Heritage Crafts

Reverse glass sign painting

The making of signs by painting and applying metal leaf (verre eglomise) to the reverse of glass panes. See also brilliant cutting.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Origin in the UK
19th Century
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
Current No. of trainees
Many people have trained with Dave Smith
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Around 10
Current No. of leisure makers
Around 51-100




  • French embossing (most endangered)
  • Acid etching (most endangered)
  • Brilliant cutting (endangered)
  • Water gilding
  • Silvering (endangered)
  • Angel gilding
  • Verre églomisé
  • Graining (related to marbling)



Issues affecting the viability

  • Skills issues: The craft is labour intensive which puts people off learning it. It takes dedication and a lot of time to hone your skills.
  • Raw materials: The paints aren’t as good as they used to be which is becoming an issue.
  • High costs of raw materials and labour: The high cost of the materials and labour compared to the low cost and high speed of computer designed vinyl graphics reduces the number of clients willing to commission work.
  • Training issues: Training in reverse glass sign painting can be expensive
  • Skills issues: some of the allied skills, such as mirror silvering are becoming extremely endangered. The materials used (mainly the Hydfrofluric Acid is extremely toxic and hard to source) puts off most signwriters from engaging more heavily in the skill set.
  • Skills issues: many practitioners do not undertake French Embossing or traditional embossing.  Some will undertake mica embossing which requires the least amount of set up but still produces a beautiful result.
  • Skills issues: this craft originated from very skilled, multi disciplinary business people who could tackle jobs on a commercial scale and to a commercial timetable. The craft is becoming less relevant to business consumers (as it always was) as most of the list of practitioners do not undertake enough of the skills (crucially including framing and installation) as to to be able to offer the craft to all but domestic users.
  • Market issues: there a very few craftspeople who undertake traditional commercial work vital to the survival of the traditional street scene. The vast majority of the list of craftspeople will undertake one off, small scale commissions which involve perhaps signwriting, gilding and some mica embossing, largely but not exclusively, for domestic purposes or a shop window.  Asking craftspeople to produce a 6 metre embossed and gilded fascia sign together with installation and an advertising mirror for the interior of the establishment are almost non existent.

Support organisations


Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Other information




National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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