Investing in Glass
In most of the stylish homes you see in modern movies or magazines, you'll see art glass in the background. Art glass, generally, is cool.
Scandinavian and Italian mid-century glass (particularly the 1950s and 60s, but extending into the 70s and 80s) has become very collectable and prices have risen significantly since 2000. However, it's still far from commonplace to find people collecting it. As more and more people discover it, the prices keep going up.
We think it will continue to be collectable and continue to attract new fans. Briefly, here's why.
1. Mid-century design was revolutionary.
After the Second World War, the world was open to change. The middle of last century was a tremendously exciting time for design generally. Items designed at that time, from furniture to toasters, are now collectable. Much of the design was driven by technology and, to some extent that's true in glass as well. See for example: http://www.modernistglass.com/glasspieces/view/2593/pair-of-signed-1960s-vicke-lindstrand-kosta-offcentre-vases-with-bubbles and http://www.modernistglass.com/glasspieces/view/2675/edvin-ohrstrom-girl-and-dove-4kg-ariel-vase-for-orrefors
2. Broadly, it's when the designers took over from the craftsmen.
At the start of the 20th Century, glassmaking was a trade. (On the island of Murano, an apprenticeship was generally 10 years!) Design was often part of the job of these craftsmen, and they weren't necessarily very good at it. Over the course of the 20th century, glassmaking progressed from something designed by glass blowers to something designed by specialist designers and artists, with radical ideas like "less is more". The designs became better - more varied, cleverer, and more beautiful.
3. Murano and Scandinavia were clearly the best in the middle of the 20th century (though Czechoslovakia caught up later). They had the best craftsmen and the best designers.
As Leslie Pina says in "Fifties Glass", "Many glassmaking centers participated in this exciting event [what she calls 'the explosion of creative activity inspired by individual designers employed by large firms'], but two geographic areas outshine the others in innovation, quality, and productivity - Italy [specifically the island of Murano off the coast of Venice] and Scandinavia.
4. Mid-century glass is a bargain.
Europe today is an expensive place, but after the Second World War Europe was poor and wages were low. Scandinavian and Italian glass was a relative bargain when it was exported to America. So the vase that grandma has had on her mantlepiece for so many decades may now be worth a lot more than she paid for it. She'd certainly pay a lot more for a new version today. Today, much modern glass art is something designed and created by artists and it's expensive. When modern glass artists are selling new works for thousands of dollars, a beautiful fifty-year-old piece for hundreds of dollars looks like bargain. In our view, a design which was original and beautiful when it was made in, say 1960, is generally better than a variation on the same theme made today.
5. Glassmaking is still a rare skill
Even now, it's not an easy thing to learn. Lots of people can make a pot on a potters wheel, and anyone can pick up a paint brush and paint a picture (however badly) but how many people do you know who can blow glass?
6. They're not making any more 1950s glass.
There are a few classic peices which have stayed in production for decades but generally designs were made in limited runs and the pieces we sell are long out of production. Every day, all around the world, pieces break, making the mid-century glass you own more valuable.
7. Glass is an inherently beautiful material.
Imagine if artists could cheaply and easily make works of art out of huge diamonds. Everyone knows that diamonds are inherently beautiful because of the way they interact with light. Such works would be highly sought after. Glass has the same beauty but is an infinitely superior material to work.
It flows as a liquid and can be blown and moulded into curves and bubbles. You can colour it, cut it smooth, make it opaque, put a clear coating over colour, put a series of layers of different colours, use it like paint, make holes in it, put bubbles into it, make it into detailed designs then insert those designs into other pieces…
You can do all of these things, but remember that mostly it's about light refracting and reflecting.
A few tips on collecting:
- Focus on proprietary labelled or signed pieces, and pieces clearly identifiable through books or catalogues. There's lots of misinformation on the Internet.
- Look for quality glassmaking. Generally, good firms had high standards. If it's badly made, maybe it's not what you think it is.
- Buy or get from the library a book or two on an area that interests you. We focus on mid-century Murano glass, Scandinavian glass from the 1940s to the 1990s, and we have with a developing interest in Czech glass from the 1960s and 70s.
- Buy what you think is beautiful. That's what we do.