Although the roots of Daum Frères can be traced to 1878, when an attorney named Jean Daum was handed the reins of a foundering glassworks in Nancy, France, in lieu of repayment on a debt, the art glass that we associate with Daum today was not produced until the 1890s.
Up to that point, Daum Verrerie de Nancy, as it was known, made pocket watch crystals and household glassware. But Daum’s sons, Antonin and Auguste, had other ideas, which led to their firm’s introduction of etched Art Nouveau cameo glass at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Elevated to the level of fine art by Emile Gallé, who opened his own glass factory in Nancy in 1894, cameo glass was a traditional technique in which an outside layer of glass on, say, a vase was etched or carved away to reveal the layer below. The result was a silhouette or cameo of a flower, dragonfly, or tree—during the Art Nouveau period, artists usually took their inspiration from nature.
While Gallé was considered the king of cameo glass at the turn of the 20th century, Daum Frères was also highly regarded, winning awards at international art fairs and pushing the technique to its limits. For example, Daum used acid to etch its pieces, as well as to selectively alter some of their underlying colors. Acid could also be used to frost surfaces or make them shiny. Meanwhile, wheel-turning techniques were used to give the surfaces of some Daum pieces a hammered look, which, of course, would be an impossibility in glass.
After Gallé died in 1904, Daum’s reputation rose even further, as it introduced frosted Vitrified pieces as well as polished Jade objects. During World War I, the company suspended its production of art glass, turning its attention instead to medical glass needed for the war effort. One of Auguste’s sons, Jean, who was active in the operations of the company, was killed in the Battle of Verdun.
Between the wars, Daum shifted its aesthetic from Art Nouveau to Art Deco, and its business practices from hand-crafting to mass-production. Pâte-de-verre—in which crushed glass was placed in a mold, heated until it had fused, and then finished using some of the same cameo-glass techniques—was also widely used. In general, Daum vases from the 1920s and ’30s were squatter and more rounded than the tall and slender shapes of the early 1900s.
Novice Daum collectors sometimes overlook pieces made in Croismare, where Paul Daum, one of Auguste’s sons, opened a number of factories in 1928. Former Lalique employee Pierre D’Avesn ran the factories, bringing his expertise in molded glassware and light fixtures with him. While these pieces were signed in various ways, they lack the classic “Daum Nancy” mark, which includes the cross of Lorraine...
World War II brought another tragedy to the Auguste side of the family—Paul Daum was hauled off to a concentration camp, where he died in 1944, just before the war’s end.
After the war, the company shifted gears once more, this time focusing its artistic energies on clear, brilliant, lead crystal, which was hot-worked into figures or blown as vessels. These pieces were not entirely new, though, having descended from the Daum Christalerie de Nancy work of the 1920s. Similarly, pâte-de-verre was reintroduced in the 1970s as Pâte-de-Verre Nouveau.
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