Leerdam, near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, has been a site of glass making since the 18th Century. In 1878 an existing bottle plant was extended with a glass works for table glasses, both blown and pressed. During the first years of production, the designs were anonymous, and followed the tradition of drinking glasses elsewhere. Decanters, stemware, counter jars and similar articles were decorated with etched, engraved and cut designs and the resulting production was so traditional that it could have been produced almost anywhere. The same is true for pressed glass patterns, which are completely in line with the taste of the period. These products were not just for local distribution, but were also exported to England, South America and Mexico.
During the great age of glass innovation at the turn of the century, Leerdam kept out of the art glass market. At the time there was an important idealistic movement to improve the quality of everyday design, led by architects and furniture makers. Shapes inspired by nature were stylised, geometrical designs introduced and the role of ornament was reduced. This Functionalist movement, which was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement in England, was led in the Netherlands by the architect Hendrik P.Berlage. He believed that architects should not limit themselves to designing buildings, but that they should also tackle decoration, furniture and tableware. His first designs for vases and stemware date from 1900 - but it would be 20 years before the Leerdam glass factory actually produced any of his designs.
In 1915, the first glass designs were commissioned by P.M.Cochius, director of Leerdam Glassworks, from the architect Karel P.C.de Bazel. Around the same time, Cochius commissioned glass designs from other famous architect-designers such as Cornelis De Lorm, Chris Lanooy, Chris Lebeau, and Hendrik P.Berlage and from the young factory designer Andries Copier (pronounce koh-peer).
Leerdam tobacco jar in
iridised amethyst, around 1918
|The regular production of anonymous glass continued, but designer glasses soon became quite popular. They were stamped with an acid etched mark to identify the designer. The factory colour scheme included clear crystal, amber, purple, dark amethyst, black amethyst, matt black, green and yellow-green, light blue and blue, and some glasses had iridised or light
gold-lustre finishes. After 1928, the colours brown and red were added, as
well as grey-violet.
Leerdam commissioned designs as a full set of matching glasses. Such a glass service would consist of a wine decanter, a cordial decanter, a water decanter, a large and a small wine glass, a champagne glass, glasses for port, cordial, liqueur, beer, water and lemonade, a green glass for white wine, finger bowls and various dishes.
As for the idealistic aims of quality for the masses, it was soon discovered that the masses did not drink port or burgundy from expensive crystal goblets: so designer glasses remained expensive.
K.P.C. De Bazel, 1869-1923 was an architect, theosophist and freemason and designed glass along "harmonious, geometrical and mystical lines" to combine beauty and functionality. His first full set of crystal ware was produced in 1917, and he designed a number of glass services until his death in 1923. He was a difficult man to work with, he disliked decoration, and insisted on absolute conformity with the design. His glasses were expensive to make, fragile and very difficult to clean. His pressed glass service, all parts of which are 10-sided, gained some popularity.
Cornelis de Lorm (1875-1942) was a designer of graphics, glass and pottery with a strong idealistic drive. His glasses are of simple design, they were easy to make and sold well between 1917 and 1926.
Chris Lanooy (1881-1948) was a potter who made designs for Leerdam from 1919 onwards. Some of his early glassware had painted decoration in yellow, green, purple, black and white. The shapes are potters' shapes, often featuring horizontal rings. From 1926-1929 he also contributed to the Unica range, mostly ceramic ball shapes with a neck.
Hendrik P.Berlage (1856-1934) was a famous architect and promoter of good design. In 1900 he presented his first glass designs to Leerdam, but the factory was not ready for his ideas. His first three glass services were manufactured by Pantin in France, between 1900 and 1903. Later, in 1923, Berlage designed a press-glass breakfast service for Leerdam, with a hexagonal shape in striking milky yellow colours. His blown glass service Ovata (1927) was based on the shape of the egg and was produced until 1940.
Chris Lebeau (1875-1945) was a graphic designer, painter and designer of table linen, and from 1923 designed flower vases for Leerdam. As a teetotaller he refused to design wineglasses. His vases are striking in shape, often combining a black amethyst pressed glass base with tall transparent shapes. He also contributed to the Unica range. From 1926-1930 he worked for Moser, and production of his designs in Leerdam was discontinued.
