Did they make glass mosaic tiles in the 1950s and 1960s?

mosaic tileDid they make glass mosaic tile in the 1950s and 1960s? Reader Christa wrote me to ask… I hazard an answer… and I provide some resources — for ceramic mosaics.

Christa wrote:

Hi Pam,

I hope you don’t mind my reaching out to you for a little tile advice. I need to do some tiling, and I was looking for tiles that will look as though they could have been original to the house – 1958. But I don’t need to match existing (the ones in place are from the 80s and best forgotten).

I found some Ann Sacks mosaics that I like. They are opaque glass 7/8″ squares with a bit of a brushy surface texture, similar to Bisazza but much less $$. I’m looking at the China White color way — you can see it here: http://annsacks.com/onlinecatalog/program.jsp?cat=268004&coll=268304&prg=2356504

My question for you is, do you know where I can find out more about the real mosaics used in the 50s and 60s? Would they have used the opaque glass (sort of like milk glass) or did they only use ceramic? I want the small 1″ (give or take) size with little or no pattern. Do you have any suggestions on where to look? I know about Chippy, but the website isn’t very good and I’m on the west coast so I can’t visit her.

Thanks in advance!

spartany roman tile

1964 — Tile was pretty popular, I think. Spartany Roman was a big national brand, I think.

Q. Did they make mosaic tile out glass — or just ceramic — in mid century America?

A: I don’t know. Not for sure. Requires real research. But I *know* they made ceramic mosaic tile — I’ve seen lots of that… and on the other hand, I have never *yet* seen any glass mosaics. That said, it may be that an opaque glass small mosaic tile may not look all that different from a glossy glazed ceramic small mosaic.

In addition, many readers today like the look of the glass mosaics available today — they are so colorful, so pretty. So, they are incorporating them into their remodels to create a retro-modern mix.

Bottom line: Look around — and make the choice that’s right for you.

Christa mentions World of Tile. I do not think that any of the mosaics in Chippy’s mosaic room are glass. If you want to see fairly larged sized photos of the mosaic room and the designs available, see this story and go straight down to the slide show.

Where to get ceramic 1/2″ and 1″ mosaic tile “new”:


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    • Louisa says

      Hillwood’s bathroom and kitchen are my favorites, and the gardens too.
      I think Pam has shown them.

      Did you see Hillwood’s exhibit of Isabell di Borchgrave paper dresses?

    • Jay says

      There’s the catch “Italian” which means special import and it was for a fountain built for a person of considerable wealth. Unlikely such tiles would appear in the typical post-war house where American building materials would be used.

  1. says

    They sure did make glass mosaics in the 50’s-60’s. The look was different than what I tend to see today. Today’s glass appears to be molded, smooth and consistent. The older glass was flatter, sharper edges as if they were split from rods like diamonds, and had varying surfaces. Much of the glass came from Italy and emulated the ancient mosaics of the region.

    You can see many smaller examples of tables, plaques and accessories still in existence, but back in the day entire accent walls were made of these mosaics. You can search Alvaro Genaro, Evelyn Ackerman, and Salvador Teran to see examples of mid century glass mosaic art. These were big names on the West Coast. This is an example of Genaro’s work: http://search.bungalowbill.goantiques.com/search/images.jsp?id=2532527#

  2. midmichigan says

    Yup, they sure did and I set plenty of them too, making trivets, in bathrooms and in showers. There wasn’t the broad spectrum of colors and effects like iridescent today but they made them.

    We didn’t have the global distribution for most items like we do today. Heck, when you made a long distance call you had to use the operator and if you ever received one, you ran to the phone to get it because it was special, expensive and probably very important.

    • Elaine Schuster says

      Oh, long distance calling! I remember, it used to have a short ring, then the regular ring. You would definitely run to get that one.

  3. Rinke says

    Why not use the tile you’ve seen and liked? It’s 2013, darling! You honor and respect your house, but give yourself a treat, too. Nobody will punish you for having a glass mosaic instead of a ceramic, especially if it looks amazing, right?
    Sidenote: they made plastic tiles too, would never want them in my 1954 home though! Sometimes it’s just a little give and take, even in renovation. I’d say go for it!

