Eddy Scheepers talks about the history of Loetz art glass, how iridescent art glass became popular in the 1880s, and the various designs Loetz produced up through 1940. Based in Belgium, Eddy can be contacted via his website, Loetz.com, which is a member of our Hall of Fame.
Loetz was a Bohemian company. It was a factory; and the region’s biggest and best glass manufacturer. There were other contemporaries like Kralik, Rindskopf, and Pallme-Konig that produced glass in the same style, made almost in the same way, but not always with the same quality. The glass is covered with vapors of metals, like silver, for instance. Most Loetz glass was not free-blown like most people think; ninety-five percent was blown in molds.
Some people think some of the glasses are blown from the top and some from the bottom, but that’s also false. Most Loetz glass was blown from the top in a pre-shaped mold and then broken off from the blowing pipe as soon as it was cold enough. That left a rather sharp edge that had to be cut and polished or put back into the fire to be fire-polished. Then they took another rod with a very small amount of glass on it, stuck it to the bottom of the glass, and put it back into the fire. They call that the pontil rod, and that left them with a rough edge that they polished, which makes the polished pontil. That’s the nicely polished mark on the bottom.
The vapors of the metal that are put on the hot glass after the mold was blown into shape were very poisonous, too. There is a nice illustration of that, and of how such an iridescent glass was made, in that famous bible, Loetz Bohemian Glass, 1880-1940. It describes exactly how iridescent glass is made and there are several pictures.
Collectors Weekly: What makes Bohemian glass distinct from other art glass? Was it the only iridescent glass?
Scheepers: No, absolutely not. Who came first, Tiffany or Loetz? Tiffany went to France at the end of the 19th century and studied glassmaking from craftsmen and started making his own glass. He had an exhibition at the end of the 19th century. Loetz was also active at that time, and they saw that exhibition and said, “Hey, he took that from us. We can do that, too,” so they started producing glass in the same manner as Tiffany. So Tiffany learned from Loetz, the original Bohemian craftsmen, but he had his own style. He made very beautiful glass, and then Loetz adapted that. They were not the only ones, and they didn’t start it.
Bohemian glass is a very long tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages, and iridescent glass was one of those techniques they knew very well. At the end of the 19th century, they were already experimenting with iridescence. Tiffany learned that and created his own glass, which, in turn, inspired Loetz.
Collectors Weekly: How did you decide to focus on Loetz?
Scheepers: I started collecting all kinds of glass about 25 years ago, often French glass like Daum, French Art Deco, and French Art Nouveau because it was very popular here. It still is. At the end of the 1980s, the Iron Curtain fell, so the Eastern European countries became more democratic, and we could travel to these countries more easily. Loetz glass was from a country in Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain, but it was not very popular, so I started collecting that, although nobody was interested in it here in Belgium.
Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Italy were very acquainted with Art Nouveau glass from France – Daum, Galle, etc. – but not really Loetz glass. It’s still not that popular here, but it is very popular in Germany and Austria because it’s part of their heritage and their cultural inheritance. I started collecting it because I thought it was nice. I went to the countries just after the wall in Berlin came down and I learned about the glass. You couldn’t find it in the countries themselves, but you could find the books and visit the museums.
Loetz was located in southern Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, in a little village in the woods. I’ve been there several times, and a part of the factory is still there; not the factory itself, but the house where the director lived.
The biggest collector in the world of Loetz glass, the German collector Georg Höltl, bought the factory and, in full communist times, took it from the Czech Republic to Germany and rebuilt it there in a special village. The factory was broken down stone by stone, numbered, put on trucks, and brought to Germany. Höltl has about 30,000 pieces now at his museum in Passau.
It was quite a factory. It was the biggest factory in South Bohemia. A few years ago, I visited the building. I called Georg Höltl and he was very friendly. He showed us the museum and took us to the place where he rebuilt the factory. It’s now a big hall where there are parties and concerts.
Collectors Weekly: How did it get the name Loetz?
Scheepers: That was simply the name of the owner who started it in the 1830s. His widow continued after his death, and then in the 1880s, it became the successful Loetz factory that we know. They had a group of highly skilled craftsmen, mostly nameless craftsmen but very skilled. On the other hand, there were several artists of that time who made designs and commissioned Loetz to produce them because they knew of their quality. Some of the best known are Moser, Hoffmann, Kirschner, and Powolny.
