Bimini and Orplid Glass


Bimini logo Orplid hatpin tops Orplid logo

Above: tiny globes for hatpin tops designed by Fritz Lampl at Orplid.

author Raymond Berger editor Angela Bowey

Raymond Berger is the son of Joseph Berger and nephew of Fritz Lampl, founders of Bimini Glass

Bimini and Orplid were linked by one man, a poet, artist, and dreamer, a man of ideas but with a streak of practicality, enough to run successive businesses for over thirty years. That man was Fritz Lampl, an Austrian, born in Vienna in 1892 and brought up in a suburb of that city where there was a large Jewish population. His father was a corn merchant and he had two elder brothers, August an architect, and Paul a banker.

Fritz became a poet, with poems published in the leading literary review The Brenner and short stories published by a German publisher called Jakob Hegner. Fritz was 22 when war broke out in Europe in 1914, with Germany and Austria fighting against Britain, France and their allies. His brother August was killed in one of the first battles of that war, and his other brother Paul, an officer in the army, was also killed. The rules of war in Austria at that time exempted from military service other sons of any family which lost two sons; so Fritz continued with his writing career.

During the war Fritz and his writer and artist friends used to meet in the Cafe Herrenhof, which had replaced the Zentral as the meeting place of interllectuals. It was here that he met Hilde Berger, sister of two architect/designers, Joseph and Artur Berger; and when the war ended he married Hilde.

After the war a group of writers, led by Fritz Lampl and Albert Ehrenstein, formed a writers' cooperative and published a small number of slim volumes, including Fritz's comedy The Flight. This publishing venture failed to make any profit and Fritz did not even receive his salary.

Shortly afterwards Fritz visited an exhibition in Berlin which included fantasy shapes in blown glass by Marianne von Allesch. He described these as "poetry materialised" and decided that he too would make "frozen poetry" in glass.

Bimini

In 1923 Fritz Lampl rented a basement, employed an out-of-work industrial glassblower, and invited his brother-in-law, Joseph Berger, to design fantasy shapes and sit beside the glassblower working together to convert the designs into glass. They worked with glass tubes of different diameters and colors, some of them striped. Joseph Berger described their work as follows:

First a mouthpiece was formed and then the man suddenly turned up the burner until the glass grew red hot and pliable, expanding as he blew into it, twisting, reheating, and finally cutting the bubble with a knife to form a foot; a vase had been born. There was great virtuosity in handling such brittle material, like taming an obstinate animal. It had to be married to sensitivity to turn craft into art.

We learned quickly from each other and soon fantastic animals, vases and figures emerged, which the glass blower then multiplied on his own. Fritz soon took my place as the designer and other artists were attracted by the fascinating game.

The name Lampl chose for his company, Bimini, is from a poem by Heinrich Heine about a fictional island called Bimini. Here is an extract:

Little Birdie Colibri,
Lead us on to Bimini
Fly ahead and we shall follow
In beflagged barges hollow;

On the Isle of Bimini
Reigns eternal ecstasy
And the golden larks are singing
In the Blue their tirili

by Heinrich Heine.

A flowerpot logo was decided upon, registered, craftsmen engaged, and a workshop set up. The date was November 1923. Very soon afterwards magazines were showing illustrations of Bimini glass and stores were buying them.

Labels with the logo were stuck to the various objects the workshop produced. Unfortunately they have mostly dropped off making identification of genuine Bimini items difficult. There have been many imitators of Bimini both Pre and Post World War II. Bimini has come to be used among some people as a generic term for any lamp blown glass from Continental Europe prior to World War II.

Output from the workshop was varied and extensive. The Bimini glass figurines are so beautiful they are like frozen moments in glass, or as they were described by Lampl "frozen poetry". Three examples are shown below.

One Dancer Two Dancers Bimini Three Girls

Many Bimini figurines use only one colour, and only rarely more than two. There is a correctness in anatomy and posture; they are abstract and lack detailed features. But always they convey a feeling, an emotion, and movement.

Coloured glass animals were also popular, as were the many designs of glasses, vases, and even glass cacti in ceramic flowerpots!

Joseph and Artur Berger were active in the firm both as designers of actual glass objects, which were then realised by the craftsmen, and also as designers of the Bimini showrooms, display cabinets and even notepaper.

Joseph Berger, who wrote an account of Bimini and Orplid shortly before his death in 1989, maintained that he and his brother acted as a restraint to some of the more kitsch and sentimental aspects of the glass. Joseph was a student of the famous Modernist architect Adolf Loos. The drawing on the right is an original design by Joseph Berger for the vase "Demeter".

Fritz Lampl continued to write poetry during this period in Vienna, and the reception room of the home the Lampls shared with Hilde's sister, became a literary salon in the evening after work. Amongst the many visitors who came for advice, inspiration, or conversation, was H.M.Hauer (inventor of 12 tone music), Paul Engelmann, and his friend Wittgenstein.

