Purple and Green

"Japanese Floral" pattern
Take a stroll around our Auchenflower neighborhood and you will notice many colonial and federation era windows fitted with patterned and colored glass, mostly in bottle green or purple with the occasional panes of blue or amber. The ornamental glass is used in doors, door sidelights, fanlights, multi-paned windows and transom windows and they come in a limited range of patterns representing particular manufacturers and periods. In our house the main doors into the central hallway have large, green panes of dimpled “Granite” pattern glass and the drawing and dining room French doors a purple  "Japanese" floral pattern. The glass tints the sunlight and throws the interior of the house in the same tones, making the selection of interior color schemes a challenge.

The technical term for this type of glass is “rolled figured glass” or “cathedral glass” and for federation-era Queenslanders it was a popular choice for the more formal spaces. For some reason the more widespread use of lead lights in NSW and Victorian houses was not adopted in the Brisbane suburbs.

"Granite" pattern
The panes were manufactured by squeezing semi-molten glass between two water-cooled metal rollers where the bottom roller was imprinted with the negative of the pattern and the top roller was smooth. Traces of the process can be seen particularly on the “flat” sides of old panes which are rich in small cracks, undulations and other imperfections giving them a very rustic and organic look - like boiled candy hardened on a marble slab. Due to the chemical impurity and many imperfections the light penetration is low compared to other types of window glass, contributing to the dusky interior of Queenslander houses.

The glass was mainly produced in the UK by the leading manufacturers Chance Brothers in Birmingham and Pilkington in Lancashire. There was no locally manufactured alternative - throughout the 19th century and well into the 1920s all “flat” glass for windows was imported into Australia from Europe. The first Aussie manufacturer was Australian Window Glass in the late 20's followed by Pilkington Australia, both using European technology. Australian Window Glass was the first producer of rolled figured glass starting as late as 1931.

Rowe Bros & Co catalogue, 1907, 
Ornamental glass designs including the 
Figured Rolled Japanese pattern
So the glass in our house was probably made somewhere in the UK and transported by train or canal to one of the major shipping ports. The panes would have been packed for long transport and sent across the world by steamer. At the end of the line it may have been offloaded on one of the wharves along Eagle Street and carted to a local hardware merchant, then to the builder that constructed our house. The glass would have been expensive as well as brittle – particularly the large door panes – and was probably handled with some apprehension. That’s quite a journey for a piece of glass which ended up in a window frame together with hardware made in Pennsylvania US. So when you hear management gurus talking about globalization as a modern phenomenon you will know that they are ignorant of history.

If you have this glass in your house and a pane is broken don't despair - reproductions of some of the common classical patterns are available from good glaziers. The reproductions include the "Jap Floral" patterns  used throughout our sitting and dining rooms which is reassuring to know. I have been told that the new glass is almost identical to the original although the modern version is thicker as it is a laminated product (the patterns are made in clear glass and backed with colored glass to match the traditional tints). And - the new product is perfectly flat on the reverse as opposed to the antique glass. You may be able to find the original product in salvage yards.

The glass in our external doors filters the daylight and floods our central hallway in a bright green. Some have pointed out that the colour is overpowering and they are probably right, but it's been a green hallway for a century and we are not about to change it. One day the panes will break and be replaced with something else, but I’m hoping that will be a project for a future owner.


If you have any additional information or corrections to this post please let me know. 

Key Sources:
- National Library of Australia, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ 
- The Federation House, a Restoration Guide; I. Evans; 1986
- Powerhouse Museum; http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=396683 

3 comments:

  1. I was wondering why so many houses around here have green and purple glass (mine included) and thought perhaps it was a tribute to the Jacaranda trees. Will be following your blog since we hope to start plans for renovating our Auchenflower Queenslander. — Denita

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  2. Hi Denita - good luck with the renovation. Perhaps we could do a short article on your house for the blog? If you're interested just send me a mail and we'll have a chat.

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  3. G'day, thanks for this blog post. I've been searching for purple Japanese pattern rolled glass, as we have some in our 1908 Federation Queen Anne home in Junee NSW. Of course, one panel was smashed years ago and replaced, so I'm on the lookout for a replacement section. Hens' teeth, anyone?! Cheers, Matt

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