    • Elaine Schuster says

      I agree with using today tile in a way that respects the era of the house. I believe the plain small mosaic tiles would be dotted with a different color tile in a regular pattern. You could easily achieve this by taking one or two tiles out of each sheet and putting an accent color in to replace them.

  4. says

    Glass mosaic is ancient! But from my research the difference is that glass tessera (individual pieces of a mosaic) where either hand made or semi-hand made where as ceramic tile was a pretty much, if not close to fully automated process by the mid-century. The difference would be smoothness. But ceramic glaze is basically glass so in my book, for a homeowner, glass tile is wholly appropriate.

  5. Chutti says

    Did anyone else notice the “Ceramaflex” in the Romany Spartan ad? Holy cow- that sounds like a great idea. Rubber backed tile- ready to install- for quiet comfort.
    Wonder if anyone has those in their home and can tell us about the experience.

    And thanks for the info on why older glass mosaic looks different. I do like the more rough hewn look, but didn’t know why.

  6. Alisha Tomlinson says

    I went to a local estate sale at a gorgeous MCM home that was built by a local tile store owner. Most of the tile was beautiful Italian glass in large abstract mosaics and big chunks. The surround for the fireplace was jaw dropping! The grandson inherited the property and as planning a renovation but planned to keep as much of the tile he could intact.

  7. Brian T says

    I like Rinke’s point about plastic tile. I bought my 1954 Cape Cod from the estate of the original owner, and the main bathroom had plastic tile that must have been there for at least 40 years. (The black bullnose trim had been painted burgundy.) The moral might be: Accuracy to the period isn’t necessarily enough to make something desirable.

    As for glass tile, I think there are a lot of current specimens that overlap with what was available and popular in the ’60s. Just avoid anything transparent or translucent. I think I remember, as a kid in the 60s, seeing fountains that incorporated tiles that looked like lapis lazuli but must have been glass. The guiding aesthetic might have been “We like relatively inexpensive glass tile that offers the look of expensive mosaic stone.”

  8. Jay says

    The feedback is interesting. I have often thought of having the sink backsplash tiled and nixed the idea of glass tile because it seems to be all the rage now (esp. on TV) and the patterns look busy. I do think it would look out of place with my old cabinets as the glass tile looks trendy (think granite & stainless).

  9. says

    Another difference between older and new glass mosaics is the size of the grout line. The 60’s tesserae were butted against each other leaving very thin grout lines.

  10. Kate says

    I used a glass coppery color tile mosaic for my kitchen backsplash:

    at first, I thought it was going to be too modern looking — but Pam reminded me that copper tiles were often used in backsplashes in kitchens — so I suppose my glass coppery tiles are kind of a more modern interpretation of those.

    In the end, I like doing what is historically correct for my house as much as possible, but if you really really love something (like I did with these tiles) then why not. The backsplash makes me happy when I see it — and it is not such a large change that it would be difficult to undo in the future.

  11. Christa says

    Thanks for posting, Pam, and for all the information everyone. The Hillwood estate is just a wee bit fancier than my house. I’m starting to think the glass might be out of character with the honest and straightforward materials favored by MCM architects.

    I did learn that the Trend line from Ann Sacks is made at a facility in Italy that has been making mosaic glass tile forever, including through the 50s, so someone must have installed them during that time although there are so few photos around other than mansions (again, probably too much for my little place). From what I can tell those old glass mosaics weren’t sold on sheets, and the tile setting would have been extremely time consuming, especially to get those extra thin grout lines that I love. Add in importing from Italy and that is one expensive, glamorous bath.

    Another discovery, it’s apparently a PITA to clean. People who install this kind of tile apparently pay a maid to keep them sparkly and mildew free. Since I don’t have a housekeeper and tend to fall on the lazy side of the housekeeping bell curve, maintenance is a real concern.

    The look I want is sort of like the post from last week for Mara’s pink mosaic bath (LOVE!), so now I’m looking at ceramic mosaic tile more closely. Specifically white mosaic walls and darkish brown-black floors. I want the open ceilings and big windows to be the focal points, the tiles will be a supporting player.

