Neither chipped bowls nor broken hearts are easy
to mend, but Paul Nulton of Hallstead, Pa., is an artisan who can
smooth out the rough spots and remove the shadows from your favorite
"Everyone has that crystal glass piece from Grandma put away
somewhere," said Chip Hunt, promoter of the 23rd annual Binghamton
Sertoma Million Dollar Antique Show at Binghamton University's
Events Center this weekend. "It's put away because, over the years,
it was bound to get damaged."
Nulton restored furniture for 30 years and, in the course of
business, met Hunt, who owns Midtown Antiques in Binghamton. "Chip
had some Cambridge glasses he sold on eBay for around $65 each, nice
tall stems," Nulton recalled. "But he had four he couldn't sell
because of small chips on the rim, and he asked me if I could polish
Nulton found no problem grinding out the chips, but he wasn't
satisfied with that. "It was tough getting a full polish ... I
didn't want to leave a frosted edge," he said. It turns out that has
been the problem for most people who try to restore glass, and was
often the point at which they called the job "finished".
"We've seen other people trying to do this work in the past,"
said Ethel Ann Eldridge, a Bainbridge woman who, with her husband,
Ron, collects and shows Depression glass. "They were nowhere near as
good as Paul is."
He began researching just how to get
the job done, finally getting a hint from a Binghamton lens maker
who advised him to use cesium oxide for his final polish. It turned
out to be a good tip, if not an instant solution.
"There are about 500 different kinds of cesium oxide," Nulton
said he soon discovered. "You gotta know what you're doing." He
learned to choose among the oxides and was able to bring Hunt's
Cambridge pieces back to sale quality, and along the way found he
was caught up by the challenges of the work.
One of those challenges was developing machinery to work on
glass. "I started with a 6-inch lapidary machine, but it worked
inside a tub, and I couldn't get a whole glass down inside to polish
it," Nulton said. "I had to grind in a vertical position, which
isn't very effective. So I got an old motor and an old shaft and
made a machine that would do what I wanted, even with larger pieces.
I've been able to restore a jug, a big old apothecary jug, about 30
inches high, with the rim all chipped."
Nulton said he continues to design his own machinery because what
is available commercially just won't get the job done. "The way
lapidary equipment is designed, it has too many guards and other
features, and they spray water all over the place ... unless you
know my tricks," he said.
Not tricks, but techniques, are what make Nulton so popular at
shows, where he repairs glass for people who bring it in as well as
working on pieces dealers have asked him to fix.
"There are always long lines waiting for him at shows," Ethel Ann
Eldridge said. "That tells you. If you bring him something, he'll
tell you the possibilities ... we've never had a piece we've been
unhappy with. We call him 'the Miracle Man'."
One of those glass "miracles" Nulton routinely performs is
removing the cloudiness that can build up in crystal pieces over
time. "It's called 'sick' glass," he said. "Caused by mineral
deposits, or oxidation of minerals in the glass. I've worked on some
beautiful Steuben pieces that were sick. I don't do this at a show,
though ... it can take five days to grind and three days to polish,
depending on how bad it is."
He said he sees more and more work from collectors of bottles and
decanters, whose pieces suffer from oxidation on the outside and
inside as well.
"I get 'em crystal clear again," Nulton said.
That seems like a broad range of glass he works on, from Steuben
and Waterford to collectible bottles, or maybe just someone's
favorite drinking glass, but Nulton treats them all fairly. "It's
like cutting diamonds, you can't be afraid," he said. "The first
time, I was scared to death, and I was thinking, 'It's so fragile,
you're gonna break it ... it's glass!'
"But now, whether its a $3,000 Steuben piece or a piece from
Wal-Mart, it's gotta be ground, and it's gotta be polished. There is
no class distinction."