While glasses are a popular collector’s item in the UK, collecting Art Nouveau stemmed glasses has never gained much popularity. They are relatively inexpensive and can make a stunning display. I can never understand why people spend a lot of money on modern glasses when they could have antique glasses at a reasonable price.
The Art Nouveau movement had a dramatic effect on the design of drinking vessels. If you would have had a glass of Hock in 1895 it would have been served in a glass that was not much different from what would have been used in ancient Rome. They were usually made from green or brown glass with a hollow, ribbed stem splayed at the bottom to form a foot. They were often enamelled or cut with town scenes or plants and birds. The shape was functional rather than aesthetic. Ten years later a glass of Hock would have been served in a totally transformed glass, which would have been constructed with a proper foot, a long, graceful stem and a stylish bowl which might have been enamelled with elegant flowers and hand cut to heighten its sleek appearance.
These stemmed glasses were much harder to make – the stem, foot and bowl had to be made as separate pieces, using different techniques. They then had to be attached together while all three pieces were the same temperature, to avoid them cracking on contact. The decorative cutting, usually at the base of the bowl, was very tricky to do successfully and these very delicate glasses had to be fired many times so that the fine polychrome enamel colours of the Art Nouveau images could be applied.
Art Noveau had arrived and wine glasses had become exotic objects in their own right. Glassmakers soon realised that for a wine glass to feel good in the hand, it was necessary for the weight to be at the top and bottom, which was the total opposite of the ‘roman’ glass, where the weight was in the stem and this made it feel clunky. Nowadays, people’s taste is for clear glass and also, as glasses are mass produced, the excesses of the Art Noveau style have been lost. However, they make great collectors’ pieces and here are some of the names you should be looking out for if you want to collect.
Theresienthal – these glassworks were opened in 1836 by the Steigerwald brothers and they changed hands many times. By the 1890s the Poschinger family had taken over and established a major market selling roman style hock glasses. Because they were already making large quantities of stemware, they were able to produce the widest, most successful range of Art Nouveau drinking glasses, as well as decanters, bowls and plates. They are very collectable and one of the better examples would probably cost you from £200 upwards, but there are cheaper ones to be had.
Fritz Heckert – was a very successful German glassmaker and he quickly adapted to the Art Nouveau style. You might say that the company had compromised by retaining the flared stem for most of the glasses, but they managed to introduce a much more elegant Nouveau style. You should be able to get a nice glass from about £50 upwards.
Moser – first established in 1857, this was probably the biggest of the glasshouses to attempt Nouveau stems. Their style was unique as it focused on cut glasses and shunned the enamel styles. Moser is still a major force in the Czech glass industry today.
Meyr’s Neffe and Josephinenhutte – these are a little behind the big three and their output is only partly documented and if you see any glasses marked up ‘origin unknown’ they could well be by one of them. Like Theresienthal, Meyr’s Neffe did tableware as well as glasses and although collectors don’t tend to go for these, there are some very nice pieces.
There were probably some 20 or 30 glasshouses throughout Bavaria and Bohemia, all making lovely Art Nouveau stems in the early 20th century. If you are interested in collecting try an antiques fair where there will be specialist sellers who will be very happy to give advice. If your budget is on the small side there are many examples of lovely Art Nouveau stemmed glasses by unknown makers and these can be picked up at very reasonable prices.