Friday, April 22, 2005

Glass master enjoys his daily grind

Artisan restores, polishes damaged pieces

Every old barn has a heart of glass. Cupboards and closets have 'em, too: pieces of cut crystal or pink bowls given out in movie theaters during the Depression, ready to pulse with life when light strikes them ... except, they have a chip in the rim, or part of the glass has turned cloudy, so they are hidden away from public scrutiny, as so many hearts are.


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Paul Nulton of Hallstead, Pa., readies a piece of glass for the tumblers. A combination of finely chopped copper and carbide is used in a tumbler to clean the glass. The process takes three to four days of continuous turning.
CHUCK HAUPT / Press & Sun-Bulletin

[ photo ]
Paul Nulton has been repairing and polishing crystal, glassware, marbles and glass paperweights for five years.

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Paul Nulton inspects a mosaic of little pieces of glass in the form of flowers on a pin from the 1880s. He is in the process of restoring the piece.

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It takes four to five hours to polish a 3-inch marble using a machine Paul Nulton built for this purpose. He builds all of his machinery, adapting it for the need of a project.

If You Go

WHAT: 23rd annual Binghamton Sertoma Million Dollar Antique Show

WHERE: Binghamton University Events Center

WHEN: 6-9 p.m. today (preview wine and cheese party with music); 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

ADMISSION: Today: $15 (ticket good all weekend); Saturday or Sunday: $6 ($8 for both days). There is free on-site parking for the event.

TICKETS/INFORMATION: Stop by Midtown Antiques 34 Chenango St. Binghamton, or call 771-6026.

See Nulton at the show

People can bring their pieces to Paul Nulton's table at the Million Dollar Antique Show for estimates and, time permitting, for work on the spot. "I have to look at it, but my pricing on, say, the average glass is the diameter of the glass times four," he said. "So, if the diameter is three inches, times four, that is $12, as a ballpark figure." Along with glass, Nulton has expanded into marbles, which he re-conditions and which are the only things he brings to sell.

Beyond the show, Nulton can be reached at 570-879-4627 or at his Web site, http://www.paulmnulton.com/. Chip Hunt said his store, Midtown Antiques, 34 Chenango St., Binghamton (723-8860) can be used as a Binghamton drop-off and pickup site for Paul Nulton's work.

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 pieces.

"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 them out."

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."