Bohemian glass: beauty is in the details

Bohemian glass

This four-piece deep green Bohemian glass set boasts heavily gilded painting and enamel painted flowers. It realized $42,500 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Artingstall Auctioneers 1874. Photo courtesy of Artingstall Auctioneers 1874 and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK – If you immediately think of Murano, Italy, when it comes to cutting-edge glassmaking, you are not wrong but don’t forget about the Czech Republic, where Bohemian glass has been a tradition since the 13th century. Venetian glass remained popular – and still does today – but Bohemian glass has long been a favorite for collectors of beautiful glassware.

Jason Woody, owner of Woody Auction in Douglass, Kansas, says that Bohemian glass has a long and storied history owing to its quality.

“It’s just really desirable,” he said. “I would consider Bohemian engraving to be some of the finest engraving available; just the detail of their work is exceptional.”

Bohemian glass

A  two-part pedestal vase in an opaque yellow background, signed Moser, brought $38,000 + the buyer’s premium in May 2014. Woody Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Bohemian glass originated in Bohemia and Silesia, now part of the Czech Republic, where a wealth of natural resources spurred glassmaking here. Glassworkers found that potash mixed with chalk could create colorless glass that was more durable than what was being produced in Italy. They also created beautiful colored glassware there. Among technical innovations distinguishing Bohemian glass was being able to cut the glass on a wheel. Fine craftsmanship utilizing traditional and cutting-edge techniques included engraving, color overlays, pressing gold leaf between two layers of glass, enameling, and making iridescent and painted glassware.

Among the most collected forms are massive chandeliers, vases, wine glasses and decanters. Elegant pedestal and ornate vases are sought after as well as beautiful tableware glass pieces that are deeply carved, beautifully detailed and with the finest clarity in the glass. The chandeliers could be described as palatial with some examples measuring 5 feet wide and 6 feet tall. They make elegant statement lighting fixtures in both classic lines and basket shapes and can be hand-cut, painted, engraved or blown.

Bohemian glass

A palatial Bohemian chandelier in green glass attained $16,000 + the buyer’s premium at Guernsey’s in November 2018. Photo courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

Both large and small companies produced Bohemian glass, including Loetz, renowned for its iridescent pieces; Moser, famous for its skilled engraving work and well as mouth-blowing each piece; Ruckl, whose acid etched and enamel-painted pieces are still made today; and chemist Friedrich Egermann, who took his skills that he honed painting porcelain for Meissen to painting on glass. In 1829, he came out with Lithyalin glass, renowned for resembling marble but he manipulated the surface to also appear as if semiprecious stones were embedded. A fine example in a museum collection in a nontraditional form is this Lithyalin box owned by the Corning (N.Y.) Museum of Glass.

Another renowned Bohemian glassmaker, Loetz was celebrated for innovations in historicism glass, especially Intarsia and Octopus glass. The pinnacle of its Art Nouveau era glass was its Phänomen series. A notable and large example of a Phänomen vase (below), circa 1900, sold for $42,500 + the buyer’s premium in October 2016 at Rago Arts and Auction Center.  Franz Hofstötter designed this form for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, winning a Grand Prix there.

Bohemian glass

A striking and large Phänomen vase by Loetz, circa 1900, made $42,500 + the buyer’s premium in October 2016 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. Photo courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

“From our experience, some of the better pieces of Moser have been the highly decorated enameled pieces (many times with applied ornamentations). Moser was really well known for their enamel work and they did incredible decorative enamel pieces,” Woody said. A fitting example is this two-part pedestal vase by Moser that sold in May 2014 for $38,000. “It is one of the highest-selling Moser pieces we have sold, though there are many examples that are just as nice. We find that many of the best pieces were made from 1880 to the 1920s.”

Red glass has always been a popular color for glassmaking and makers once had to use gold to create a deep ruby hue, a costly process. Egermann is reported to have further revolutionized the glass industry by pioneering the manufacture of red glass by using copper ions. Red is a fairly common color though in Bohemian glass and veteran collectors will often seek out desirable colors, such as green, black, dark purple and blue.

Bohemian glass

A pair of Bohemian decanters with robust cranberry coloring as well as diamond point and enamel floral decor made $17,000 + the buyer’s premium at Woody Auction in April 2013. Photo courtesy of Woody Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Bohemian glass artists had one foot firmly in the past and one foot in the future. Steeped in tradition, the many glassmakers here – both large companies and numerous independent glassmakers and decorators – came out with types of decoration that stayed in production for many years, such as red-stained engraved glass or overlay glass (glass that is cut to reveal a color underneath the main color). Glassmakers here played around with forms and shapes and created increasingly more complicated and sophisticated engraving. Given the high level of competition, glass artisans had to continually innovate with such techniques as luster glass, enameling and gilding.

Decorative glassware made here remains perennially popular with collectors. “It’s still relatively very strong,” Woody says of the current market. It’s kind of like the overall market: some pieces are extremely desirable whereas some of the more common average pieces have suffered in recent years. If it’s the rarest of the rare, it’s going to do exceptionally well.”