U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
National Center for Cultural Stewardship and Partnerships
Heritage Preservation Services Division
Technical Preservation Services
"Stained glass" can mean colored, painted or enameled glass, or glass tinted with true glass "stains." In this Brief the term refers to both colored and painted glass. "Leaded glass" refers generically to all glass assemblies held in place by lead, copper, or zinc cames. Because the construction, protection, and repair techniques of leaded glass units are similar, whether the glass itself is colored or clear, "stained glass" and "leaded glass" are used interchangeably throughout the text.
Glass is a highly versatile medium. In its molten state, it can be spun, blown, rolled, cast in any shape, and given any color. Once cooled, it can be polished, beveled, chipped, etched, engraved, or painted. Of all the decorative effects possible with glass, however, none is more impressive than "stained glass." Since the days of ancient Rome, stained glass in windows and other building elements has shaped and colored light in infinite ways.
Stained and leaded glass can be found throughout America in a dazzling variety of colors, patterns, and textures (Fig. 1). It appears in windows, doors, ceilings, fanlights, sidelights, light fixtures, and other glazed features found in historic buildings (Fig. 2). It appears in all building types and architectural styles-embellishing the light in a great cathedral, or adding a touch of decoration to the smallest row house or bungalow. A number of notable churches, large mansions, civic buildings, and other prominent buildings boast windows or ceilings by LaFarge, Tiffany, Connick, or one of many other, lesser-known, American masters, but stained or leaded glass also appears as a prominent feature in great numbers of houses built between the Civil War and the Great Depression.
This Brief gives a short history of stained and leaded glass in America. It also surveys basic preservation and documentation issues facing owners of buildings with leaded glass. It addresses common causes of deterioration and presents repair, restoration, and protection options. It does not offer detailed advice on specific work treatments. Glass is one of the most durable, yet fragile building materials. While stained glass windows can last for centuries, as the great cathedrals of Europe attest, they can be instantly destroyed by vandals or by careless workmen. Extreme care must therefore be exercised, even in the most minor work. For this reason, virtually all repair or restoration work undertaken on stained and
leaded glass must be done by professionals, whether the feature is a magnificent stained glass window or a clear, leaded glass storefront transom. Before undertaking any repair work, building owners or project managers should screen studios carefully, check references, inspect other projects, and require duplicate documentation of any work so that full records can be maintained. Consultants should be employed on major projects.
Glassblowers were among the founders of Jamestown in 1607, and early glass manufacturing was also attempted in 17th-century Boston and Philadelphia. Dutch colonists in the New Netherlands enjoyed painted oval or circular medallions that bore the family's coat of arms or illustrated Dutch proverbs. German colonists in the mid-Atlantic region also began early glass ventures. Despite the availability of good natural ingredients, each of these early American glassmakers eventually failed due to production and managerial difficulties. As a result, colonists imported most of their glass from England throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Social values as well as high costs also restricted the use of stained and other ornamental glass. This was particularly true with regard to churches. The Puritans, who settled New England, rejected the religious imagery of the Church of England, and built simple, unadorned churches with clear glass windows. Consequently, not much glass remains from the colonial and early national periods. Less than 1% of the Nation's stained and leaded glass predates 1700. Considering the enormous loss of 17th-, 18th-, and early 19th-century buildings, any window glass surviving from these periods is very significant (Fig. 3). Every effort should be made to document and preserve it.
Despite many failed starts, the War of 1812, and British competition, American glass production increased steadily throughout the 19th century. Stained glass was available on a very limited basis in America during the first quarter of the 19th century, but American stained glass did not really emerge in its own right until the 1840s. The windows at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York, made by John and William Jay Bolton between 1843 and 1848, are perhaps the most significant early American stained glass installation (Fig. 4). Other important early stained glass commissions were the glass ceilings produced by the J. & G. H. Gibson Company of Philadelphia for the House and Senate chambers of the United States Capitol in 1859.
America's glass industry boomed during the second half of the 19th century. (And although stained and leaded glass is found nationwide, the manufacturing was based in the Northeast and Midwest, where good natural ingredients for glass, and coal reserves for the kilns were available. Moreover, nearly all of the nationally renowned studios were based in major metropolitan areas of the central and northeastern states-near the manufacturers that supplied their raw materials.) In response to this growth, the industry formed self-regulating associations that established guidelines for business and production. In 1879 the Window
Glass Association of America was established, and in 1903 The National Ornamental Glass Manufacturers' Association, precursor of the Stained Glass Association in America, was formed.