    The hardest thing about this remodel is trying to see as much as I can so I know that I am making the right decisions. I truly appreciate all the information provided by everyone on this site. It really helps.

    The existing bath was redone in the early 80s. It’s yellow and olive craftsman tile with thick 70s style grout, and it’s wearing (me) out. Since it’s not original I feel OK about redoing it, especially because I think my plan will be more appropriate to the architecture. My goal is to avoid all the oohs and ahhhs of gorgeous tile and find something that will look great for 40 years (by that time I should be dead and the next owner can worry about it). Most importantly, I’m getting a soaking tub to replace the old standard yellow tub with it’s 8.5 inches of water. The only one in our house who gets a satisfying bath in our existing tub is our 10 lb dog!

    • Elaine Schuster says

      I put glass mosaic in my kitchen right behind my cooktop. It is not at all hard to keep clean. Make sure you use a good sealer on the grout.

  12. Doug says

    If you are looking for a small non-glass mosaic, you might want to check out Merola Tile’s “Cosmo Pixie” (also known as “Posh Pixie”) collection. They are 5/8 inch tiles in either white, almond, brown or black that have slight variations in the color and a mix of glossy and matte finishes. Sources include Home Depot, Overstock and Wayfair. They’re less than $7 a sheet, which, if you’ve priced the “Athena Mosaics” is a great price. I just used A LOT of them in my kitchen remodel and think they rock.

      • Doug says

        Only some of the tiles have a gloss finish, so the overall effect is not that shiny, at least in the almond. I have photos but am not sure how to get them to you.

  13. Amy Dietz says

    My lovely time-capsule 1964 home has ceramic mosiac tile, and lots of it, just as shown in the Romany-Spartan ad. It’s very pretty and hard-wearing as a counter top. But at 2-inch square, it’s way too hard to clean.

  14. michael says

    Pam –

    where did you take that picture? I am looking for brown hex tiles like the ones in the bottom right of the picture. I need to match them when I take down a wall in my retro ranch!

  15. John says

    Well I got on here all excited to provide an answer…. But it isn’t what I thought. I got the floor plans to my 1956 house, so much coolness gone! Anyway the fireplace had mosaic tile above the firebox and the long gone built in bbq had mosaic tile over the floating hood. These were both ceramic apparently. They are digital copies so its great to zoom in, but I will be printing them out. I have to remove the paint from the brick in the house… looking into dry ice blasting, the claims are that it is more gentle. Not sure if I should wait on the redoing the mosaic until after having it blasted…. That will be years away and I want so bad to do something now that is back to original. The floor plan also said it had a steel shelf for the mantel. I don’t know if that means the entire shelf was steel or if it was like modular shelving where the brackets are steel and the top is wood. I have to say the thought of a stainless steel mantel is something I really like the sound of.

  16. blu says

    About the glass 1″ italian tile….. Yes they did make all glass tile in a variety of fab colors. I stumbled across the find of the year this last summer when I found stacks of venetian glass tiles made in the 50’s at an estate sale. I probably have more than 800 sq ft of amazing colors, blues, greens mostly. I have no idea what these gems are worth but I am going to sell the remainder of these tiles after I finish my master bathroom remodel. If anyone is interested in checking them out please email me and we can talk.

  17. Lynne says

    I have a 1942 home and am redoing the original bathroom. We’ve uncovered the original white hexagon tile in perfect condition, so we’re planning to keep it. We’re gutting the tile around the tub (tile not original but tub is and in great condition!). So I’m trying to pick tile for around the tub (up to the 8-foot ceiling) that will look like it belongs in a vintage home but has an updated look, too. Hard balance to strike. What I’ve come up with so far is large white mat finish tiles with an accent in a vintage color. The accent tile choice is proving the problem. I love lavendars and purples but don’t find a lot that works for an accent. Is lavendar or purple a good choice for a 1942 bathroom?

    I’ve found a glass tile that is light green, light blue, and light yellow in long, rectangular pieces (comes in sheets). I thought the colors might be vintage enough to work. Do you have any suggestions for what tiles I could use for an accent that would bring color to the bath without looking like I haven’t updated the bathroom?

    Thanks in advance!

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