Collectors Weekly: Were they constantly adding new artists and craftsmen to the group?
Scheepers: I’m speaking about a period of about 40 years. It started with the technical director, who was an artist himself and very proficient in glass techniques. Around the turn of the century, they started working with a guy named Hofstetter, who made all the designs for the 1900 exhibition in Paris, where they won the first prize. Then came their cooperation with Vienna artists like Moser, Hoffmann, Prutscher and then later with Michael Powolny.
The Paris World Exhibition in 1900 was an industrial fair where each country presented the best of their culture and industry. The Czech Republic – or the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at that time – presented Loetz glass and won the first prize.
Speaking of world exhibitions, it’s worth mentioning that in 1958, long after the Loetz factory was closed, there was the World Exhibition in Brussels in Belgium. In the Czech pavilion where Loetz used to be, there was absolutely no place for Loetz. They have the catalog of the exhibition and they don’t even mention Loetz. It’s as if it never existed. The catalog reads, “Mass production was becoming capitalistic around the turn of the century, and it has furnished large quantities of cheap products which were of inferior artistic value.” That was the communist judgment of what happened around 1900.
Collectors Weekly: What are some of the popular styles that Loetz created?
Scheepers: The most popular is the so-called oil spot, and it’s one of their simplest decorations; green, blue, dark red, honey-colored glass. They have these little spots of silver that give it that special shine. That was the oil spot.
When the Art Nouveau movement started to fade away, Loetz changed their styles. They started developing glass that was simpler and easier to produce because that was around the time when the First World War started. It was harder to find the right supplies for very expensive art glass, and who would be interested in it during these times? If there’s a war going on, you’re not going to buy art glass. It all reflects the times it was made in.
My collection is based on my taste, but also on my budget. I know Loetz glass very well, so I have about 45 well-chosen pieces. They reflect the complete production of the Loetz company from 1880 to 1940. I have a piece by Marie Kirschner and I think it was the only one made, but I bought it very cheap because it was broken in four pieces. I do ceramics and glass restoration professionally, so I restored it. I chose others because they were well-designed.
I prefer shape to decoration. I try to find interesting pieces. I try to find those pieces that reflect the development of the Loetz factory itself. I have all types of Loetz signatures but not the pieces that are worth a BMW. I also collect pieces that are made of very simple green glass but are fantastic shapes and forms. I could show you forms that are so modern that you could say, “You can find these in the shops nowadays,” but they were made more than 100 years ago.
I have modern, simple shapes and elaborate Art Nouveau shapes. I just received a fantastic piece from Austria. It’s a very simple shape, almost straight, and it’s hard to imagine that it was made 100 years ago because most modern vases these days are made like that. These designers, even the factory types, were 100 years ahead of their time, and that’s what I’m interested in.
Loetz mainly made vases, but in the 1920s, they also made tableware, wineglasses, and plates. They produced lampshades and inkwells, but not too many. They’re very hard to find. I collect vases, but if I could find a very nice lampshade or a lamp or even ashtrays, for instance, I would buy that, too, of course.
A lot of Loetz’s production was exported to the United States, so there’s a lot of Loetz glass is in the U.S. and a lot of American collectors. There are more Loetz glass collectors in America than in Europe.
Collectors Weekly: On your site, there’s a page on the masters. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Scheepers: They’re designers. They came up with completely new designs and completely new production methods. Some of them were very well known designers of what’s called the Viennese Secession. They didn’t only design glass; they designed furniture, clothing, houses, architecture. Glass design was only a part of what they did.
Prochaska was the director. He knew a lot about glassmaking and started it all. Hofstetter made Loetz famous with the Paris exhibition.
All the designs in the Viennese Secession were characterized by the idea of less is more. At the time, Art Nouveau decoration was really redundant, so it was a progressive approach. Powolny is known for his striped designs and bright colors – white, orange, blue, and red with stripes. They are so simple, but a simple shape is not easy to design. They were known for their simplicity, which was very modern because simplicity only became popular 25 to 30 years later during the Art Deco period and even more during the ‘50s and the ‘60s.
