An industry worth £2.5bn a year to the UK

The glass industry is worth £2.5bn annually to the UK economy and provides many thousands of jobs. Glass is possibly the most malleable of substances; it can be fashioned into shapes and used for more purposes than any other material.

Glass touches every aspect of our daily lives. It is used in everything from drinking glasses and bottles through to smartphones and tablets. It is a truly “green” substance. It is made from natural materials in abundant supply and can be recycled back to more or less its natural state with little or no loss of quality, strength and functionality.

The Glass Sellers Company therefore seeks to support and promote the wider Glass industries. These are: manufacturers of glass, ceramics, bottles, lenses, composites, medical glass, microchips; the Telecoms, Media and Technology sector; sectors which are major users of glass and organisations that provide services to the wider glass industries. Glass is one of the enabling materials in electronics, communications, sensing, medicine, nuclear waste storage and many other fields.

In the beginning:

Naturally occurring glass, especially the volcanic glass obsidian, has been used by many Stone Age societies across the globe for the production of sharp cutting tools and, due to its limited source areas, was extensively traded

The history of glassmaking can be traced back to 3500 BC in Mesopotamia. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first true glass was made in coastal north Syria, Mesopotamia or Ancient Egypt. The earliest known glass objects, of the mid second millennium BC, were beads perhaps initially created as accidental by-products of metal-working (slags) or during the production of faience, a pre-glass vitreous material made by a process similar to glazing. Glass remained a luxury material, and the disasters that overtook Late Bronze Age civilizations seem to have brought glass-making to a halt.

Venetians, in particular, gained a reputation for technical skill and artistic ability in the making of glass bottles and a fair number of the city’s craftsmen left Italy to set up glassworks throughout Europe.

The secret of glass making came to Britain with the Romans. There is evidence of a glass industry in the British Isles, in the area round Jarrow and Wearmouth, dating as far back as 680AD. However, the skills and technology required to make glass were closely guarded by the Romans and it was not until the Roman Empire disintegrated that skills for glass making spread throughout Europe and the Middle East.

The Glass Sellers’ company has supported glass technology since its earliest days. In 1673 it employed George Ravenscroft to carry out research to find a process for the production of English glass and in 1674 “Lead Crystal” was born when he obtained a patent, from Charles II, for a glass with the desirable quality of a resemblance to rockcrystal. This was a major milestone in the history of glass.

The 20th Century:

The Glass Sellers were closely involved in the resurgence of the United Kingdom’s glass technology in the 20th century. In 1915, the first Glass Department to be set up in any university in the world was formed at Sheffield by Professor Turner. Under his dynamic leadership the Society of Glass Technology was founded a year later. In 1993 we were able to make a substantial contribution to a research consortium to help fund Project Plummet whereby British Glass sought an alternative to the traditional lead used in crystal. The project was highly successful and discovered that bismuth was a key component for the technical and aesthetic characteristics of traditional crystal to be retained.

The 21st Century and beyond:

In July 2001, the Company awarded its Prize for technical innovation and evolution to Dr Kevin Sanderson, a Senior Research Scientist with Pilkington plc for his work on a coating which when applied to glass effects a self-cleaning process. Today glass is used in technology, communication, medical instruments and even the manufacture of cars, aircraft and yachts through developments such as Corning® Willow® Glass and Gorilla Glass.

Our involvement with the glass industry encompasses every sub sector. We are actively involved in ensuring the sustainability of the sector through our support for Glass Futures. Our members are drawn from the world of studio glass, container glass and flat glass production and the ever evolving world of telecommunications, media and technology.

The company and technology:

The Company makes the Glass Sellers’ Award for Science & Technology in recognition of a significant advance in the science or technology of glass. The prize is awarded periodically.

Getting involved

We are keen to develop links with individuals and organisations from the wider glass industries. If you are interested in joining our Company or being involved as a sponsor please get in touch.