In April this year, I was lucky enough to be able to secure the central exhibition space at the Spring Antiques For Everyone fair at the National Exhibition centre in Birmingham to promote Skrdlovice glass. Although the accompanying book ‘Berànek & Skrdlovice: Legends of Czech Glass‘ was launched later that month, we were able to mount the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, covering glass made at the factory from the mid 1940s until it closed in 2008. The glass was generously provided from the private collection of glass historian and collector Robert Bevan Jones, who organised it into sections and created the display. Along with along with Jindrich Parik, he is one of the two authors of the accompanying book – the first on the factory and its designers. As you can see from the photographs below, the display made an immense visual impact. As a result, it was visited by many thousands of people who visited the fair – comments were extremely positive and everyone came away having learnt many new things …

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A quick, but important, one here. On my trip to Novy Bor, I was taken to the Crystalex factory shop. A selection of  ‘interesting’ decorative pieces and tableware was available, but the things that caught my eye were those in the photos below. The collectors amongst you will recognise the glass in the first photo (left) as ‘Nemo’, designed by Max Kannegeisser in 1963. Vintage examples aren’t too hard to find if you look hard enough, but I’d be prepared for an influx of these new versions. Jindrich Parik and I agreed that some shapes may be different, the colour tones of the dots are different and, most importantly, these new versions had relatively thick bases which made them heavier in weight than the originals we’ve seen in the past. Of course, it’s difficult to be sure so some more work will need to be done. Prices ranged from around £8-12. My suspicions had been aroused earlier in the year as I had seen a small vase in a charity shop in Honiton, which claimed to come …

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It’s not often that you get to meet the people behind the designs you collect, even though there’s more of a chance with postwar pieces. While I was in Novy Bor, I was lucky to meet Karel Wünsch, one of the best and most innovative postwar Czech glass designers who is globally renowned for his progressive cut glass. He now runs Galerie W, a thriving contemporary glass gallery with his wife, but still designs and cuts glass. Novy Bor is steeped in the history of Czech and Bohemian glass, and Wünsch’s gallery is no exception as it’s housed in the building once owned by the famous Egermann family (below). Wünsch has known the house all his life, as his father bought it in 1921. He even remembers an elderly granddaughter of the great Friedrich Egermann living there! Mr Wünsch and his wife are warm, friendly and open. He kindly gave me some copies of pages showing his celebrated designs for the early 1960s ‘Dual’ range (below), explaining that they gained the name not …

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My main reason for visiting the Czech Republic last week was to attend the opening of a major retrospective exhibition of the work of eminent Czech glass designer and maker Frantisek Vizner. I was kindly invited as the guest of the Ajeto Glassworks, whose smart and spacious museum in Novy Bor was the location of the exhibition. Frantisek Vizner was born in 1936 and has risen to become a globally known name whose unique studio works can be found in key museums and public and private collections across the world. After mastering basic skills at the Specialized School of Novy Bor, he studied at the Prague Academy of Applied Arts under the legendary Professor Karel Stipl from 1956-62. He then moved into the government organised Czech glass industry, as a designer of mass-produced pressed glass. He produced over 20 designs until 1967 when he moved to the noted Skrdlovice glassworks to produce limited run hot-worked designs. In 1977, he left Skrdlovice to focus on the unique studio works that he had begun whilst there, and …

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It started with a question, and I never expected the answer to turn out like it did. Last week’s amazing visit to the Ajeto Glassworks in Novy Bor, Czech Republic, brought me into contact with a vibrant, charming and talented young Australian glassmaker called Jasper Dowding (above). Even though it seemed to pass in minutes, we spoke for hours, enthusing about Czech glass and contemporary glass design. Highly knowledgeable, Jasper is already accepted internationally as a skilled glassmaker and designer with great potential. His fine studio work is stocked by top tier galleries such as Vessel in London, and a selection was displayed at the Saatchi Gallery’s stand at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘Collect’ event. I’ve always admired the early studio works of the influential designer Rene Roubicek – particularly the one shown here in an original photograph I own. I have always presumed that the applied, yet integral, bubbles required great skill to make, so I asked Jasper what the secret was. Rather than explain, he suggested …

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No, it might not be pretty, but….