If you compare the designs of Moser to the rest of the Loetz production, you will see that the rest is very elaborate and inspired by nature, whereas Moser or Hoffmann would make a square box in one color. The influence of nature was something that was an integral part of the Art Nouveau movement and they didn’t really put it aside. They reacted against it by using simpler forms.
Collectors Weekly: How long was Loetz around for?
Scheepers: The factory was closed in 1940 and their success story started in 1880, so let’s say for 50 to 60 years, but their heyday was really around 1900. They went bankrupt several times and the factory burned down in 1929. It was rebuilt, but never with the same success it had 30 years before.
Collectors Weekly: Where do you find your Loetz glass?
Scheepers: Believe it or not, I’d say that 60 or 70 percent of my collection comes from collectors in the United States. Sometimes I get it from an auction, and of course I’ve bought pieces here at local markets and from Austria, but most of them were made here, sent to the United States, and then came back to me.
There are collectors in Germany, so in Belgium, you will hardly find a piece of Loetz in antique shops. In southern Germany, not far from Austria, there is more Loetz glass. There’s also the museum in the city of Passau, and then in Austria in Vienna, the Austrian capital, there are lots of shops with lots of Loetz glass, but they’re very expensive.
Collectors Weekly: What makes a piece rare?
Scheepers: The decoration and the attribution to a certain artist. The simple oil spots are rather cheap and the plain green pieces that I like are not too expensive either. Then there are the Phenomenon types, which are very expensive. The last one I heard of sold at an auction in Munich in Germany for almost $30,000. It’s because of the design and the decoration and the way it’s made. It’s a piece with three or four handles, but the handles are not put separately on the glass. They’re pulled from the glass and completely twisted. It takes a very skilled craftsman to do something like that.
All the Loetz designs had a number, and often the decoration had the same number as the design. They signed some of their pieces, but only the pieces for export. It had to have “Made in Czechoslovakia” after 1918 or “Loetz Austria” just to make sure it was not American glass.
Collectors Weekly: What advice would you have for someone wanting to start collecting Loetz glass?
Scheepers: Buy the books. They’re quite affordable now. It used to cost $400 for two books, but that time is over. It’s about $100 now. Everybody interested in Loetz glass should have the book called the Loetz bible. It has a CD in it with 4,000 designs to find out what number your design is. The problem with these books is that they only show the best glass, the highest quality, but for the everyday collector, it’s hard to define the piece in front of them. It’s hard to find out if it’s Loetz or not. In that case, I would advise the use of my website. The main part is Loetz, but there’s the story of Rindskopf, Kralik, Pallme-Konig, and even Dugan, the American producer of iridescent glass, so you can see what is Loetz and what isn’t.
Collectors Weekly: How many designs did Loetz make?
Scheepers: I’ve heard about 40,000. I don’t know if that’s true, but there are 4,000 models in the book. The designs from 1900 to ’02 are mostly lost. Nobody preserved them, and even now they’re not well preserved. The designs have long been in an attic in boxes in very bad conditions. The collections of the Czech museums are not very big. Most of the collection is now in the museum in Passau in south Germany.
Collectors Weekly: Are there any collectors’ organizations for Loetz glass?
Scheepers: There’s the Czech Collectors Association in the United States. There aren’t any that I know of in Europe. I don’t know why that is. People here in Belgium don’t know what Loetz glass is, but if you say Galle or Daum, they don’t know exactly what it is, but they do know it. Loetz glass, they don’t even know.
Collectors Weekly: Do you have anything else that you’d like to mention about Loetz?
Scheepers: What makes Loetz glass so special is their extreme variety and form and decoration and the consistency in quality in spite of their huge production. They always made good quality glass. There are thousands of pieces of Loetz, all of the same high quality. It was one of the aims of the Art Nouveau movement to bring beauty to the common man, and they didn’t succeed because he couldn’t pay for it, but at least they succeeded in producing a large amount of glass in very high quality.
If you want to know about Loetz glass and you come to Germany on a holiday, go to the Passau Museum. You won’t regret it. There’s Loetz glass everywhere. There are showcases in the corridors and showcases in the breakfast room, because there’s a hotel on top of the museum, too. It’s incredible. You should absolutely go there if you want to know Loetz glass. I think that’s all I can say about it.
(All images in this article courtesy Eddy Scheepers of Loetz.com)