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Galvanic Silver Overlay on Antique Art Glass - Bohemian & American

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Loetz Art Glass1591 of 2335Loetz Candia Silberiris BowlLoetz Unknown Phänomen Genre, signed Loetz Austria
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    Posted 10 years ago

    (124 items)

    So, let's discuss silver overlay on Bohemian art glass, because apparently there is some preconceived notion that the origin of the overlay has impact on the value and aesthetics of the piece.

    First, without looking ahead, does one presume that all of the pieces listed above are Bohemian overlay?

    This post will cover two important components of silver overlay, and by overlay I mean the raised overlay that is distinguished from silver deposit, which is flush with the surface of the glass. First, it will establish that there were both important American and European overlay firms and second it will prove that the typical raised overlay was not manually applied to the surface of the glass but instead was galvanically applied through a reduction process.

    For those guessing (or who skipped ahead) the first two pieces above are galvanically applied American silver overlay; the first being signed Gorham overlay, while the second is by the Alvin Manufacturing Co. (which incidentally was later bought later by Gorham). The last two pictures are certainly stylistically different and are almost certainly by the German/Bohemian firm of Adolf Zasche. The third picture is galvanically applied silver by Zasche on Loetz, while the fourth picture is the same type of silver Zasche overlay on Kralik. So, I think with this grouping we can firmly establish that Loetz was overlaid by American and Bohemian/German overlay manufacturers, neither of whom were exclusive to just Loetz (i.e., Kralik, Poschinger, etc.).

    Whether the silver overlay was conducted in the USA or abroad has nothing do to fundamentally with the value of the piece. What factors that do matter are the harmony of the overlay with the underlying glass decor and in some cases the specific manufacturer of the overlay (e.g., specific overlay by notable designers or specific manufacturers, like Gorham or Zasche).

    Now, on to the other point of discussion. The vast majority of silver overlay (not deposit) was conducted galvanically and was not manually applied to the underlying glass. How do we know this? First and foremost, there are actual US and European patents for galvanic overlay, which is a chemical process akin to electroplating, in which many cases the actual patent number for this process is stamped into the silver overlay (particularly in the case of Gorham pieces). And, secondarily, we have physical evidence of this galvanic overlay process by empirically examining the surface characteristics of the overlay in cases of underlying art glass decor that is irregular. This is why I have chosen the glass examples in pictures 3 and 4 above. In both cases, it can be clearly seen that the silver overlay follows the contours and surface irregularities of the underlying decor; a feature that would not be expected if the silver overlay was hand applied.

    So, to summarize. Large amounts of Bohemian art glass, to include Loetz Phanomen decors, were bought by distributers in the USA and Europe and then secondarily applied with silver overlay. There are some stylistic differences between American and European silver overlay, but the process by which the silver was applied to the glass is the same (i.e., galvanic/chemical process). And, most importantly, what matters in terms of value and aesthetics of an overlaid piece is NOT from whom the overlay derived, but how well the overlay works with the underlying glass. If there is proper "harmony" between the overlay and underlying decor, then that piece will certainly be more desirable than an overlay piece that "smothers" the underlying glass.

