Some types of glass already exist in nature, created
by volcanic lava, the impact of lightning or the fall of meteorites. Humans
appreciated its qualities but were unable to reproduce them only many centuries
after learning to melt metals, because making glass was more complex.
Indeed, nothing like glass could score any material and preserve food and drink, while its aesthetic qualities were such that it was long considered precious, for instance in Mesopotamia, several thousand years ago.
Glass was also considered precious because it was so difficult to produce, making use of modified metallurgy techniques. Things changed dramatically in the first century BC when the glass-blowing technique was discovered, probably in Syria. This revolution, comparable to the discovery of plastic, made glass affordable to a wide segment of the population, thanks to the possibility of rapid serial production identical articles, encouraging the larger workshops to set up quite modern organization.
In Tuscany the Etruscans, great masters of iron working as early as the seventh century BC, produced complex glass, which they poured, of course, like metal. It should be noted that today it is not as easy to find ancient glass items as it is to unearth in stone or terracotta, not only because glass was relatively expensive, but also because the first glassmakers soon became aware that broken or scrap glass was much easier to melt than to make new glass by melting sand along with other raw materials and for this reason they were willing to pay to have broken objects collected.
This property makes glass very different from metal and means it is easy to recycle endlessly. So it can be said that the collection points for glass waste are not a modern invention. Indeed our ancestors were probably better than us at recycling. Glass-blowing technique spread throughout the Roman Empire, although the Middle East had some secrets of its own that only reached the Western World centuries later, arriving via major ports like Venice, Genoa or Pisa, and above all following the Crusades. Before that happened, however, the northern European areas whose ancient glassmaking survived the barbarian invasions to be handed down by the monastic orders, allowed its diffusion back to into Europe and it mingled with the new wave of knowledge coming from the Middle East. At the height of the Middle Ages many glass production towns were to be found, not surprisingly, on the main roads between the south and the north of the continent.
Valdelsa, crossed by the Via Francigena, teemed with glass artisans seven to eight centuries ago, thanks to the abundance of water, energy (timber!) and sand that then, as now, were essential for the production of glass. Since then glass has always been produced in the area: from masterpieces like Duccio’s stained glass windows to daily objects exported to the four corners of the globe, like the gambassino glass and the glass flask. It has become a typical product, tied inextricably to the territory’s productions of excellence in the agriculture and later in the scientific and pharmaceutical fields.
In the nineteenth century, artisans began producing objects in lead crystal, a quality material patented by the English three centuries earlier, but previously described by a Florentine, Abbot Neri, in what is considered the first modern glassmaking technical manual printed in Europe: Dell’Arte Vetraria.
Today the tradition of quality Tuscan glass tableware is continued by a number of companies but the leader is undoubtedly RCR which has developed Luxion®, the first real alternative to classic lead crystal.