The 60 years from about 1870 to 1930 were the high point for stained glass in the U.S. In the early years, American stylistic demands reflected those current in Europe, including various historic revivals, and aesthetic and geometric patterns. American patterns prevailed thereafter; they tended to be more vivid, brash, and bold (Fig. 5).
After the 1893 Columbia World's Exposition, the Art Nouveau Style became the rage for windows. Sinuous nymphs, leggy maidens, whiplashed curves, lilies, and brambles became standard subjects until World War I. Among the leading proponents of the Art Nouveau Style were glassmakers John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Both men experimented independently throughout the 1870s to develop opalescent glass, which LaFarge was first to incorporate into his windows. Tiffany became the better-known, due in part to his prolific output. He attracted world-class artists and innovative glassmakers to his studio, which produced over 25,000 windows. Today, "Tiffany" remains a household name. His favorite and most popular scenes were naturalistic images of flowers, colorful peacocks and cockatiels, and landscapes at sunrise and sunset (Fig. 6). LaFarge, while appreciated in his own day, gradually slid into relative obscurity, from which he has emerged in recent decades. Tiffany and LaFarge are the greatest names in American stained glass.
In dramatic contrast to the American Art Nouveau style was the Neo-Gothic movement that became so popular for church and university architecture across the country. Charles J. Connick was a leading designer of medieval-style windows characteristic of the style (Fig. 7).
Advocates of the Prairie Style, of whom Frank Lloyd Wright is the best known, rejected Tiffany's naturalistic scenes and Connick's Gothic imitations. (Fig. 8). Wright's rectilinear organic abstractions developed simultaneously with the similar aesthetic of the various European Secessionists. The creation of this style was aided by the development of zinc and copper cames in 1893. These cames-much stiffer than lead-made it possible to carry out the linear designs of Prairie School windows with fewer support bars to interfere with the design. At first, these windows had only an elitist following, but they were soon widely accepted and proliferated during the early 20th century.
By 1900, stained and leaded glass was being mass-produced and was available to almost everyone. Leading home journals touted leaded glass windows for domestic use, and a nationwide building boom created an unprecedented demand for stained and leaded art glass windows, door panels, and transoms. Mail order catalogs from sash and blind companies appeared, some offering over 100 low-cost, mass produced designs (although the same catalogs assured buyers that their leaded glass was "made to order") (Fig. 9).
The fading popularity of the ornate Victorian styles, combined with inferior materials used for mass production, and America's entry into World War I (which reduced the availability of lead), essentially eliminated the production of quality leaded glass. The last mail order catalogs featuring stained glass were published in the mid-1920s, and tastes changed to the point that the 1926 House Beautiful Building Annual declared: "the crude stained glass windows in many of the Mansard-roof mansions of the 'eighties [1880s] prove how dreadful glass can be when wrongly used." The great age of stained glass was over. However, leaded glass panels have survived in uncounted numbers throughout the country, and are now once again appreciated as major features of historic buildings.
Before deciding on any treatment for historic leaded glass, every effort should be made to understand-and to record-its history and composition. Documentation is strongly encouraged for significant windows and other elements. Assigning an accurate date, maker, and style to a stained glass window often requires extensive research and professional help. A documentation and recording project, however, is worth the effort and expense, as insurance against accidents, vandalism, fire and other disasters. The better the information available, the better the restoration can be. The following sources offer some guidelines for dating leaded windows.
Building Context. The history of the building can provide ready clues to the history of its leaded windows, doors, and other elements. The construction date, and dates of major additions and alterations, should be ascertained. Later building campaigns may have been a time for reglazing. This is especially the case with churches and temples. They were often built with openings glazed with clear leaded glass. Stained glass was added later as finances allowed. Conversely, the windows may be earlier than the building. They may have been removed from one structure and installed in another (once again, this is more likely with religious structures). Bills, inventories, and other written documents often give clues to the date and composition of leaded glass. Religious congregations, fraternal lodges, and other organizations may have written histories that can aid a researcher.
Inscriptions and Signatures. Many studios and artists affixed signature plates to their work-often at the lower right hand corner. In the case of Tiffany windows, the signature evolved through several distinct phases, and helps date the piece within a few years: Tiffany Glass Company (1886-1892), Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company (with address, 1892-1902), Tiffany Studios New York or Louis C. Tiffany (post 1902). (Tiffany Studios, like others, did not always sign pieces and the absence of an inscription cannot be used to rule out a particular studio or artist.) Windows may feature dated plaques commemorating a donor. However, these do not always indicate the date of the window, since windows were often installed before a donor was found. Nevertheless, these features help establish a reasonable date range.