Okay, it’s not pretty, but I think it’s an important thing. It looks like a basic attempt at working with glass, even thought it’s way better than I’m sure I could manage. I’m always intrigued by chunky pieces like this, and make a point of picking them up when I see them, hoping they turn out to be early examples from the birth of studio glass during the late 1960s. Although the ‘hit-rate’ is low, this is even more important when visiting great fairs like the last Cambridge Glass Fair, and especially important if such a piece is being sold by an eagle-eyed and sharp-minded dealer like Paul Anderson. And I wasn’t disappointed this time around, as the base on this 7.5in (19cm) high piece is signed ‘Jiri Suhajek London 1970′. Arguably, few would know his name, making recognition hard, and indeed Paul told me that he had found it in an antiques and collectables centre in the North of England, lying dustily forgotten at the back of a shelf. Much as I appreciate it’s charming …

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Vintage Glass Hunting in Prague

PragueShopping

A city centre with a shop selling glass on pretty much every street sounds like heaven for the glass collector. Not so, I wouldn’t give a second glance, let alone house room, to 90% of the cheap trash on offer! Apart from pieces by Moser or similar factories, and pieces sold at the swish Material or Artel, that is. They’re well worth checking out. If you’re looking, like me, for a quality piece of a vintage nature, then you have to look a bit harder. The tourist ridden Old Town (Praha 1) is a sensible starting point. Unsurprisingly, prices will be higher than anywhere else in the city, but it’s always worth bartering politely with cash – start at around a third less. Most tourist guides recommend Bric à Brac at Tynska 7 – there are two shops, one large and long emporium and one delightfully packed over-sized cupboard. I spotted a few good-ish things here, but prices were at the top end of what I’d want to pay in London. It’s also well …

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Vladimir Zahour

ZahourGlass

People keep saying to me that “everything that’s worth something has been found” and “it’s not worth looking as there are no bargains any more”. Well, it’s just not true. Only last month a superb, and rare example of a Modernist chair found for £25 sold at auction for nearly £3,000! Similar, but not quite in the same league, is the large cut glass display goblet shown here. It was acquired by a friend of mine on eBay, where it was described as ‘A large crystal balloon vase, hand cut, very unusual’. The seller went on to say that he had never seen anything quite like it before. Not surprising, really, as it’s a very rare example of a late 1960s design by Vladimir Zahour, a master of postwar Czech glass design. During this period, the cut itself was the most important factor, rather than it being used as a means to an end, to produce traditional naturalistic or heraldic designs. Simple, geometric cuts in abstract patterns that reflected the brilliance and purity of Czech lead crystal dominated. The design …

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René Roubicek Photograph

Rene Roubicek

Browsing around my favourite hunting ground, Past Caring in Islington, with a TV film crew today, I stumbled upon this incredible photograph. Although it might not look like much, the rather strange piece of glass the young man is looking at is a postwar Czech masterpiece. Simply titled ‘Object’, it was designed in 1960 by legendary designer Rene Roubicek, and made by Josef Rozinek at the Borské Sklo factory in Novy Bor. it was first exhibited at the Milan Triennale in 1960, and went on to become an icon of the revolution in Czech glass design that occurred after the war. Photographs of such items are not at all common, and this looks to have been professionally shot, taking into account the dramatic angle, viewer’s expression, and the reflections in the cabinet’s glass front. Totally unmarked, its origins are a mystery, although it may have been a press photo for the Milan exhibition. If you can shed any light on it, and who shot it, please let me know.

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Czech Glass in BBC Homes & Antiques

Last month I was delighted to be asked by BBC Homes & Antiques magazine to write an article on postwar Czech glass design, a hot collecting area also known to collectors as ‘sklo’. The magazine’s photographers have really excelled themselves, and you’ll find a lavishly illustrated seven page article packed with useful information and tips. Not only that, as you can also read superb articles by Paul Atterbury on the illustrator Eric Gill, Jon Baddeley on Peter Beard’s studio ceramics, Will Farmer on early 19thC card tables, and much more from the Antiques Roadshow. All for the princely sum of £3.60. Now, if that isn’t a bargain, I don’t know what is!

 

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