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Excise wine glass, c. 1750–1770

Two taxes on glass were introduced in England during the 1690s, the first on glass itself and the second on windowsTax based on the number of windows a property had, widely but erroneously believed to have resulted in many windows being bricked up.. The tax on glass was quickly repealed, only to be reintroduced in the form of the glass tax of 1746 during the reign of King George II.[1] Glass was at that time sold by weight, and manufacturers responded by producing smaller, more highly decorated objects, often with hollow stems, known today as Excise glasses.[2]

In 1780, the government granted Ireland free trade in glass without taxation, resulting in the establishment of glassworks in Cork and Waterford. In 1825, the tax in Ireland was restored, and gradually the industry declined, until the glass tax was abolished by Sir Robert Peel’s government in 1845.[3]

A contemporary account in the medical journal The Lancet described the glass tax as an “absurd impost on light”:

In a hygienic point of view, the enormous tax on glass, amounting to more than three hundred per cent on its value, is one of the most cruel a Government could inflict on the nation … The deficiency of light in town habitations, in a great measure caused by the enormous cost of glass, is universally admitted to be one of the principal causes of the unhealthiness of cities … [4]