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From Lalique to Whitefriars: why 20th century glass is so important


The 20th century was witness to a variety of changing styles in the decorative arts, all of which were echoed in the century’s glassware, making this area of collectables the perfect way to understand the century’s major decorative arts trends.

Decorative Arts Movements of the 20th Century

Arts and Crafts (c1880-c1920) and Art Nouveau (c1890-c1915) were movements which heralded the new century with nature inspired styling, followed by the Modernist (1900s-1930s) and Art Deco (1920s-1930s) movements which favoured progressive, clean lines. By the 1950s mid-century modern styling prevailed, enduring until the 1970s when Postmodern (1970s-1980s) and later Contemporary (1990s-2000) movements saw the century end with a flourish, with a rise in the Studio Glass Movement.

Glass is an exciting medium for artists to work with and the advent of mass production techniques in the early 20th century meant that even the most humble homes could afford to use glassware every day. In order to stand out from their competitors, glass manufacturers turned towards designers and their vision, in order to differentiate their pieces from those of other manufacturers. While architectural designs such as stained-glass windows continued to be crafted, in was in the 20th century that glass really began to be produced for domestic consumers with a rise in the production of vases and bowls, as well as sculptural and artistic pieces. Most countries had a glass production industry but some were more prolific and therefore influential, resulting in them being considered important in their field.

French Collectable Glass Factories and Designers

Emile Gallé and Daum are two glass producing factories that epitomise the French Art Nouveau style. Both are celebrated for their work with cameo glass, where multiple layers of coloured glass are fused together prior to the surface being worked to display the design in different colours. Acid-etching enabled mass-produced pieces to have a high-end finish and both factories were expert in this technique. Both also hand finished many pieces using wheel carving and fire polishing techniques, usually reserved for the highest priced wares. It is these pieces that are now sought after by collectors.

Rene Lalique is probably the most recognised name in glass production but did in fact start his career as a jeweller with connections to the perfume industry, hence his first pieces in the early years of the century were perfume bottles for luxury brands such as Coty. These were followed by decorative dressing table accessories, leading on, ultimately, to a wide range of pieces from vases to car mascots. Lalique’s factory mass produced moulded designs which were then finished using a variety of techniques to introduce texture and depth. Although mass produced, Lalique glass was unique and captivating, qualities that marked it out as a luxurious brand, which it remains today. For collectors, there are two periods of Lalique – pre-1945 and post-1945. 1945 marked the year of René’s death and the passing of the business to his son, Marc. It also marked a change in the chemical composition of the glass. Pre-1945 pieces are signed ‘R. Lalique’ whereas pieces from after 1945 simply bear ‘Lalique’, with later work also having a registration mark.

British Glass

Desirable glass pieces are those that reflect the aesthetics of the day and none do this more than the Textures range by Whitefriars. Founded in the late 17th century, the factory moved from the City of London to Wealdstone in the London Borough of Harrow in 1923. In 1954, Geoffrey Baxter joined the business having graduated from the Royal School of Art. Baxter was head of the main Whitefriars studios which underwent a name change in 1963, becoming Whitefriars Glass. By the end of the 60s, Baxter designed and released the Textures range. With instantly recognisable shapes (Drunken Bricklayer, Banjo, Calculator) and innovative colours such as kingfisher blue, tangerine, aubergine, cinnamon and indigo, the Textures range has become iconic and instantly associated with Whitefriars Glass. The range was produced into the 1970s, but with the final closure of the factory in 1980, Whitefriars remains a healthy area of collectables.

Murano Glass

Synonymous with excellence in glass manufacture, Murano is named for the islands of Murano off the coast of Venice. Glass furnaces have been burning there for centuries and names to look for include the great designers Archimede Seguso, Paolo Venini, Carlo Scarpa, Dino Martens, and Barovier & Toso. The artist, studio and date are the main factors in the auction value of Murano glass but there is always buoyant demand for pieces dating from the 1920s onwards.

What is Studio Glass?

Throughout the 20th century, the trend was for individual or studio glass production. This is the term given to unique pieces of glassware handmade by the designer or artist. Usually, these artists will have undergone apprenticeships or residencies in major centres like Murano, before taking their acquired skills and applying them to smaller scale production in their own or a small workshop studio. Studio glass will have a strong artistic element and it can represent an affordable area of 20th century glass to collect as it makes a great gift idea and can also be a rewarding investment. Interest continues to rise in this area of collectables, with prices following a similar upwards trend and one name to look for is Sam Herman (born 1936).

How to identify 20th century glass

  • Although some 20th century glass will bear makers’ marks or artists’ signatures, most, particularly factory-produced items, will have nothing to identify the maker or designer. In these instances, there may have been a label originally and if this is still in place, it will help to authenticate and date the glass.
  • Attention needs to be paid to other features of the pieces including the style, form, colours production techniques and design. It is always better to consult with a glass specialist and our dealers at Hemswell are always happy to help and advise when they are on site.
  • There are also reference books and specialist period publications that can be referred to and one name to look for is the publisher Taschen.
  • Reproductions and fakes can be difficult to spot so wherever possible, try to handle a piece to judge the weight and size for yourself.

Where to find 20th century glass for sale

While you may stumble across a piece of mid-century glass in a charity shop or at a car boot sale, being able to authenticate it will be nigh on impossible, particularly for the novice collector. Vintage fairs and auctions may offer rich pickings too but for a fantastic day out, in beautiful surroundings where you will find some fine examples of genuine 20th century glass, a trip to Hemswell Antique Centres is not to be missed. Our four buildings house not just antique and vintage glassware but the entire spectrum of antique goods. Plan a trip to beautiful Lincolnshire or browse our selection of 20th century glass on our website.

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