convex glass were exquisite. They were made with a level of craftsmanship that is rare in today’s modern world. Many frames were hand finished, including tiger striped frames, and that gave each one a level of uniqueness. Some frames had embellishments affixed to them. Portraits of soldiers that served in WWI and WWII often had frames that had American Eagles attached to the top of the frame. Couples would often have their portraits taken individually or together and would be displayed as crayon portraits in matching frames.
Convex glass has style with function (a Victorian favorite). This type of glass was fashionable, but it created a unique level of protection to the artwork. It created the perfect amount of airspace for the artwork, protecting the surface from moisture and humidity, and keeping the emulsion and mixed media treatment (oils, pastels, charcoal) off the surface of the glass. Because of this, you’ll discover convex glass on painted porcelain prints, ivory miniatures, and many smaller fashionable antique frames.
This type of glass is thicker and heavier than modern picture framing glass or glazing. In the past, the photographer would sandwich the embellished photograph between a thick paper backing board and the convex glass. The pieces would almost always be secured using six to ten nails, and the weight of the glass was designed to rest against the lip of the frame. Over time, people tend to tip their artwork either straight up or store it by leaning it back against something to support it. The stress against the pressure points would create damage by the remaining nails.
A piece may have damage, but that, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or important today.
Incorporating Convex Glass into Today’s Framing
To this day, convex glass is hand blown for the frame. This means that original convex glazing is valuable and usable. Decor styles may change and frames may suffer damage from poor storage, but you can still purchase and use convex glass today.
Many of the modern reproduction frames are made with MDF (wood composite) or extruded polystyrene foam formed in molds. The original frames are solid wood with plaster or wood embellishments, and they still sell for a respectable price. In fact, many people incorporate convex glass and create a “Modern Victorian” style of interior design. You can use original frames and convex glass for:
- The original artwork (obviously)
- Objects like dried flowers, pinned butterflies, religious images, etc.
- As an anchor in your family wall design
- Replace the original art with another photo, even if it is a modern image
If you want to store the piece until you’re ready to use it, make sure you store it properly. Lean the bubble of the glass into a soft nest of bubble wrap, a pillow, or towels that cushion the glass and support it. This keeps the pressure off the backing of the frame and protects the piece from further damage. If your backing is in fine shape, your piece should be alright. A professional can refit the piece as well as clean the glass and artwork for you. Trying to do this yourself is risky and not recommended (trust us).
If you really hate the frame, but grandma left it to you, find a family member that will cherish it. Your personal taste may be minimalistic, but someone out there has the heart of a true Victorian.
For more custom framing inspiration, check out our article “4 Ways to Use Stacked Frames.”