Composition and Other Stylistic Elements. These elements are more subjective, and call for a fairly broad knowledge of architecture and art history. Do the windows fit the general style of the building? The style of the window may point to a general stylistic period (e.g., Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Prairie School). The imagery or iconography of the windows may also reveal their overall historical context and establish a general time period (Fig. 10).
Framing and Surround. Framing elements and the window surround can reveal information central to dating the window. Do moldings match other interior trim? Has the opening been altered? Is the window set in an iron frame (post-1850s), a steel frame (generally post-World War I), a cast stone frame (seen as early as the 1880s, but popular after 1900), or a terra cotta frame (generally after 1900)?
Reinforcement and Leading Details. Does the window or other element have round bars or flat bars? Flat bars began to appear about 1890; round bars, used since the Middle Ages, remained in use until the 1920s, when flat bars supplanted them. Cames can also give dating clues. Zinc cames, for example, developed by a midwestern company in association with Frank Lloyd Wright, first appeared in 1893. In general, however, dating a window by the came alone is difficult. Over one hundred varieties of lead came were available in the early 20th century. Moreover, came was sometimes produced to look old. Henderson's Antique Leading from the 1920s was made "to resemble the old hand wrought lead" and also carried "easy-fix" clip-on Georgian-style ornaments.
Glass. The glass itself can help in dating a window. Opalescent glass, for instance, was patented by John LaFarge in 1880. Tiffany patented two variations on LaFarge's technique in the same year. (Opalescent glass is translucent, with variegated colors resulting from internally refracted light. It features milky colored streaks.) Pre-1880 glass is usually smooth translucent colored glass (painted or not); glass with bold, deep colors is typical of the 1880s and 1890s, along with jewels, drapery glass and rippled glass. But such flamboyance faded out with the rest of Victoriana by about 1905. However, stained glass styles of the late 19th century continued to appear in ecclesiastical buildings after they passed from general fashion. Leaded beveled plate glass was popular in residential architecture after 1890, and was used profusely until the 1920s.
The level of documentation warranted depends upon the significance of the window, but it is very important to document repair and restoration projects before, during, and after project work. Photographs will normally suffice for most windows (see "Photographing Stained Glass Windows" on page ). For highly significant windows (generally, those which were not mass produced), rubbings as well as written documentation are recommended. The leading patterns in such windows are complex, particularly in plated windows (which have several layers). Rubbings are therefore encouraged for each layer; they are invaluable if a disaster strikes and reconstruction is required. Annotated rubbings of the leadwork should be done with a wax stone on acid-free vellum.
To document windows properly, inscriptions should be recorded word for word, including misspellings, peculiarities in type style, and other details. Names and inscriptions in or on windows can indicate ethnic heritage, particularly in churches or civic structures where windows often reflect styles and themes from the congregation's or community's origins. Lastly, any conjectural information should be clearly noted as such.
Windows should be photographed with daylight color slide film and black & white film in both transmitted and reflected light. Significant windows should be recorded with a positive color film, such as Kodachrome, with a low ISO, since it is more stable, and images should be printed on Resin-Coated paper. Black & white images should be printed on fiber-based paper to be considered archival. Photographing stained glass from the interior is not difficult if a few basic pieces of equipment are used and if a few simple rules are observed. A strong tripod, shutter cable release, light meter, and camera with through-the-lens metering will make the job easier. The key is to photograph windows in even, moderate daylight with the interior dimmed (lights off and, if necessary, with the other windows covered). Although some stained glass is dazzling in sunlight, the camera lens and film react differently from the human eye, which can quickly equalize the high contrast of light and dark glass. Film cannot discriminate this intense contrast, and the result can be a washed-out exposure or "hot spots." A light meter should be used to average out variations within the window, with special consideration for the focal point or most important feature of the window, such as a face. Since there is no precise formula for obtaining a balanced exposure, shots should be bracketed three to five shutter speeds up and down to find the best exposure. When photographing on sunny days, shoot away from the sun; shoot eastern windows in the afternoon, western windows in the morning, southern windows at either time, and northern windows at midday. The glass should also be photographed from the inside with reflected light from a flash (positioned away from the camera to provide a raking light and to avoid reflected "hot spots"). Although photographing with a flash will neutralize the transmitted light and black out the glass, interior photography is valuable because it reveals the location and condition of the cames, braces, tie-wires, and other elements. Shoot the windows as centered and straight on as possible to minimize distortion and to keep the window frames from blocking details. Windows should also be photographed from the outside if there is no protective glazing to interfere with the view. This is particularly important with opalescent glass, which was often meant to be read from the exterior as well. As a final note, to photograph glass consistently well, it is essential to limit the variables (by using the same film, camera, and lenses), and to record the camera settings, to compare with the developed pictures and to adjust accordingly next time.