Above: Crystal ball vase designed by Copier in 1925
Above: Copier crystal ball vase with air bubbles, in production since the 1930's
The most prolific designer who worked for Leerdam was Andries Copier who was born in Leerdam in 1901 and lived to the age of 90. He studied at the Utrecht School of Graphic Art and at Rotterdam Academy, and he joined Leerdam in his mid-teens as a trainee glassblower.
|His first designs were exhibited in 1919, and his first glass service, inspired by floral shapes was designed in 1923.
Leerdam vases designed by Andries Copier won first prize at the 1925 Paris Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts.
After a trip to the Bauhaus in the late twenties, his shapes became more geometric and functional.
In an interview some months before his death in 1991, Copier explained about his early mistakes. Drinking glasses with elegant outgoing rims forced the glass blowers to make a huge bubble of which only the lower part was used. These glasses slopped over easily, were very fragile and impossible to clean, and few survived.
His most famous design is the wineglass "Gilde" from 1930 which is still in production today, and which is considered something of a modern icon.
Above: Copier flower vase in Amber, 1928
Above: Copier vase from 1953
Copier pioneered many new techniques, shapes, colours and decorations. His Unica and Serica are sought after collector's items today and sometimes fetch high prices. Between 1933 and 1948, around 11,000 Unica pieces were produced, the majority designed by Copier.
Left: Copier vase with grit inclusions, 1936
Copier also pioneered the use of Graniver, a brightly coloured semi-porous type of glass with sand added to the batch which was mainly used for making cactus and flower pots. He also made extensive use of Tin crackle, a process in which tin chloride was fused onto the hot glass before blowing it out further. The result is a decorative matt white cracked surface.
After World War II the majority of glass designs at Leerdam were by Floris Meydam (b.1919) who worked as chief designer from 1944 to 1986. His modernistic glass designs are very much in line with the taste of the fifties and sixties. Cylinders, circles, ovals and squares are a recurring feature in Meydam designs.
The vase on the right is from the Serica series designed by Floris Meydam in 1953
Meydam's Unica are not considered quite as desirable (by collectors) as those designed by Copier. Many of his designs for tableware can still be found in shops today.
As a rule, Meydam production glasses are not signed.
The production of Leerdam covers the full range of hand blown crystal glasses, machine made glasses, pressed glass articles, pressed crystal, Unica, and experimental pieces. Quite a lot of unsigned Leerdam glass has been exported to the USA and Canada where it is often mistaken for Steuben.
|The hand blown tableware and flower vases are very light and elegant, often
executed in light tones (grey, light amethyst) to accent the all important
shape of the vessel in the absence of other decoration. Rims are
flame-polished to a very high standard. Even if the model is unfamiliar, the
finish of the rim can help to determine if a glass has been made by Leerdam
or not. Heavy crystal pieces are equally simple and well finished - dozens
of different models of contemporary looking decanters with matching glasses
have been produced over the past 50 years or so. Pressed wares were mostly
made for the local market.
On the right, decanter and glass in the "Rondo" design by Copier
Another famous name that pops up in the history of Leerdam is Frank Lloyd Wright, who made glass designs for Leerdam in 1929. It was not a great success as his designs proved technically too difficult. Only one vase was actually made: a lumpy six-sided panel cut green somerso vase, which is now in the Leerdam glass museum.
The glasses above are examples of Muller's wine glasses from around 1930
|There are two other major sources of glass designed in the Netherlands. One is Gerard Muller, a glass shop owner in Amsterdam (until 1943) who advertised the fact that no designer, architect or artist was allowed near his products: function was more important than design. He sketched his own glasses and decanters, and had them made by the Josephinenhütte in Germany, or by Val St.Lambert in Belgium.
His glasses are elegant, simple, classic and functional - and all items were tested for functionality at Mr. Muller's personal dinner table.
|The other source of Dutch-designed glass is Kristalunie Maastricht who had made high quality facet cut crystal ware since the 19th century. After the popularity of cut crystal fell in the late twenties, they tried to match the Leerdam competition by introducing designer glass (Cuypers, Kannegieter, Wasch, Roozendaal, Eisenloeffel) - but it was too little, too late.
Their attempt at selling art glass, which was designed by Max Verboeket in the late fifties and sixties, did not stop them from finally going under.
In 1959 Maastricht came under Leerdam direction, and around 1980 the factory ceased to exist.
The tall vase on the right has beautiful blue includions and is an example of Maz Verboeket's work for Maastricht during the 1950's
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