The National Glass Collectors Fair

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Collecting Modern European
Art Glass: 1940-1980

By Tim Paterson

This article provides an introduction to collecting modern post-war Art Glass, including Scandinavian or Italian glass produced by the likes of Orrefors, Kosta Boda, Flygsfors or Seguso.

A rare item of glass, designed by Archimede Seguso.
A rare item of glass, designed by Archimede Seguso.

There are several criteria to reflect on when first considering collecting in any field, but especially "Art Glass". Firstly and most importantly DO YOU LIKE THE PIECE? Far too many people fall into the trap of "buying the name" rather than viewing a piece of glass as an individual item. This is especially true if it is well, or modestly priced. You also have to remember that even great designers, such as Edward Hald or Vicke Lindstrand, had off days.

You may want to collect glass from a specific period in time, or glassware produced by a particular designer or company. You may even want to take a much broader interest in a type of glass, collecting 20th Century Art Glass from Italy, Sweden or Finland. Before starting out it may be advisable to find out how easy it is to find the sort of glass you want to incorporate into your collection. This should be informed by both the price and availability of any particular type of glass. There can be little more frustrating than having a sum of money put aside to expand your glass collection, only to find nothing to buy. Finally, and most delicately, you need to study the amount of money you are going to have to invest in new acquisitions. At one end of the spectrum you can find some examples starting at less than £50.00, whilst at the other extreme you can expect to pay £10,000 and higher for highly rated and rare pieces of glass. So obviously the cost of a particular type of glass can be a very important consideration indeed.

Condition is also a very important factor, and although it would be nice if each piece of glass in you collection were a "mint" example, the reality is often far removed. As a general rule of thumb, you should both expect and accept "fair wear and tear". After all the glass from this period can often be heavy, relatively old, and indeed
A selection of items by Kosta Boda.
A selection of items by Kosta Boda.
initially functional. You may not ever consider putting a bunch of daffodils in your glorious Venini "Pezzato" vase, but rest assured there might well have been a time when it did hold flowers. Water damage, scaling or sickness, is one of the glass collectors worst enemies. Although a small amount may be acceptable, heavy staining is most definitely not. A scaled vase is almost impossible to clean. In contrast, scratching and fine wear to the base is not only to be expected, but can provide a good indication that an item of glass is genuine. If you can’t see base wear on a 4 kilo, 50-year-old vase, you need to ask yourself why this is the case. Faced with such a dilemma you need to address the possibility that you could be dealing with a piece of glass that is either a fake or has been highly restored. Whilst some exterior damage may be acceptable, try to steer clear of examples of glass with serious scratches or chips. Although such items are sometimes restorable and it may be worthwhile having the work done, it can be an expensive and time-consuming job, with no guarantees of success.

The identification of a piece of 20th Century Art Glass is also a very important issue. This is especially true when it comes to glass produced by Italian firms, as only a few of the major companies of the period actually signed their pieces. In fact most items of glassware were only issued with paper labels, and after time and cleaning these are all too often lost. Scandinavian glass is a different proposition entirely. The vast majority of pieces were not only signed by the company, but were often signed by the designer as well. Orrefors, Kosta, Iittala and Nuutajarvi, four of the best-known Scandinavian companies, all used both company and designer signature marks. All but Nuutajarvi also used individual design codes, to specifically identify each design from the company catalogues.

In the identification of Art Glass, good quality books and publications are a must. There are plenty of books on the market at the moment, which cover most aspects of the European Glass industry. And whilst you may think some are expensive, they can often prove their worth in a very short time; especially if you find a well-priced piece of glass that you recognise from a book, and the seller has no idea what they have. Old auction catalogues can also be very valuable, as they may have photographs and price estimates of items actually sold in the marketplace.

As a collector of Art Glass you should try to visit as many shows, collectors fair’s and auctions as your time permits. These events will provide a good opportunity to get an idea of price and general availability of the type of glass you wan to collect. Any decent dealer, or auctioneer will try to find the time to give you honest advice, but also be aware they have a living to earn. When buying any piece of glass, especially an item of some value, it is always in your interest to consult a specialist dealer, as they should offer you full receipts together with a guarantee of authenticity. While auction houses can be good a good source of information, they tend to employ "specialists" to cover all aspects of "Modern Design", rather than any specific field. Another thing to consider is the fact that an auction house attribution may down to "their opinion", and it is the buyer’s responsibility to confirm the identification of a piece of glass. You should always contact the Auction House to clarify this point before bidding, as there will be no return of sale, even if it turns out that they have incorrectly attributed an item of glass. However if a piece of glass were later identified as a "deliberate" fake, which was made to deceive, then you would be entitled to a full refund. Unfortunately, obtaining the correct documentation to prove your case may be both time-consuming and costly. In the end it can be as much as 20% of the claimed amount that may be unrecoverable. All in all, it might be beneficial, especially in your early collecting career, to rely on a Specialist Dealer. In time you will gain the experience and knowledge to evaluate a piece of glass, making an informed judgment based on your own considered opinion.

Finally, and most importantly, enjoy the time you spend both learning and collecting and you will develop a collection of glass that will not only give you pride and pleasure, but also a great potential for future profit. After all 20th Century design is the field with the biggest proven growth area in the entire antique and collecting market.

Written By Tim Paterson.


Please note that the content of this article is the sole intellectual property of the author. No reproduction or reference to the text of this article may be made without the express permission of the author.

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