Three elements of leaded glass units are prone to damage and deterioration: the glass itself; the decorative elements (mostly applied paint); and the structural system supporting the glass.
Glass is virtually immune to natural deterioration. Most American glass is quite stable-due to changes in glass composition made in the mid-19th century, particularly the increased silica content and the use of soda lime instead of potash as a source of alkali. Rarely, however, glass impurities or poor processing can cause problems, such as minor discoloration or tiny internal fractures (particularly in opalescent glass). And all glass can be darkened by dirt; this can often be removed (see "Cleaning" on page ). However, while glass does not normally deteriorate, it is susceptible to scratching or etching by abrasion or chemicals, and to breakage.
The greatest cause of breakage or fracture is physical impact. Leaded glass in doors, sidelights, and low windows is particularly susceptible to breakage from accidents or vandalism. When set in operable doors or windows, leaded glass can crack or weaken from excessive force, vibration, and eventually even from normal use. Cracks can also result from improperly set nails or points that hold the window in the frame, or more rarely, by structural movement within the building. Leaded glass that is improperly annealed can crack on its own from internal stress. (Annealing is the process by which the heated glass is slowly cooled; the process is akin to tempering metal.) Glass can also disintegrate from chemical instability or the intense heat of a fire. Finally, windows assembled with long, narrow, angular pieces of glass are inherently prone to cracking. Often the cause of the cracks can be determined by the path they travel: cracks from impact typically radiate straight from the source. Stress cracks caused by heat or improper annealing will travel an irregular path and change direction sharply.
Painted glass, typically associated with pictorial scenes and figures found in church windows, often presents serious preservation challenges. If fired improperly, or if poor quality mixtures were used, painted glass is especially vulnerable to weathering and condensation. Some studios were notorious for poorly fired paints (particularly those working with opalescent glass), while others had outstanding reputations for durable painted glass. Paints can be applied cold on the glass or fused in a kiln. Since they are produced from ground glass, enamels do not "fade," as often suggested, but rather flake off in particles. Several steps in the painting process can produce fragile paint that is susceptible to flaking. If applied too thick, the paint may not fuse properly to the glass, leaving small bubbles on the surface. This condition, sometimes called "frying," can also result from poor paint mixtures or retouching. Paint failure is more commonly caused by under firing (i.e., baking the glass either at too low a temperature or for too little time). Unfortunately, in American stained glass, the enamels used to simulate flesh tones were typically generated from several layers that were fired at too low a temperature. This means the most difficult features to replicate-faces, hands and feet-are often the first to flake away (Fig. 11).
The greatest and the most common threat to leaded glass is deterioration of the skeletal structure that holds the glass. The structure consists of frame members, and lead or zinc (and occasionally brass or copper) came that secures individual pieces of glass. Frame members include wood sash and muntins that decay, steel t-bars and "saddle bars" that corrode, and terra cotta or stone tracery that can fracture and spall (Fig. 12). When frames fail, leaded glass sags and cracks due to insufficient bracing; it may even fall out from wind pressure or vibration.
Wood sash are nearly always used for residential windows and are common in many institutional windows as well. Left unprotected, wood and glazing compounds decay over time from moisture and exposure to sunlight-with or without protective storm glazing-allowing glass to fall out.
Steel frames and saddle bars (braces) corrode when not maintained, which accelerates the deterioration of the glazing compound and loosens the glass. Moreover, operable steel ventilators and windows are designed to tight tolerances. Neglect can lead to problems. Eventually, they either fail to close snugly, or corrode completely shut. The leaded glass is then frequently reinstalled in aluminum window units, which require wider sections for equal strength and typically trim an inch or more off the glass border. Instead of relocating glass in aluminum frames, historic steel frames should be repaired. Often the corrosion is superficial; frames in this condition need prepping, painting with a good zinc-enriched paint, and realigning in the frame.
Masonry frames typically last a long time with few problems, but removing leaded glass panels set in hardened putty or mortar can be nearly impossible; as a last resort, glass borders may have to be sacrificed to remove the window.