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    1. Moonstonelover21 Moonstonelover21, 10 years ago
      Great information....thank you !!!
    2. magdalenagirl magdalenagirl, 10 years ago
      I had a conversation with Christian Clausen regarding this very subject. He said that the silver overlay was added because that's what the customers wanted. So Loetz didn't add the silver overlay. They sold their glass to retailers who did. As Jeff said, it doesn't matter what company applied the silver but rather that the overlay compliments the glass.
      I personally as a collector find all of this fascinating/
    3. Greatsnowyowl Greatsnowyowl, 10 years ago
      yup, I agree with all this.
    4. cogito cogito, 10 years ago
      Exactly, magdelenagirl. There are Loetz DEK decors, but all of those were in-house enamel on glass works. The galvanic silver overlay process was, from my research, developed first in Britain, but was quickly popularized and improved upon in the USA. The popularity of the overlay process on domestic US and Bohemian glass then spread quickly back overseas and then we see the voluminous production of overlay by well-known silversmiths like Adolphe Zasche. If anyone is interested, I have a reference work detailing all of this for a museum exhibition of a large collector of US and Bohemian overlaid art glass for which I can post the reference source.
    5. Michelleb007 Michelleb007, 10 years ago
      Thank you very much for explaining the silver overlay process; I have often wondered about what techniques were used in silver overlay on art glass. Do you happen to know how the design was applied galvanically? Was the pattern first applied chemically (hand applied?) as the conductive element, in an ink or grease-paint form, before the electrolysis? I am just wondering how the pattern itself was applied. I know there are many different processes - this site ( actually lists many of them, but I don't know which was used on Loetz and Bohemian glass. Thanks!
    6. Michelleb007 Michelleb007, 10 years ago
      Sorry - one more question - when the silver overlay appears to be chased/etched in certain fine details, as on a leaf or flower, do you think this was done after the silver was deposited, or at the time of the electrolysis?
    7. inky inky, 10 years ago
      Wonderful stuff...thanks so much.....:-)
    8. cogito cogito, 10 years ago
      Michelleb007, the etching is done by hand after the silver is deposited, which can be another point of quality or value. In addition to etching, crafts people (typically women) would be tasked with "cleaning up" the deposit by trimming the silver edges of the design to make them more sharp. One can also use the factor to determine the quality of the worksmanship, as it is not uncommon to find lesser quality galvanic overlay that still has rough or micro-droplet type edges where this secondary quality control was not done or poorly so.
    9. fledermaus fledermaus, 10 years ago
      Awesome! Do you know any artist doing this now?
    10. LoetzBuddies LoetzBuddies, 10 years ago
      I agree...... too much silver kills the beauty of the glass.
    11. cogito cogito, 10 years ago
      Hi, Al. I'm not certain about the comment about silver being used to hide imperfections, as you can see from pictures #3 and #4 above the galvanic silver application is going to conform to any surface imperfections, raised areas or dimples in the underlying glass decor. If one looks closely at their silver overlay pieces where the underlying glass decor is irregular, you are likely to see some continuation of that irregularity in the surface of the overlay. While I have only seen a few galvanic silver overlay pieces with the same exact design, I do believe that many of these overlays were likely produced from a template of some sort so that multiples could be produced. But, that's not to say that there may not be unique overlay pieces out there. I wish I could post more pictures here because I have some good ones from the period showing women in the Gorham glass factory performing etching work on overlay. I can only imagine how nerve wracking it must have been to etch directly onto the silver once it was deposited to the glass!
    12. LOUMANAL LOUMANAL, 10 years ago
      Glass With Class!!..thank you cogito for the examples and discussion...very enlightening. BOB
    13. Lisa-lighting Lisa-lighting, 10 years ago
      Thank you very much for sharing this fabulous post with us.
    14. Michelleb007 Michelleb007, 10 years ago
      Thanks - very helpful!
    15. Moonhill Moonhill, 10 years ago
      Yes...very helpful...thank you.
    16. surfdub66 surfdub66, 9 years ago
      Beautiful !!
      I cant stop looking at them ;-)
    17. bracken3 bracken3, 9 years ago
      Great info and discussion. Thank you.
    18. cosaw cosaw, 9 years ago
      Fascinating, thank you so much this was thoroughly enjoyable to read. Would it be plausible to say European etc. manufacturers did Secessionist style overlay vs. Americans who did Art Nouveau floral styles?

      Lately, I've noticed small cracks around the rims of a few sterling overlay Loetz & Kralik, these cracks are usually extremely tight and never extend to the top visible surface of the glass. Would these have occurred during the silvering process?

      Thanks so much!
    19. cogito cogito, 9 years ago
      Hi. I'm not certain about your second question, but I suspect not. I don't believe that overlay was conducted on glass that wasn't fully cooled. Any cracking that might occur as a result of overlay etching would likely be on the surface, but that being said, there may be something in the chemical process that heated the glass causing stress fractures.

      Regarding your first question, from my experience I have not seen a Secessionist-type overlay conducted by an American firm. The American firms, such as Gorham, certainly favored more of the traditional French Art Nouveau motifs. In Europe, it really depends on where the overlay was conducted. There were British overlay firms that produced in a similar taste as the Americans, while the Secessionist overlay was, I suspect, pretty exclusive to Bohemian overlay firms. I guess you could expect more geometric type overlay from firms in Scotland because of the similarities between Mackintosh and the Viennese schools of Art Nouveau, but I'm not aware of any Scottish overlay firms during that period.
    20. cosaw cosaw, 9 years ago
      Lost CW password and could not log-in, not ignoring folks. Its found! Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

      The overlay process is all I can think of as the nature of the 'fractures' is different than seen on other clearly damaged pieces of glass, I'm honestly hesitant to even consider it damage more than "production"/"age wear" the way it presents. Damage is something not tolerated well in our collection and these do not even register on my or my partners "worry radar". Will have to keep my eye on other heavily overlaid glass objects for similar phenomena.

      Think we need to find some Scottish Nouveau overlay! That would be stunning :-)
    21. ehunt ehunt, 3 years ago
      Very cool info ----Thanks

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