Art Nouveau & Art Deco Glass
In smart houses and top hotels the cocktail bar was a wonderland of exotic bottles, silver shakers and chic glasses. The barmen of the day devised exciting new cocktails and served them with panache.
DECO TABLE GLASS
Between the Wars, when cocktail-drinking was at its height, top designers produced glasses, decanters and cocktail shakers in dramatic art deco styles.
A move away from Victorian designs, where glasses and decanters were of heavy cut glass, began in the 1920s. The impetus for change came from a public seeking ever more modern designs and was influenced by Continental glassmakers.
The French glassmakers who were the stars of the 1925 Exposition des Arts
Decoratifs, in Paris, revived old techniques and perfected new ones, creating a range of colourful new styles.
Almost as influential was a 1931 London exhibition of Swedish glass
by firms such as Kosta Glasbruk AB and Orrefors, displaying simple, elegant forms and restrained, unfussy engraved decoration.
Few British firms produced art glass on the French model - Moncrieff in Scotland with their Monart pieces and Grey-Stan in London were the exceptions - but many of the mass production companies employed top-line designers.
Clyne Farquharson at John Walsh Walsh and the New Zealander Keith Murray at Stevens & Williams were the most renowned; both produced stylish pieces influenced by Swedish designs.
Stuart and Sons commissioned outside artists such as Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Laura Knight to design glassware for a
'British Art in Industry' exhibition at the Royal Academy.
Laura Knight used engraved, stylized human figures, such as clowns and skaters, and worked in yellow, black and red enamels. Though none of the designs went into full production they were a great influence on glassware in the late 1930s.
The French developed new techniques for incorporating metallic oxides - cobalt for blue, uranium for yellow, iron for green - to produce hard, shiny glass that made thinner but more durable drinking glasses.
No less stylish were pieces decorated with metallic enamels. Enamelled wedges or bands of black, pioneered by the Steuben factory in the USA and Baccarat in France, were typically deco.
It took time for British manufacturers to embrace deco motifs - spots, lines and flashes in their glassware, rather than the more traditional hunting scenes.
The work of the great modern glassmakers was sold in Britain in just a few stores such as Fortnum and Mason's and Heal's in London and Marshall and Snelgrove in Leicester, but the mass-produced wares influenced by them were available at every local department store.
They brought a touch of the glamour attached to the smart set to thousands of British homes.
ART DECO GLASS COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Lemonade, liqueur or cocktail sets which could not he given away 15 years ago are now making hundreds of pounds, even though their provenance is rarely known. Very few glass manufacturers marked their work. There are, therefore,
bargains still to he had for those who study the field carefully.
GENUINE ART DECO GLASS
The greatest problem is in deciding whether a piece is genuine art deco, post war revival or even a fake; sometimes, even the experts cannot tell the difference.
Style is the all-important guide, so you cannot look at too many pieces in shops, museums and catalogues before taking the plunge and buying some for yourself.
Some of the less extravagant mirror and gilt glass sets, for instance, or plain mass-produced cocktail glasses are reliable collectors' items, though there is a possibility that they were made in the USA in the 1940s.
Contemporary catalogues from the top department stores such as Heal's, Liberty's, Harrods or the Army and Navy Stores, as well as advertisements in the style magazines of the period such as Design, are an excellent guide to what was fashionable; they can be bought from dealers in ephemera or consulted in big city reference libraries.
Equally, reputable dealers are eager to help and will guide you through their stock.
LEARNING AT AUCTIONS
Attending auctions to see what is being sold as 1920s and 1930s glassware will help build up a feel for the period.
Wine sets tended to follow the conservative designs of Victorian sets, in coloured or cut glass, or reproduction Regency styles, but whisky, liqueur and cocktail sets attracted top deco designers.
The Baccarat factory, to take one example, made chunky liqueur glasses accompanied by angular decanters strikingly decorated with black enamels, designed by Georges Chevalier or Andre Ballet.
The stoppers, as with many deco decanters, were large and similarly enamelled. Some of the most striking sets were the cubist-inspired ones in
pate de verre, with trays in the same material.