How to Make a Replica of 1900-Year-Old Glass Fish: A Brilliant Video from the British Museum

All due respect to the British Muse­um, but the title of its “How to Make a Glass Fish Repli­ca” video, above is a tad mis­lead­ing.

I’m sure no mal­ice was intend­ed, but “mak­ing” a DIY fish-shaped ves­sel rem­i­nis­cent of some 22 found in the ancient Kushan store­rooms at Begram, Afghanistan is no one’s def­i­n­i­tion of an easy craft project. (Unless you’re will­ing to fudge with some Elmer’s, some blue felt, and an emp­ty peanut but­ter jar…)

Glass Spe­cial­ist Bill Guden­rath of the Corn­ing Muse­um of Glass is an his­to­ri­an of glass­work­ing tech­niques from ancient Egypt through the Renais­sance and clear­ly expert at his craft, but he doesn’t appear to be too keen on sup­ply­ing explana­to­ry blow-by-blows. Nor would I be, bustling around a red hot glass oven, with­out so much as a John­ny Tremain-style leather apron to pro­tect me. I’m not even sure I’d want the dis­trac­tion of a video cam­era in my face.

But if, as the title implies, the goal is to pro­duce a dupli­cate of this whim­si­cal 1900-year-old gup­py, the process must be bro­ken down.

From what this casu­al view­er was able to piece togeth­er, the steps would go some­thing like:

1. Twirl a red hot met­al pipe in the forge until you have a healthy glob of molten glass. Appar­ent­ly it’s not so dif­fer­ent from mak­ing cot­ton can­dy.

2. Roll the glass blob back and forth on a met­al tray.

3. Blow into the pipe’s non-glow­ing end to form a bub­ble.

4. Repeat steps 1–3

5. Roll the pipe back and forth on a met­al sawhorse while seat­ed, apply­ing pinch­ers to taper the blob into a rec­og­niz­ably fishy-shape.

(Don’t wor­ry about its prox­im­i­ty to your bare fore­arms and kha­ki-cov­ered thighs! What could pos­si­bly go wrong?)

6. Twirl it like a baton.

(Depend­ing on the length of your arms, your nascent glass fish may come dan­ger­ous­ly close to the cement floor. Try not to sweat it.)

7. Use scis­sors and pinch­ers to tease out a nip­ple-shaped appendage that will become the fish’s lips.

8. Use anoth­er pok­er to apply var­i­ous bloops of molten glass. (Novices may want to prac­tice with a hot glue gun to get the hang of this — it’s trick­i­er than it looks!)  Pinch, prod and drape these bloops into eye and fin shapes. A non-elec­tric crimp­ing iron will prove handy here.

9. Use blue glass, tweez­ers and crimp­ing iron to per­son­al­ize your fish-shaped vessel’s dis­tinc­tive dor­sal and anal fins.

10. Tap on the pipe to crack the fish loose. (Care­ful!)

11. Score the dis­tal end with a glass cut­ting tool.

 (This step should prove a cinch for any­one who ever used a craft kit to turn emp­ty beer and soda bot­tles into drink­ing glass­es!)

12. Smooth rough edges with anoth­er loop of molten glass and some sort of elec­tric under­wa­ter grind­ing wheel.

Option­al 13th step: Read this descrip­tion of a fur­nace ses­sion, to bet­ter acquaint your­self with both best glass­blow­ing prac­tices and the prop­er names for the equip­ment. Or get the jump on Christ­mas 2017 with this true how-to guide to pro­duc­ing hand blown glass orna­ments.

Not plan­ning on blow­ing any glass, fish-shaped or oth­er­wise, any time soon?

Explore the some­what mys­te­ri­ous his­to­ry of the 1900-year-old fish-shaped orig­i­nal here, com­pli­ments of the British Museum’s St John Simp­son, senior cura­tor for its pre-Islam­ic col­lec­tions from Iran and Ara­bia.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mod­ern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vas­es & Arti­sanal Glass

Glass: The Oscar-Win­ning “Per­fect Short Doc­u­men­tary” on Dutch Glass­mak­ing (1958)

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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