Demeter design by Joseph Berger

Distinguishing features of Bimini, on the whole, were the delicacy of the lamp blown glass and the elegant design. Many of the items featured swirling patterns, either in white or coloured glass, somewhat in the Venetian latticino style.

The success of the firm was considerable, gaining a number of prizes at a Paris exhibition of 1925 and exhibiting throughout Europe and the USA. In Vienna the Bimini showrooms were set up in Stubenring, a fashionable address near the Museum of Arts and Crafts. Their glass became collectors items and they were very popular.

The decanter and glasses shown here were designed by Artur Berger
Decanter designed by Artur Berger

But Bimini was to be overtaken by world events, and the rise of Nazism in Austria meant that it was no longer safe for Jewish people to live and work there. Joseph Berger emigrated to England in 1936, and Artur Berger moved to Russia where he was to spend the rest of his life, working as an Art Director for Mosfilms. Fritz Lampl stayed in Vienna until 1938, when he joined the queue of alarmed Jews who hoped to emigrate to England. The British interviewers were encouraging craftsmen to emigrate to Britain, they were not accepting many merchants. Fritz took some samples of Bimini glasses and photos of his wife's model dresses to the interview, and successfully gained a visa for himself and his wife.

pegasus figurine horse figurine unicorn figurine
Above: Bimini figurines, Pegasus, Horse and Unicorn.

Secret Nazi organisations had penetrated Viennese society by this time, and people in Vienna stopped trusting one another. Fritz and Hilde made their preparations to leave in secrecy, and took with them only a few examples of his work. They left so secretly, in fact, that his assistant did not know he was leaving, and arrived for work at the Bimini shop to find that her boss had fled. She was later to donate many examples of Bimini glass to the Applied Arts Museum in Vienna.

Orplid

By November 1938 Lampl had his certificate from the National Register of Industrial Art Designers in England, and between 1938 and 1940 the glassblowing venture was relaunched in a workshop in Soho, London using British glassblowers. They registered the same trademark, the little flowerpot, in England; but at some point in their first few years they ran into difficulties with the registration of the name Bimini, so Fritz chose a new name based on another German poem, this time ORPLID by E. Morike. Here is an extract:

Orplid thou art my land
that far outshines
From sea and sunny sands arising
The clouds caress the cheeks of gods,
Waters, age-old, arise, rejuvenated
round thy hips
And Kings bow down to you
Who want to be your serfs.
by E. Morike

Lampl and Berger were interned in Britain as enemy aliens in 1940 (along with thousands of other refugees) and when Lampl was released a few months later it was to find that his Soho workshop had been flattened by enemy bombing.

Undeterred he started up again, using the basement of his rented house as a workshop. He soon found a strong demand for his decorative glass objects. He started to make glass buttons, a new departure for him, some of which were blown glass and some were pressed.

Orplid buttons

For some of these he used plaster casts of Roman coins supplied from the British Museum, and because the pressing was relatively unskilled work, it gave some employment to many of his old friends from Vienna.

In addition to making buttons, they made tiny ornaments to put onto hatpins, like those shown below. These hatpins were very popular during the war years in Britain. Wearing hats was fashionable and Orplid hatpins were cheerful and decorative at a time when such things were in very short supply in Britain.

More Orplid buttons

The glass buttons were often gilded and for the first time made permanently identifiable as Bimini by having the little flowerpot logo impressed on the brass backs which were attached to the Bimini buttons.

button back button back

At the same time Lampl employed another compatriot, the potter, Lucie Rie, getting her to make ceramic buttons and ornaments for Bimini. These too had the flowerpot logo in a raised mark on the backs.

Orplid designed by Rei

Rie, who later started making ceramic buttons on her own account, went on to become a major figure worldwide in her field of pottery and ceramics. She was always grateful to Lampl for the work he gave her in those hard times. His portrait was the only photo on the wall of her studio in London.


more Orplid buttons

A new logo was designed by Joseph Berger about 1943, for the new name Orplid, but it was not used on the button backs. The labels on the glassware have disappeared with time, though a few letterheads still exist. The pictures below show two button backs with the Bimini plantpot logo, and next to it the new Orplid logo. Orplid buttons were marked only with 'Made in England'.

button back button back Orplid sign

A steady stream of brooches, glasses, and tableware was now being produced from the basement workshop in Hampstead, London where Lampl and his wife now lived.


Orplid birds
Above: some of the beautiful tiny birds and fishes made by Fritz Lampl for Orplid.

Orplid was as much a success as Bimini had been and articles about the firm appeared in Vogue, Design Magazine, the Courier, and many others. In them Lampl was variously described as "The Poet in Glass", "The Wizard in Glass", or in an American publication , "The Talented Briton" ! In that austere time, when Britain was under threat, glass ornaments seemed both light hearted and appropriate even for the rich to wear. He was selling to the top stores in London and struggling to make output meet demand.


more Orplid items

Some of the fantastic animals and birds which had featured in Bimini's Vienna days now reappeared, scaled down and flattened, as brooches or buttons. Tiny globes with decorative glass additions were blown. These were for hatpins, in an age when smart ladies wore hats.

