Learning About Glass

Knowledge is the key to both collecting success and a general appreciation of the subject for several obvious reasons. By far the most important is that it gives those who possess it the ability to differentiate one piece from another: the excellent from the good, the good from the average, and the average from the poor.

A guide to the scale of the historic glass industry is provided by Carolus Hartmann’s Glas-Markenlexikon, 1660-1945, whose 1,006 pages are crammed with 18,000 unique marks and signatures. It is important to note that the practice of maker-marking increased dramatically during the 20th century, so a follow-up volume covering 1945-2000 would probably rival, if not surpass, the original in size.

Given these facts, how does even the most experienced dealer, let alone a novice, trace a path through the maze of pitfalls, blind alleys, and minefields that constitute 20th-century glass collecting? The answer is: with care. Anybody who claims to know it all is either a fool or a liar. The field is simply too vast and furnished with too little reliable literature for anyone to be an expert in all areas. The answer for those not prepared to devote their entire lives to the subject is to make their choice and specialize.

A diligent individual could learn virtually all there is to know about the work of Rene Lalique, for instance, by absorbing the contents of all 1,063 pages 0f Felix Marcilhac’s definitive study, Rene Lalique, 1860-1945, Maitre-Verrier (1989), and that of the other 20-plus volumes dedicated to the subject, and, equally importantly, by handling innumerable examples. Then, after studying market trends in in Lalique glass, he or she would be adequately prepared to spend the large sums of money required to acquire good examples.

However, Lalique is exceptional in having such a huge body of research devoted to him. Excellent books have studied other areas of 20th-century glass – the writers/academics Jan Mergl, Waltraud Neuwirth, Michael Kovacek, Helmut Ricke, Ada Polak, and Lesley Jackson have proved as consistently reliable as it is possible to be. However, their works glow as beacons in a sea infested with poorly written, ill-researched literature that does a disservice to its subject. Though mostly well intended, once published, the mistakes stick. It is another appalling fact that many, if not most, of the written descriptions applied to glassware by dealers, particularly generalists, are false. When challenged, some dealers can even produce a book containing the source of their fiction! That is not to suggest that all dealers are ignorant, as some, like Kovacek, are the leading authorities on their particular specialties. However, it is a fact that a majority are wealthy when it comes to glass, largely for the reasons previously outlined.

Thank you to Miller’s 20th Century Glass

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