Photograph of Glass by Frank Habicht
Left: vase by Loetz Wittwe in Austria around 1900
You are looking at the Virtual Glass Museum, but if you ever get to Paihia in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand you would be most welcome to see the glass "live" - please email us in advance.
Glass today is so common that we take it for granted, - glass bottles, windows, ovenware, light bulbs, vases, ornaments, drinking glasses. Jewelry made with glass is regarded as cheap. It was not always this way. Glass was once a luxury reserved for royalty and the very rich. Egyptian Princes proudly wore glass beads.
Glass making was once a secret process and in the hey day of Venetian glass-making the death sentence was imposed on any glass-maker who dared to leave Venice with these secrets. Glass was included with gold and silver in lists of assets in Renaissance times.
The Victorians were
fascinated by the discovery of beautiful objects from ancient civilizations. Rome in particular
made beautiful glass using techniques which had since been lost for centuries. Glass makers
re-invented these processes and re-created Roman glass.
One feature which was copied from ancient glass was the beautiful iridescence which old glass develops, -the patina which comes from being buried in the ground for centuries. The Bohemians, in Central Europe, and the Americans, developed iridescent hand made glass to a very high artistic standard in the 1880's and 1890's.
Above: Two seashell posy vases by Loetz-Wittwe from the "Ziermuschel" series, 1898.
Iridescent Art Nouveau glass was very expensive. Indeed Tiffany used some very clever devices for keeping the prices high and his glass highly valued. He donated special pieces to major museums, so increasing the fame of his glass. And if a piece of glass sat on a shelf unsold, he would recall it and have it smashed. There were no Tiffany bargains.
The Bohemians, who had been exporting glass for centuries, benefitted from the high price of Tiffany glass. Several Bohemian factories made very high quality hand blown iridescent glass and exported it to the USA.
Right: A very simple Loetz vase in the "Nautilus" series from 1903.
Loetz is the most famous Bohemian factory especially in the US; and Loetz glass is highly prized by collectors who sometimes pay thousands of dollars for a Loetz vase.
However, it is worth noting that experts from Bohemia today suggest that Pallme-Konig produced the best glass. Dr Adlerova of the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts wrote: "For the Loetz factory, as for many other Bohemian glass factories, it was no problem either to master Tiffany's technology or to imitate and adapt his style. ....... Each (Bohemian factory) produced individual variations of shape, colour, and design of abstract surface decoration .... the most significant was undoubtedly the relief net of trailed glass threads used extensively by the Pallme-Konig glassworks."
Left: Three vases made by Pallme-Konig & Habel about 1900, showing surface iridescence & glass thread decoration.
All of this artistic and expensive Art Nouveau glass was made for the very rich. Then in 1907 a US firm, Fenton, produced an iridescent form of pressed glass. It was an instant success, the public loved it and it sold for prices everyone could afford. Today we call this glass "Carnival Glass" and to quote Raymond Notley, "it delighted a generation and brought colour into drab homes".
Several US companies made "Carnival Glass" and it was also made in England, Sweden and Australia. Glass making in New Zealand (the home of the Glass Museum where these pieces are displayed) was stifled by restrictions imposed at the insistence of English bottle exporters. Most old glass in New Zealand was imported from Europe or the US. Carnival glass is very popular, and many collectors today seek out these treasures of their grandparents' generation. Collecting Carnival Glass is a cheerful hobby.
Left: A collection of Carnival Glass vases and bowls.
If you have the patience to search second-hand shops and sit at auctions, you may get Carnival Glass pieces in the most common colour, marigold, for around half of the price in an antique shop. But most dealers are familiar with Carnival glass, and collecting it is more of a fun hobby than an area for very serious investment. There is much enjoyment in finding a new piece to add to a collection.
In its heyday, Carnival Glass had many different names, but in the 1950's the name Carnival Glass was ascribed to it by collectors, because a small proportion of this type of glass was given away at Carnivals as prizes. Carnival glass is also still made in the US and South America, mostly for collectors.
Iridescence is produced by sprays and vapours applied to the surface of hot glass after the article is made. Once this "secret treatment" was made available to everyone, the very rich lost interest in Tiffany glass and he fell from favour. There remains all the difference in the world between Carnival Glass and hand-blown iridescent glass, which is amongst the most beautiful ever made. Today iridescent art glass is made by studio artists all over the world including some very fine work in the USA, New Zealand and Australia.
The First World War marked the end of the Art Nouveau period and the end of the fashion for
iridescent glass. The "Art Deco" period between the two world wars was a period of strong,
bold colours and simple shapes.
Two types of British glass which were very popular during this period were Monart Glass and Cloud Glass. Both have become a good investment because increasing attention is being paid to them by museums, serious collectors, and writers. Cloud Glass was exported from Britain to many countries in large quantities. And both Monart and Cloud Glass were amongst the family treasures taken overseas by thousands of emmigrants from Britain during the period before World War 2. Above: Two orange "Cloud Glass" vases made by Davidson's between 1923 and 1939.
George Davidson's Cloud Glass was made in Gateshead, England during the 1920's and 30's. Cloud Glass was heavy pressed coloured glass with a small amount of darker glass added just before pouring the glass into its moulds, to produce cloud-like streaks. Each piece had its own unique pattern in the glass. It was made in a wide range of shapes in amber, brown, purple, blue, green, orange, and more rarely in red and grey.