With blockades on imports, Orplid had a virtual monopoly of art glassware.


Orplid glass items

Such was Fritz Lampl's fame that he even appeared as the hero of a children's book, "The Mystery of the Pink Elephants" published in 1945. In this story a group of children tracked down a mysterious reference to pink elephants and found Johann, a Fritz Lampl lookalike, in his workshop, where he demonstrated to them the technique of making pink elephants from glass.

Orplid was one of the products chosen to show off the revival of Postwar design in Britain at the Festival of Britain in 1951, a prestigious affair. This was a high point perhaps. The wine glass shown below, with a swan stem, was made by Orplid Glass in those heady years in London.


Swan glass

As the fifties progressed, however, cheap mass produced imports of glass from Central Europe, which had been halted by the War, were recommenced, and the market was soon inundated. Orplid's monopoly was broken decisively, and the affairs of this firm declined accordingly. Both Bimini and Orplid were always small scale studio-based operations. Trying to match the mass produced article was a decisive error for Fritz Lampl. It sapped his capital and his health, never robust, finally gave out. He died of a heart attack in 1955, and his wife Hilde, a talented dress designer, followed him a few months later. With their deaths, as they had no children, Bimini and Orplid ceased to exist, except through the legacy of their beautiful glass.

Orplid perfume bottle

This typical perfume bottle by Orplid (above), of which only a photo now exists has the following written on the back of the photo in Fritz Lampl's handwriting:
Perfume Bottle "Cupid". The glass figure of Cupid is cast inside. Bottle clear crystal. Figure white opaque. Spots on stopper gold, so is the heart on the outside. Priced at 30/- (1.50) Glass. Handmade in England.

Fakes and Reproductions

There were many imitators of Bimini, both before and after World War Two. Many are of quite poor design. Figures with detailed features, hair, or clothes are unlikely to be the real thing. I have seen cocktail sticks, wavy edged Edwardian vases, even fox and hound sets on sale as Bimini. Bimini figures are lively, anatomically correct, and abstract.

non-Bimini jug
The picture on the left is of a small jug purchased via an internet auction and sold as "Bimini", but it does not appear to be genuine. Although appealing, it is too crudely made to be by Bimini, a glance at the handle and the base confirms this.

The cocktail glass with an animal in the base, shown on the right, is of uncertain manufacture. Examples like this turn up quite frequently. Compare the crude animal in the base with the Cupid inside the perfume bottle which was shown earlier. It could have been made by a former employee of Bimini after the War, but is probably not Bimini.
non-Bimini glass

The "Warrior" figurine shown below is beautiful and old, but so far as we can tell, figurines with a coating of silver or ivory lustre were not made by Bimini. They quite often turn up in internet auctions labelled Bimini.

non-Bimini Warrior figurine

In the Czech Republic today (2003) there is a factory which specialises in glass figurines. They make all kinds of animals and figures in glass, many of them very beautiful and multi-colored. The factory is Zelezny Brod and according to Robert and Deborah Truitt (op.cit. page 118) this factory makes figurines very similar to Bimini, including a version of the Diana with Hound model.

In her book "Bimini" (referenced below) Waltraud Neuwirth shows pictures of several types of figurine by other glass artists. The work of Jaroslav Brychta and his pupils in Czechoslovakia, figurines by the Karl Hagenauer Werkstatte in Vienna, and some glorious pieces by Marianne von Allesch in Germany, are all shown in that book. Each has its own distinctive style quite different from Bimini.

References and Further Reading

1: Bimini - Wiener Glaskunst des Art Deco. (Bimini - Viennese Art Deco Art Glass) by Dr.Waltraud Neuwirth, published by Neuwirth, 1992. The author is an eminent Austrian Design Historian, and this book followed a major exhibition of Bimini in 1991 in Vienna. We gratefully acknowledge use of some illustrations of Bimini items from that book.

2: circa Fifties Glass from Europe and America by Leslie Pina, published by Schiffer, 1997.

3: Die Bimini-Werkstatt by Waltraud Neuwirth published in Antiquitaten-Zeitung 25, in 1980.

4: Das Bohmische Glas 1700-1950: Band VI Art Deco - Moderne last chapter Bimini-Werkstatte Wien by Passauer Glasmuseum, 1995.

5: The Poet in Glass, Fritz Lampl by Joseph Berger, FRIBA, unpublished manuscript written c. 1988.

6: Bimini and Orplid Glass, the Internet, and Me by Raymond Berger, published in The Glass Cone, issue 58 2001.

7: Bohemian Glass 1915 - 1945 Volume 2 by Robert and Deborah Truitt, 1998, page 118.


If you are looking for Bimini-style or Orplid glass, you can sometimes find a selection on offer on ebay. Click here to see Bimini and Bimini-type glass currently for sale on ebay.

The items below are for sale right now on eBay - we thought you would like to see these examples. But remember that it is hard to find original Bimini glass so you must use your judgement. A great deal of glass called Bimini was made in the Bimini style, but not by the Bimini studio.







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