Rochdale Observer - - FAITH NEWS -

E’RE great lovers of an­tique and 20th cen­tury glass chez nous, but I con­fess, none of what we own comes from the Bo­hemian fac­tory of Loetz... that is, as far as I know.

World renowned for its ex­otic iri­des­cent wares, the com­pany’s ear­lier ac­com­plish­ments and many of its prod­ucts were a mys­tery, un­til re­cently.

Mike Moir is one spe­cial­ist dealer with at least some of the an­swers and he in­vites read­ers of this col­umn to visit his stand at the up­com­ing An­tiques For Ev­ery­one at the NEC in Birm­ing­ham (see panel be­low).

Founded in 1836 in the South­ern Bo­hemian town of Kloster­mühle, to­day part of the Czech Repub­lic, the glass­works first came into the hands of the Loetz fam­ily in 1852.

Lit­tle is known about th­ese early years, but in 1900 they took their new wares to the Paris World Fair and as­tounded vis­i­tors from around the globe. Their suc­cess was rel­a­tively short-lived, how­ever.

By 1925, they were des­per­ately try­ing to re-in­vent them­selves. Their glass had gone out of fash­ion, and by the time of the out­break of the First World War, this once-thriv­ing busi­ness was ef­fec­tively fin­ished.

“Loetz’s sta­tus suf­fered an equally bumpy ride among deal­ers and col­lec­tors,” Mike tells me.

“Dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s, iri­des­cent Loetz stood at the pin­na­cle of collectable glass­ware, which re­sulted in most pieces of fine iridised Bo­hemian glass be­ing mar­keted un­der their name.

“Th­ese pieces were avidly sought out, and often com­manded mas­sive prices. As re­search meth­ods im­proved, it soon be­came ap­par­ent that much of what was la­belled Loetz wasn’t Loetz at all.

“How­ever they were not fakes. In fact, they were glass made by Loetz’s many neigh­bours and com­peti­tors, some of whom were almost as skilled as Loetz.

“In the con­fu­sion, prices of the bet­ter pieces of Loetz plum­meted.

“But then some­thing rare oc­curred: in­stead of a to­tal col­lapse, the brand res­ur­rected it­self, al­beit with a new em­pha­sis on cor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“To­day, fine sam­ples of Loetz glass­work are priced highly, and the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket is stronger than ever,” Mike says.

Loetz – or to give it its cor­rect name, Loetz Witwe (“the com­pany owned by the widow Loetz”) – saw its for­tunes turn in 1880, when the widow ap­pointed her nephew, Max­im­il­ion Von Spaun, as head of the glass­works.

Max re­alised quickly that to make this age­ing com­pany suc­cess­ful, he would have to do some­thing rad­i­cal.

His big­gest com­peti­tors in the world mar­ket were Har­rach in cen­tral Bohemia, and Josephi­nen­hütte in nearby Ger­man Sile­sia. They were ac­com­pa­nied by a mul­ti­tude of smaller en­ter­prises, both fin­ish­ing houses and glass­works, sit­u­ated in Bohemia and world­wide.

It was a time of aes­thetic and artis­tic change, lead­ing to an in­creased fo­cus on the arts of China, Ja­pan, Korea, and the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly Per­sian and Is­lamic im­agery.

Closer to home, there were strong re­vivals in Clas­si­cism, Ro­coco and Gothic styles.

De­vel­op­ments in glass-mak­ing were sim­i­larly dra­matic. Brighter and more var­ied colours were de­vel­oped, and enam­elling and gild­ing meth­ods in­creased in so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Hot work­ing be­came eas­ier, en­abling two or more dif­fer­ent­coloured pieces of glass to be fused while still hot.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, new tech­niques al­lowed the “flash­ing” of colours onto ves­sels, mean­ing one colour could fade into an­other, giv­ing an en­tirely new look.

Von Spaun utilised th­ese mo­dem prac­tices to make com­mer­cially vi­able glass­ware and within a few years, his at­ten­tion was alerted to Louis Tif­fany’s mar­vel­lous “Favrile” glass, which he re­alised his com­pany could repli­cate and po­ten­tially im­prove on. By 1898, Loetz was mak­ing iridised glass that could com­pete with the world’s best.

“It is only re­cently that Loetz’s early se­crets have be­gun to be re­vealed,” Mike said. “Lit­er­ally tons of Vic­to­rian coloured and dec­o­rated glass­ware flooded the UK, and ev­ery other coun­try, in the late 19th cen­tury, most of it es­sen­tially un­marked, so it made de­ter­min­ing the coun­try of ori­gin a night­mare, and es­tab­lish­ing an orig­i­nal maker im­pos­si­ble.

“To make things worse, some whole­salers gained UK copy­rights for the more suc­cess­ful de­signs, mean­ing a piece could be marked with a Bri­tish copy­right num­ber and still have been made by an un­known Bo­hemian glass­works.

“Fac­tory records in Bohemia and Sile­sia have been ac­ces­si­ble since the end of the Cold War. Un­for­tu­nately, even though th­ese records still ex­ist, they are mostly plain out­line draw­ings with lit­tle ex­tra in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

While amaz­ing dis­cov­er­ies have been made, the archives are truly mas­sive and largely un­sorted. In con­trast, much if not all of the glass sold by Max Emanuel of Lon­don has proved to orig­i­nate at Loetz.

“This is only the tip of the ice­berg though,” Mike said. “Many more ex­cit­ing dis­cov­er­ies are still pos­si­ble.”

Adding to the con­fu­sion, most Bo­hemian enam­elled glass­ware bears ci­phers and marks on the bot­tom.

“They are not maker’s marks as such. They were prob­a­bly put there to tell the enam­ellers what pat­tern, image, size, shape and so on, to dec­o­rate the vase or glass with,” Mike said.

“There is a wild di­ver­sity of sym­bols and for years they have been con­sid­ered in­de­ci­pher­able. In many cases they re­main a mys­tery, but slowly, over time, em­i­nent re­searchers have de­ter­mined cer­tain styles of for­mat that were unique to cer­tain glass houses.”

A cap­i­tal let­ter fol­lowed by a two or three-digit num­ber is now known to be a shape code for Har­rach. This is often fol­lowed by a strange frac­tion­like squig­gle that seems to iden­tify the Har­rach enamel pat­tern.

More re­cently it has been dis­cov­ered that a Ro­man nu­meral, fol­lowed by a slash and a num­ber, often un­read­able, was uniquely used by the Loetz in-house enam­elling depart­ment to iden­tify pat­terns.

This, com­bined with other re­cent Loetz dis­cov­er­ies, has led to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a gi­gan­tic new amount of Loetz glass from 18801900.

Things are not as sim­ple as they ap­pear though. Loetz was known to fin­ish blanks from di­verse houses (Har­rach among them).

Also, as Loetz sold on their own blanks for fin­ish­ing, there is high chance that a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of th­ese so-called ‘Loetz’ glass pieces are ac­tu­ally col­lab­o­ra­tive works.

“It is still early days. Big­ger and more im­por­tant dis­cov­er­ies await us in the fu­ture, and no doubt cor­rec­tions will be made to our ex­ist­ing knowl­edge. Mean­while, en­joy this fine glass in light of know­ing who made it,” Mike adds.

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