Coloured Bohemian Glass

Andrew Lineham Fine Glass, London (by appointment only)

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Coloured Bohemian Glass    Bohemian Glass  Stock page

Bohemia covered an area of central Europe whose constantly changing boundaries and precise position have been disputed many times over the last one hundred and fifty years. I refer to an area defined before the First World War as broadly being Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia with Germany to the West, Austria to the South, Silesia ( Poland) to the North and Hungary to the East.

Although good quality engraved pieces of glass had been made for hundreds of years in the area, it was nearly all on colourless glass. In the early 19th Century there was a small supply of transparent enamelling on colourless glass developed by Samuel and Gottlob Mohn, and later by Anton Kothgasser in Vienna. Because of the skill involved each piece was time consuming to produce and the output limited. Small Bohemian glass houses (hutte) copied this type of enamelling and, good as it is the difference is clear.

If you wanted to buy coloured glass at this time Venice was the place to go, and for obvious reasons they were keeping there methods of production a fiercely guarded industrial secret. However, in the early 19th Century three gentleman chemists challenged Venetian supremacy. They were Freiderich Egermann and the Counts Buquoy and Harrach. Their discoveries eventually led to inexpensively produced fine quality coloured glass at a price acceptable to the emerging middle classes. But to produce glass one needs glass furnaces and cit was the plentiful supply of wood and potash from ancient forests, together with an already established glass industry that enabled this emancipation from Venice. By the 1860's a real industry was established of about 100 glass huts (factories) employing roughly 40,000 people. The well known colours of ruby (deep red), cranberry (lighter red), amber, cobalt (blue), green, violet and so on were hugely popular not just in the local market of Prague, Munich, Vienna and Berlin, but with tourists (many British) craving a souvenir. The industry obliged by supplying pieces with engraved views of spa towns and civic buildings. The other most popular type of engraving was of woodland scenes with stags, dogs, horses and huntsmen.

A small selection of Bohemian goblets and covers.

Eventually a less expensive method of producing similar coloured glass; this was 'staining' or 'flashing' which simply meant a thin colour mainly amber and ruby fired on to look solid.

Universally popular and affordable the export of this glass was not just to Europe and Britain but also to the USA, Russia and to the Turkish/Middle East market. These skilled workmen eventually paid the price for the popularity of their wares and were over producing. However the demand for their skill and knowledge led to many glass workers leaving their remote villages and working in Austria, Germany, France, Great Britain and eventually the USA. In Great Britain they worked mainly in Stourbridge and Edinburgh, and the argument goes on as to whether the cased examples produced at this time are British or Bohemian. It is difficult to tell. My own feeling is that it doesn't matter really where the piece was made so long as it has merit. Very few pieces of Bohemian glass are documented; of the many hundreds of engravers only a few signed (or were allowed to sign) their pieces the most famous of these are Franz Paul Zach, Karl Pfohl, August Bohm and Dominik Biemann.

Sadly by the early 1890's the international demand by younger consumers for a style we now know as Art Nouveau severely reduced the desirability of traditional Bohemian glass.

In the early 20th Century the Successionist movement thoroughly rejected this by now old fashioned glass. The First World War and subsequent depression meant that Bohemia (by then called Czechoslovakia) had to try Art Deco styles to survive. This glass industry sometimes referred to as Czech owes its very existence to these skilled 19th Century inventors, experimenters and artistic pioneers.

Ironically many seemingly knowledgeable people will look at Bohemian glass and ask 'This is Venetian glass, Isn't it?' Much modern Venetian glass is expensive. Nearly all Bohemian glass, antique and modern is affordable with prices from £50 to £20,000. However, Venice is a magnate for tourists whereas Bohemia, even today is still as rare a destination as it was in the late 1800's. Good examples of antique coloured Bohemian glass can been seen at the Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Items illustrated- A pair of Bohemian ruby flash wine glasses, c.1865 and A Bohemian footed overlay vase, painted with panels of flowers and a rabbit , c.1870.                     

 

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Last modified: 01/14/10 (note American date arrangement)