Cloud Glass was very practical as well as beautiful. The vases are heavy and very stable; they can hold tall top-heavy flowers without falling over. The bowls are sturdy and a delight to look at when the sun shines through the coloured glass. Many parents today can remember Cloud Glass taking pride of place on the family sideboard when they themselves were children.
"Amber Cloud Glass" was the first colour made, followed in 1928 by a transparent version, which Davidson's called "Tortoiseshell". Dressing table sets were popular, consisting of a tray and containers for such things as powder, trinkets, and hair-pins, usually with a bedroom candle stick. The same moulds were used by Davidson's for all their colours during this period. Sometimes the same mould was used with a slight modification for different pieces, such as the rims which were sometimes turned over and sometimes flared upwards.
The company had special links with New Zealand and Australia, because the founder's brother had emigrated to Australia and set up trade between the countries. At one stage a barter system was set up, with shiploads of glass being exchanged for shiploads of food for Britain.
During the Second World War Davidson's along with most other European factories, switched to war-related production, and Cloud Glass was never revived after the war. The prices charged by antique dealers for Cloud Glass depends on the colour and scarcity. Brown is the most common and cheapest, blue one of the rarest and expensive. Red is often referred to as rare and expensive; so rare I have only ever seen one piece, and that was in the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead (North East England).
Here again the lucky collector may find a bargain that has passed unrecognized. And Cloud Glass will command higher prices when it becomes better understood, a process which has already started.
Another good investment for collectors, also from the Art Deco period and made in Britain, is Monart glass, made by the Ysart family in Perthshire,
Scotland. Salvador Ysart came from Barcelona in Spain with his wife and four sons. Salvador
had worked for a short time at the famous art glass firm of Schneider in France.
In 1922 Salvador and his son Paul joined Moncrieff's glassworks and the glass-making skills of the Ysarts were combined with the management and design skills of Isabel Moncrieff to produce and market "MONART" glass (the name combines Moncrieff with Ysart).
Right: Monart vase shape "UA" in blue with gold aventurine and black, made during the 1930's
For nearly twenty years Monart glass was very successful, but production stopped at the start of the Second World War, and Moncrieff Ltd were slow to restart afterwards. Salvador and two of his sons left in 1946 and founded Ysart Brothers Glass at Perth. They made a very similar kind of glass to Monart, and called it VASART glass (combining their initials with "ART" for art glass). Paul stayed at Moncrieff Ltd and restarted production of MONART, which continued in production until 1961 (when Isabel Moncrieff died).
Pre-war Monart glass has bold, strong colours, popular during the art deco period. After the war, public taste demanded more subdued colours, and both Vasart and post-war Monart were made in pale pastel shades. Monart glass is never signed, but originally had paper labels on the base. Monart glass often had a ground ring on the base around the ground pontil mark.
Vasart glass was signed Vasart with an acid-etching pen until 1956, when paper labels were introduced. Many of the same shapes and designs were made by Vasart, by the same members of the Ysart family as made Monart. If a piece of Ysart glass is unsigned and without its label it is usually easy to identify it as Ysart, but difficult to distinguish between Monart and Vasart.
Monart and Vasart vases from the 1930's onwards often feature aventurine splashes (which look like flecks of gold). Woolworth's silver frosting, intended as a Christmas decoration, was used when it was available to produce silver flecks in the glass.
Ysart glass has become a very popular collectors item, and has been featured regularly in collectors' publications and in major international antique auctions. International prices range from $100 for a small souvenir piece to around $9000 for some of the rarer pieces. In some countries, like New Zealand, many antique dealers are not familiar with Monart glass, and it often goes unidentified by the seller at cheaper prices.
Perhaps we should end this article with some advice about pressed glass. The cheapest form of glass is
machine-pressed in automated factories, a process widely used for making bottles and cheap
ornaments. But pressed glass should not be dismissed as inevitably inferior. Some of the most
expensive glass in the world is pressed such as the beautiful pieces made by Rene Lalique in France.
For this kind of expensive pressed glass, a work of art is first created in plaster and then a metal mould is made from that original model. High quality glass is then pressed into the mould and subsequently hand finished to ensure high quality.
Right: Plate with design of sardines and bubles, made by Lalique in the 1920's, marked with the name "R. Lalique".
There can be no doubt that Lalique glass is a work of art. Lalique made crystal and coloured glass, but his speciality was opalescent glass, which has the beautiful colour hues of an opal and looks spectacular in certain kinds of lighting. The effect is achieved by the chemical composition of the glass, which includes arsenic.
Lalique opalescent glass was so popular in the 1920's and 1930's that many other companies copied the concept of pressed opalescent glass. The French companies of Sabino, Etling and P. d'Avesn were amongst the most successful.
In England Joblings (of Gateshead) tried to negotiate a licence to manufacture Lalique glass, and when this failed they analysed the glass, devised their own formula and commissioned Lalique's Paris mould designer to design their pieces.
Left: Joblings bowl with design of fishes, late 1930's
Unfortunately for Joblings they were late on the scene with their opalescent glass, and the depression of the late 1930's was already affecting the market for luxury glass by the time they produced their first output. The venture was not very profitable for Joblings, and they gave up after a few years, but not before they had produced some of the finest pressed glass ever made in England.
Jobling's opalescent glass can sometimes be found relatively cheap in antique shops and at auction, but its price is rising as it becomes more widely recognised, and it is hard to find. Good hunting!
If you are looking for collectible glass, you can usually find a good selection on offer on ebay.
Click here to see glass currently for sale on ebay.
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