These glass pieces are being snapped up by savvy collectors who’ve grown to appreciate their vibrant colours and modern style
Walk into any charity shop and you’ll find an array of colourful glass objects that until very recently were always overlooked by glass collectors. Now these post-war Czechoslovakian – as the country was known then – glass pieces are being snapped up by savvy collectors who have come to appreciate both their vibrant colours and quintessentially modern style.
Collectors are paying more attention to the vast array of Czech glass in circulation and identification of the artists and factories is becoming easier. However, even today wonderful affordable pieces do still turn up at boot fairs, flea markets and in thrift shops.
The long-established Czech glass industry had been torn apart by the Second World War and, shortly after it ended, the new regime, keen to bring in valuable foreign currency, as well as to showcase the successes and power of communism to the capitalist West, set about reviving it. Factories were rebuilt and a clear educational structure was put in place allowing student glass designers to learn all aspects of glass design and manufacture, and to progress smoothly from education to a full-time job. This level of sponsorship and financial support continued into the industry itself, which was organised and run by a government agency, right through to sales.
The result was that artists were free to pursue a modern, abstract style – many of them influenced by the Italian and Scandinavian designers of the time. These Czech glass designs were shown at a number of important international exhibitions, including the Milan Triennale of 1957, expositions in Brussels in 1958 and Montreal in 1967. At every exhibition Czechoslovakian glass won top awards.
Czech glass can be split into two categories: experimental and progressive designs produced in limited runs or as unique objects for exhibitions; and mass-produced, factory-made designs produced for sale in shops across the world. Much of the functional pressed-glass homewares – glasses, cups, dinner plates and dessert sets – were destined for countries under communist rule.
However, since the domestic market for art glass was small, considerable amounts of Czech art glass were sold at affordable prices in shops across the West.
Artists to look out for are Jirˇí Harcuba (well-known for his portraits of Czech notables carved into blocks of glass), Stanislav Libensky´, Jan Kotik and the highly experimental Pavel Hlava.
If you are new to collecting it can be very difficult to recognise the collectable pieces and to identify the artists – especially since most of the glass was unmarked. Originally most had a Bohemian Glass label, applied by the centrally run export agency, Sklo Export, but these are often missing today.