Dear Readers,

As you may have seen elsewhere, in mid February my wife and I suffered the loss of our home in a fire, in the hills of central Massachusetts. The good news is that we got out safely and had no animals in our care at the time. The fire crews were able to contain the fire from spreading, in what turned into a 3-alarm, 5-hour-long ordeal in subzero temperatures; they did amazing work, and no one was injured. The bad news is that all of my physical historical materials and research of 30 years have gone up in smoke. As a result I have decided to suspend this blog for the time being. It will remain online as a resource for those interested in the history of glass and glassmaking in the seventeenth century and beyond. I do intend to resume writing when I can, but for now my time and energy are required in getting us back on our feet.

Friends are providing temporary shelter for us nearby and our intention is to rebuild as soon as possible. To those who have reached out with a steady hand, to those who have opened their wallets, and offered advice in our time of need, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. In what are already difficult times for all of us, you have made a huge difference in our lives.

Paul Engle
6 March, 2021

Friday, August 1, 2014


An ancient oil lamp (replica),
the first tool used to make glass beads.
Today, the first day of August, exactly marks the one-year anniversary of the start of this blog, Conciatore. I did not know what I was doing when it began and a good case can be made that the situation has not changed all that much in the intervening months. At first, I thought I might have enough material to keep it going for about six months and I was happy with that. It would be a sort of test to see if I had the chops to crank out a regular column on deadline, sweat the details, and get my facts correct. I never thought of myself as any kind of journalist, but as writing became more of an avocation for me, the question did pose itself. I thought there might be a small groundswell of enthusiasm to learn about Neri, an obscure seventeenth century Florentine priest who was also a glassmaker and an alchemist. After that I expected interest to trickle off and I could comfortably fade into obscurity and shut down the blog without anyone noticing; that is not what happened.

In fact, very little has gone according to plan, but that is ok with me. The realization that a backlog of posts was not going to happen was quickly replaced by continual panic about what I was going to write about next. Somehow, new subjects keep coming and I have learned to relax a little. Right now, for instance, I am only a few hours from post time. 

The biggest surprise, for me, has nothing—or maybe everything—to do with writing; it is the fantastic group of people who have collected around Conciatore. Thank you; thank you for making my life richer for knowing you, even if only through an occasional comment. Now that I am hooked, I can not imagine shutting down the blog, although I also have no idea what I will write about for another year, let alone next week.

Since today’s theme seems to be gratitude, I think it might be a nice idea to share the dedication page from Neri's 1612 book L'Arte Vetraria. In case you do not know, this was the first printed book in history devoted to the subject of making glass from raw materials. It became the bible of glassmakers for the better part of three centuries. It was translated into numerous languages, annotated, plagiarized and re-translated. Don Antonio de' Medici, to whom the book is dedicated, was the son of the second grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco I, who was instrumental in bringing Venetian glassmaking techniques to Florence. Don Antonio continued the tradition of this style of glassmaking in the laboratory-palace he inherited from his father. Around 1600, Antonio Neri would come to be employed there. A decade later, after a long visit to Antwerp, he returned to the city of his birth to publish the famous book. Here is the dedication in its entirety:

Priest Antonio Neri.
Since I spent many years of my youth laboring around the glassmaking craft and experimenting with many fine and marvelous effects, I have now drawn up a treatise with the greatest clarity of which I am capable, in order to publish it to the world to help and delight, as much as I will be able, those who know this craft. I have made many things of my own invention and  I have tested other recipes of skilled craftsmen, verified as true; since they were hidden I want to reveal them for the reasons stated above and if successful, I will be encouraged to publish the remaining part of my hard work on the subjects of chemistry and medicine as well. I have experienced, in both of them, many useful effects, which are believable and commendable only by those men who know these subjects. In all consideration, I dedicate this book to none other than you, most illustrious Excellency, for you have always been my outstanding patron and you also understand this and all other worthy and precious knowledge. In fact, you practice all of the arts required of a true and generous Prince. I implore you therefore to accept if not my work, then my complete devotion to your great merit and virtue, Excellency. I pray that God will fill you with happiness. 
From Florence 
January 6, 1612


  1. I have five years and over five hundred posts to look back on and I have normally no idea what I'm going to write about next