Glass has been used for both artistic and utilitarian purposes for almost 6000 years – understandably so, as it holds both aesthetic and functional value. In fact, many historians believe that the first true glass was created in the birthplace of humanity, Mesopotamia, in 3500 BCE. Although we can only piece together clues, a commonly accepted hypothesis for the origin of glass is that it was a by-product of other crafts that were also burgeoning during the time, like metal-working or the precursor to the process that we know today as glazing. For a long time, glass was quite sought after and was almost always reserved for the ruling class.
After terrible tragedies in the Mid-Bronze Age stopped many arts, including glass-molding, in their tracks, finally in Egypt and Syria around the 9th century BCE there was a huge boom in the technology used to create precious glass. The technique of using very thin rods of different colored glass to create patterns on vessels used to hold water or wine for the wealthy was invented around this time and has remained in use up to the modern day.
It is a commonly held belief amongst historians that for much of ancient history the techniques used to create ornamental glass using glass molding were held as state secrets by royalty because of the extreme value and beauty of glass. However, after the technique of blowing glass with a long metal blowpipe was discovered on the coast of Syria, creating ornamental vessels from glass became much more cost effective than using pottery for storage. Romans were the first to use glass in architecture after it was discovered that adding manganese dioxide to the process of glass blowing could create clear glass. Soon, almost all important buildings in Rome featured windows created using cast panes of glass. Eventually glass made in Rome spread everywhere that the empire did, which at the time was a majority of the known world! However, it is interesting to note that the glass of their time was not nearly as clear as the glass we have today.
Glass has been a part of human civilization for centuries – it has been used to create everything from tiny beads to towering skyscrapers. Due to its high melting point, glass has also been used to create pipes for as long as glass blowing has been around. In ancient times glass would be used to create thin tubes to smoke out of, but the practice was never widely used – and not nearly as complex – until much later during the 1960’s, when using glass to create intricate pieces of art to both appreciate and smoke out of exploded into the mainstream.
Since the 60’s, glass smoking technology has made leaps and bounds with new innovations and techniques. One of the most impressive milestones for the glass pipe industry was the introduction of standardized glass joints on water pipes. The glass joints that are seen on water pipes today are derivatives of crude, tapered joints that have been used for stopping glass bottles and carafes for years. The standardization of glass joint sizes to either 14mm or 18mm joints was facilitated by the water pipe industry in an effort to create more useful, modular smoking devices that can be easily customized with attachments such as diffused downstems and ash catchers. Water pipes are some of the most impressive examples of modern glass working, especially with the emergence of a new type of water pipe, the vapor rig. Modern trends with functional glass include highly complicated and compact percolators that require a steady artist’s hand to properly incorporate into a smoking apparatus.
A new breakthrough in glassblowing is made nearly every day thanks to the growing glass pipe industry. Because of its constant desire for innovation, this industry is very attractive to young artists as well as old that want to express themselves by creating something beautiful to serve as a contribution to a counter-culture that is becoming more accepted everyday. Who knows what tomorrow will bring and how we will use glass to make an ever smoother smoking experience!
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