Occasionally, leaded glass was designed or fabricated with inadequate bracing; this results in bulging or bowing panels; leaded panels should generally not exceed 14 linear feet (4.25 m) around the perimeter without support. More often, the placement of bracing is adequate, but the tie-wires that attach the leaded panels to the primary frame may be broken or disconnected at the solder joints.
Lead and zinc cames are the two most common assembly materials used in stained and other "leaded" glass. The strength and durability of the leaded panel assembly depends upon the type of came, the quality of the craftsmanship, and the glazing concept or design, as well as on the metallic composition of the cames, their cross-section strength, how well they are joined and soldered, and the leading pattern within each panel. Came is prone to natural deterioration from weathering and from thermal expansion and contraction, which causes metal fatigue.
The inherent strength of the assembly system is also related to the cross-section, profile and internal construction of the came (Fig. 13). Came can have a flat, rounded, or "colonial" profile, and aside from a few specialty and perimeter cames (U-channel), is based on a variation of the letter "H" and ranges from _" (3.2mm) wide to 1?" (38mm) wide. The cross-section strength of came varies depending on the thickness of the heart and flanges. Occasionally, came with reinforced (double) hearts or a steel core was used for rigidity. Such came added strength at the expense of flexibility and was typically used for rectilinear designs, or for strategically placed reinforcement within a curvilinear design.
How the cames are joined in a leaded panel is crucial to their long-term performance. Poor craftsmanship leads to a weak assembly and premature failure, while panels fabricated with interlocking (weaving) cames and lapped leads add strength. Soldered joints often reveal the skill level of the artisan who assembled the window, and can give evidence of past repairs. Solder joints should be neat and contact the heart of the came-wherein lies its greatest strength. Came joints should be examined closely; large globs of solder commonly conceal cames that do not meet. (Lead cames typically crack or break along the outside edge of the solder joint; stronger zinc cames frequently break the solder itself where it bridges junctures.) Weak joints contribute to a loose glass housing, and if glass rattles in the cames when the window is gently tapped, it is an indicator that repair or restoration is needed.
Leading patterns designed with inadequate support also contribute to structural failure. Panels with a series of adjacent parallel lines tend to hinge or "accordion," while lines radiating in concentric circles tend to telescope into a bulge. Stronger leading techniques, support bars, or specialty cames are sometimes required to correct poor original design. Minor sagging and bulging is to be expected in an old window and may not require immediate action. However, when bulges exceed 1?" (38mm) out of plane, they cross into a precarious realm; at that point, glass pieces can crack from severe sagging and pressure. If the bulged area moves when pressed gently, or if surrounding glass is breaking, it is time to address the problem before serious failure results.
Lead Came: Lead is a soft malleable metal (it can be scratched with a fingernail). It naturally produces a protective dark bluish-gray patina. In the mid-19th century, improved smelting processes enabled manufacturers to extract valuable metal impurities from lead, thereby producing 100% pure lead came. The industry reasoned that 100% pure lead came was superior to the less pure variety. Although pure lead came is very workable and contributes to intricate designs, time has proven it to be less durable than medieval came, which contained trace elements of tin, copper, silver, and antimony. Unfortunately, the misconception that pure lead had greater longevity continued throughout the glory years of leaded glass use in America. Most glass conservators use a 100-year rule of thumb for the life expectancy of 19th century came-less for came produced during war times. The demand for lead ammunition and the resulting scarcity of lead required studios to stretch the available lead to its limits, thus resulting in weaker cames. In the 1970s "restoration lead" (ASTM B29-84) was developed based on metallurgic analyses of medieval cames, some of which have lasted for centuries. Restoration lead should always be used when releading historic windows.
Zinc Came: Zinc came is more vulnerable to atmospheric corrosion (particularly from sulfuric acids) than lead, but has proven to be durable in America because it weighs 40% less than lead and its coefficient of expansion is 7% lower. Thus, it is somewhat less susceptible to fatigue from expansion and contraction. Moreover, it is ten times harder than lead, and has three times the tensile strength. Zinc came is strong enough to be self-supporting and requires little bracing to interrupt the window's design. While zinc came is perfect for the geometric designs of Prairie School windows, it is usually too stiff to employ in very curvilinear designs. Zinc can also take several finishes, including a copper or black finish. (As a result, zinc can be mistaken for copper or brass.)
Other Came: Other metals, primarily solid brass and copper, were also occasionally employed as came. They are generally found only in windows between ca. 1890 and ca. 1920. <Back to Tips & Techniques