The Knowledge: Mark Hill on Czech glass

In our new series, Mark Hill shares his love of mid-century Czech glass

I have always loved glass, but I began to develop my knowledge in the early 2000s. I focused on 1950s to 1970s Czech glass because, in the area called Bohemia (a part of the modern-day Czech Republic), glass had been made for centuries. But after the Second World War when the Iron Curtain came down, knowledge was obscured.

The communist regime in Czechoslovakia branded and exported this high-quality, colourful, artistic glass under one label: ‘Bohemia Glass’. When Graham Cooley, a major collector and good friend, and I realised the depth of knowledge that had been hidden, it became very interesting.

As we built up an understanding, key designers like František Vízner, Josef Hospodka, Vladimir Jelinek, Emanuel Beranek, and Vladimir Zahour emerged. The thrill of new discoveries is part of what’s making Czech glass such a vibrant market. And the price level – for me, Czech glass is where Murano glass was 15 or 20 years ago. Rare pieces by big Murano names can fetch £20,000 at auction today – Czech glass may be there in another 10 years as more is uncovered and reappraised. It’s very exciting.

Every technique was used, and the region’s centuries of experience with quality, combined with the stylistic innovations made at this time, resulted in truly outstanding work. The communist regime didn’t see glass as able to convey a social message so, while much modern art was banned, designers could work freely in glass, resulting in a boom in creativity that reflected period design trends.

Identification can be hard, as most glass is unmarked and labels were usually washed off. The way to get your eye in is to look through specialist books. Colour can be a clue: amber-brown and green is a hallmark combination. Consider forms too, from the fluid curving examples of the 1950s, to abstract designs of the 1960s. There are subtle, but important, differences – the devil is in the detail.

Škrdlovice (pronounced Skerd-luv’itz’ah) employed most of the great Czech glass designers and each design was made in quite limited numbers, so you can currently get significant designs for under £200. Sklo Union, a group of factories working with pressed glass, is also a great entry point.

You can still find pressed glass in charity shops, while scarcer and more unique pieces turn up at auction and at specialist fairs. Designs are often misattributed – don’t ignore these. It’s a case of getting out there, handling correctly attributed pieces, and doing research. If you go to any fair, there will be at least one piece of Czech glass somewhere. It’s just a matter of recognising it.

 

FIVE FACTS ABOUT MARK

1 Next year, Mark celebrates 10 years as an Antiques Roadshow expert. In that time, his most memorable find was a rare railway ticket from 1839 worth £1,000.

2 He's been a collector all his life – at university, Mark collected and sold vintage fountain pens.

3 He might be known as a 20th-century boy, but he lives in a Victorian home where mid-century design sits with Victorian pieces.

4 Mark is a Freeman of the City of London (though he has yet to make use of his right to drive sheep across London Bridge).

5 At Sotheby's, Mark presided over the first public auction of bonsai trees in over a century – bringing plants into a high art environment.

LEARN MORE Sklo: Czech Glass Design from the 1950s–70s by Mark Hill (out soon); Beránek  & Škrdlovice: Legends of Czech Glass by Robert Bevan Jones and Jindrich Parík (both markhill.net); the National Glass Fair (glassfairs.co.uk)
 

Interview: Mel Sherwood
Portrait: Grant Scott

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