The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts


Reverse glass sign painting


The making of signs by painting and applying metal leaf to the reverse of glass panes.


Status Critically endangered
Craft category Glass
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised Devon
Origin in the UK 19th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1 craftsperson able to teach all of the processes
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Around 20 sign writers in the UK practice the skills as part of their signwriting businesses, but not to the extent they could teach all the skills
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Around 10
Current total no. of leisure makers
Around 30
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



At one time every town in the UK had around three cut glass and brilliant cut artists and gilders and at least 30 signwriters, if not more, in every town and more in the cities.



  • Water gilding
  • Acid etching
  • Brilliant cutting
  • Silvering
  • Angel gilding
  • French embossing
  • Verre églomisé


Local forms






Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The craft is labour intensive which puts people off learning it. It takes dedication and a lot of time to hone your skills.
  • The paints aren’t as good as they used to be which is becoming an issue.
  • The cut glass wheels made of carborundom are extremely hard to source. Once they were all unique to Craigleith in Scotland where you could find some of the best materials for wheel cutting. Now because of modern technology, the only wheels you can find are diamond and they are not suited for the task. It is now necessary to scour the country to find old cutting wheels from a cottage industry of previous brilliant cutting craftsmen that have passed away.
  • The high cost of the materials and lanour compared to the low cost and high speed of computer designed vinyl graphics reduces the number of clients willing to commission work.


Support organisations



Craftspeople currently known

  • David Adrian Smith – apprenticed to Gordon Farr in the 1980s in the UK and Rick Glawson in the 1990s in California and brought the craft back from a brief period where it was not practised at all in the UK. He now has clients from all around the world and is the only person in the world teaching all the processes together.
  • Robert Walker, Signs by Umberto


Other information