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What is Vaseline Glass?

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  • Written By: Jenny Rae Armstrong
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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Vaseline Glass has a long history of creating controversy; even its definition has been the source of endless squabbles among enthusiasts worldwide. The American-based Vaseline Glass Collectors, Inc. defines it as “a particular color of yellow-green glass that is made by adding two percent uranium dioxide to the ingredients when the glass is made,” and insists that it will always glow fluorescent green under a blacklight. Collectors in the UK refer to any translucent glass with a greasy luster as Vaseline Glass, and Australians define it as glassware with an opalescent rim. The Germans simplify matters and refer to any glass that glows under a blacklight as uranium glass.

Although there are instances of uranium being used to color glass dating as far back as the Roman Empire, the first major producer of uranium glass was Josef Riedel, who mixed uranium salts into molten glass to turn it a bright yellow-green. He named his creation “Annagelb” (Anna Yellow) in honor of his wife, but it was commonly referred to as canary glass. It wasn’t until early in the twentieth century, when people noticed the glass’s similarity in color and appearance to recently invented petroleum jelly, that the term “Vaseline Glass” began to take hold.

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Vaseline glass is mildly radioactive, but does not contain enough uranium to be harmful. It is said that many glassblowers who worked with uranium glass, especially during its heyday in the Victorian Era, died young of lung cancer, but medical experts dismiss the idea that the cancer was brought on by uranium. Still, the controversy remains. Production of uranium glass stopped suddenly during World War II, when governments seized all uranium supplies for fear of it falling into their enemies' hands. The ban was lifted fifteen years later in 1958, but Vaseline Glass’s sparkling reputation had been smudged, and it had fallen out of everyday use. The idea of sipping coffee out of a radioactive mug had become understandably unappealing.

Today, Vaseline Glass is the domain of collectors. Vaseline Glass was used widely for tableware, candlesticks, vases, and decorative items, so collectors have a variety of objects to choose from. Seasoned collectors suggest centering collections around a theme, such as perfume atomizers, to avoid winding up with a mish-mash of random yellow-green glass. While pieces made before 1920 tend to be higher in value, prices are well within the range of what average consumers can afford, so there is no reason that anyone cannot own a piece of this quirky, controversial, glowing glass, if they dare.

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Discuss this Article

ysmina
Post 3

@feruze-- Vaseline glass is still pretty popular and there are still manufacturers of the glass in the US.

There is uranium exposure from vaseline glass, I don't think anyone would deny that. But the fact that it contains uranium dioxide (rather than directly uranium) and that glass is involved makes some people say that it is not really dangerous.

It's also true that we are already exposed to radiation form electronics that we use every single day. And the exposure from vaseline glass is said to be much less than exposure from a microwave.

I still think that collectors who have many vaseline glass items in their home should have the radiation from the glass measured by a private company or a government radiation control office.

SteamLouis
Post 2

@feruze-- Any glass which is yellow-green (and sometimes also white) in color, and which glows in the dark is vaseline glass and definitely contains uranium dioxide! It is not possible to get these qualities otherwise. This is also how antique collectors and sellers confirm that an item is vaseline glass. They hold the item under UV light and check to see if it glows a very bright green color.

I'm not really informed enough to say anything about the safety of vaseline glass. But this was not the only type of dinnerware that was made by adding uranium dioxide during this time period. There was also a brand of ceramic called "Fiestaware" that contained uranium dioxide. In fact, as far as I know, there is still a small manufacturer in Eastern Europe that makes the original green vaseline glass.

Clearly, interest in vaseline glass has not died just yet.

bear78
Post 1

Antique vaseline glass sounds interesting and odd at the same time!

Of course, uranium is the biggest issue with this type of glass. From what i understand, not all vaseline glass items may not have uranium (or have much of it). But I still can't imagine how anyone could be willing to put their health at risk for it. Was the public that unaware of the risks of uranium at that time?

And considering that all of these items are now antiques, how would you know how much uranium these items contain? I don't think you can and personally I couldn't dare to purchase vaseline glass myself.

I also find it odd that fluorescent glass was attractive to consumers in the past. Were they having tea in the dark?!

Jokes aside, why did consumers rave over this glass for that brief period of time? Does anyone have an idea?

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