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Glass & Glass-Making
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Gravure 4 Back

BOHEMIAN Glass is really a German glass. The Czechs, established in Bohemia as early as the fifth century, contributed no racial character to Bohemian glass. Their product became important about the end of the seventeenth century, although the industry was much more ancient. Many names of places in Bohemia
and Silesia-- such as Glägersdorf and Glatz-- show the extent of the industry. Glass-works were established in the Bohemian and Silesian forest as early as the fifteenth century; but these early works had little or no influence upon what the world calls "Bohemian Glass."
    An attempt was made to imitate the natural product of rock-crystal, a substance that was cut into facets and ornamented by engraving. Rudolph II, the emperor, called some famous engravers of rock-crystal from Milan to Prague late in the sixteenth century, and started an establishment to make cut glass in imitation of rock-crystal, with great success.
    It was not long before this new Bohemian glass competed successfully with the Venetian, and, finally, drive it out of fashion. The real creator of this was was Lehmann, a German, who was called to Prague by the emperor in 1590, and who, being an engraver on metal and gems, developed the new style of glass-cutting and engraving. His successor, Schwanhard, came from Nuremberg. The glass they made in Prague was white, cut in facets and engraved in the style of rock-crystal.
    Deriving their style from the rock-crystal cut into shell-shaped vases, the engravers decorated them with florid designs. The Bohemian and Silesian tall cups with covers were exactly suited to the taste of the day. Nothing finer of their kind was every produced than the covered cups, trefoil, quatrefoil or octagonal in form, or the fluted goblets with ruby and leaf gold in their cut, or twisted, stems and in the knobs of their covers. These were what drove out old Murano and took the lead in the general change of taste.
    In 1670, Johann Kunckel, a Silesian chemist, working for the Elector of Brandenburg in Prussia, discovered the famous "ruby glass." The fine color was said to have been produced by the use of gold instead of copper. This was highly valued in its day, and had doubtless much influence in causing the Bohemian glass-makers to go back to the colored glass that they had made before the Prague house began to imitate rock-crystal.
    The Bohemians followed the business of making colored glass with such ardor that colored and engraved glass is to many of us the type of "Bohemian Glass."
Many old American families possess decanters and toilet-bottles of this glass, and treasure them for their peculiar charm.
    Little wonder that examples of this craft found their way across the seas; for by the end of the eighteenth century Bohemia had eighty glass-houses and 5,000 glass-makers! "Bohemian glass," says Sauzay, "owes its merited renown to the talent of the artists and industrious people of Bohemia. Their factories have known at all periods how to meet the caprices of fashion; and they always gave to their productions a very marked decorative character. We are charmed not so much by the great pieces de luxe of very studied form and fine, delicate and skilful engraving, as by the simple goblets used by the people. Notwithstanding their imperfections, we like such decorations as shown on a background of ruby, or topaz, a classic deer bounding through a pine forest, although the engraving is summary and broad and the method and style belong to the Middle Ages."
    The manager of a French glass-house, visiting Bohemia in 1861, wrote: "The country exports nearly all of its ware to the richer provinces of Austria, to all Germany, and to Switzerland, Italy, the East, Russia and America. These numerous establishments in the middle of the forests produce ordinary glassware; objects destined to be highly worked, or richly engraved; and colored glasses, which are decorated with gilding and paintings.
    "Bohemian glass is pure, white, and light. It has not the brilliancy of French crystal, and it is liable to turn yellow with time. Bohemia has preserved its shapes, which entirely differ from ours, and which are appreciated by certain purchasers to such a degree that we are sometimes obliged to imitate them. Fancy articles and the colored glasses of Bohemia have an originality which is not always in accordance with good taste, but which is valued and sought after because of its strangeness. Bohemia has given birth to a kind of prophet which agrees more with the German than with the French taste. The productions of Bohemia are less finished in detail than ours. The mouths of bottles and other similar objects are made with a carelessness that would not be tolerated in France."