An Enduring Appreciation for Glass
by Maxine Carter-Lome, Publisher
When we think about glass as a collectible we most often focus on glass makers and their history, and glass techniques, while the individual artist tends to be less known or acknowledged except among true collectors. That is changing in the contemporary world of art glass, where an artist such as Dale Chihuly is a brand, and collectors that know his work covet his pieces regardless of where the artist’s vision takes the finished product, or the price it commands.
Contemporary glass artists such as Carol Milne, known worldwide for her unique Knitted Glass work; Sergio Redegalli who specializes in “optifuse,” his own unique technique that preserves the character of broken glass shards as one inherent mass; Harry Pollitt who discovered the world of sculptural, kiln cast glass; and Cathryn Shilling, known for her bold and experimental “woven” techniques that produce art work resembling fabric more than glass, are challenging the properties of glass in new and exciting ways, and in the process shifting market interest away from antique glass to the contemporary studio glass market among a new breed of glass collectors and enthusiasts. Studio glass is defined as the modern use of glass as an artistic medium to produce sculptures or three-dimensional artworks.
When I talk to our glass club readers and advertisers, who are always eager to share information about the heritage of their glass for this annual issue, they tell me how difficult it is finding new, younger collectors and members. They fear for the future of their club, and see the market for all but their best or most rare examples declining in value. This waning interest in the traditional antique glass market among the next generation of glass collectors is translating into declining attendance and buying at long-standing glass shows, meetings, and conventions.
I hear of three general trends contributing to the current downsizing of this collectibles market. One has to do with space. Similar to what is happening in the “brown” furniture market, younger collectors do not have the space to collect all but a few, unique pieces that speak to them and can be displayed. In this environment, items designed as art rather than appreciated as art through a history lens are the “shiny object” in the room that seems to be currently diverting the attention of buyers and collectors.
The second has to do with the “graying” of the antique glass market. Long-time collectors or their families are now bringing a treasure trove of lovingly collected items to auction. While the rare examples continue to rise to the top like cream, supply is currently outstripping demand. The upside is that new collections can be formed very affordably with beautiful, well-preserved examples.
The third has to do with the way younger collectors connect to their areas of interest. Club members will tell you the most rewarding part of their experiences as a collector has to do with the friendships and associations made with fellow collectors through their club. Today, however, younger collectors are buying online and connecting with fellow collectors beyond their geographic areas in online communities without leaving the house. They need to be exposed to what they have yet to search for on the Internet, and be inspired to leave the house to engage in the search. This, however, is easier said then done.
Opportunities for the future of the antique glass market rest in new forms of outreach to the next generation of collectors. Working with school art departments to bring in special exhibits, extending invitations to schools for a special “preview” tour of the show before it opens, hosting glass blowing demonstrations at community art centers, putting on TED Talks in community settings, creating virtual museum exhibitions from your website, working with a professional to search optimize your website and content to attract a wider audience, creating a “chat room” on your website, and using podcasts and YouTube to broadcast history webinars are all ways to cultivate new collectors and connect them to your club and glass history.
It is the continuing scholarship and enduring passion of antique glass collectors that give me hope for the future of this collectibles segment. Every year when we put out an editorial call for our annual glass issue we are introduced to new stories, makers, and unique or generally unknown examples.
A quick look back at Ken Hall’s monthly Gavels ‘n’ Paddles column for the last year also celebrates the strength of unique and rare examples of antique glass and bottles at auction. A rare, museum-quality Dorflinger cranberry cut to clear glass ewer sold for $75,000 at Woody Auction; a rare and beautiful Brown’s Celebrated Indian Queen figural bitters bottle patented in 1868 hammered at $14,375 through American Bottle Auctions; a pair of free-blown and pressed whale oil lamps, made around 1830 by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Co sailed out the door for $26,910 at Jeffrey S. Evans; and an important Silesian Hochschnitt goblet and cover by Friedrich Winter, Hermsdorf, circa 1700, was sold for $96,151 at a Bonhams auction. These are extreme examples of glass values in today’s marketplace, but they show a continuing appreciation for the artistry, provenance, and craftsmanship of antique glass among collectors and museums, which keeps attention focused on this market.
I am a ‘glass half full’ person when it comes to the antique collectibles market. I see the current state of antique glass as temporary in the pendulum shift that marks all collectibles categories at one time or another. Stewards of glass history are being challenged in new ways at a time when most would prefer to pass on the mantle, but antique glass will survive because it is both beautiful and enduring.
An Enduring Appreciation for Glass