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Color And Brilliance In Bohemian Glass

Bohemian glass has been made since the glory days of Greece. But about the fourteenth century the glass of the little village factories that "followed the wood" which fired the furnaces began trickling out to the world markets. By the late sixteenth, Bohemian glass, with its rich relationship to Byzantine, Venetian and German glass, captured the glass trade of the world from Venice.

For the white sand or silica underlying Bohemia's soil was quartz crystal, ground by nature, ready for the "batch." The minerals in her mountains provided jewel-like colors. The ashes of her beech trees gave a potash flux or solvent which produced a fine "flint glass" that "sang" when struck.

Then the glass makers learned to clear this flint glass of its faint green tinge, given it by the iron oxide in the sand. This left a crystal of such brilliance as to rival real quartz crystal. Then her ruby glass, made with "real gold" and clear and rich as pigeon blood rubies, took the world by storm.

And the little home town furnaces of Bohemia that created and farmed out the glass objects among the villagers for decoration, were on their way to millions.


It was Bohemia's flint glass that revived and developed the ancient Roman cut glass art. For this flint glass was too stiff to blow effectively into the thin, fancy forms common to Venetian glass. Its thicker, harder walls simplified its shapes and limited its decoration largely to painting and enameling.

Emperor Rudolph brought in jewel cutters from Milan to decorate this man made crystal with flower faces, sprays, and exquisite line designs. Using the diamond chips for light engravings and the apex of the quartz crystal for deeper glass cuttings, 'they cut Bohemia's glass with the precision and beauty of a jewel.

Then Gaspard Lehman invented the spindle run by foot. This left the artist's hands free to hold the glass object against the cutting wheel. So "modern" cut glass was born.

But the old "blown glass" lacked depth for developing the deepest cutting patterns. Molds of apple or maple wood were made. The hot glass was blown into these molds.

They shaped thicker walled crystal which allowed deep and elaborate cutting. So fine highlights and shadows were developed in cut glass. And the rage for fine cut and polished crystal, after the manner of Lehmann and George Schwanhardt and his son Harry, reached the four corners of the buying world.


When Johann Kunckel, a chemist working at coloring glass, rediscovered the ancient secret of gold ruby glass, Bohemia was enchanted, and so was the rest of the glass world. For the 'steenth time he put a little gold oxide in his glass batch. But this time he heated it TWICE. This thoroughly diffused the gold through the batch. These gold particles all through the glass caught and refracted the light back to his eyes as the deepest of pigeon blood ruby. The world went wild over this ruby glass made with "real gold."

However gold ruby glass was only one of Bohemia's jewel colors. Orange came from manganese and iron. Gold, with a breath of tin, twice heated, gave pink. Yellow came from silver, and brownish yellow from iron. Copper gave emerald; or mixed with iron oxide inherent in the sand, a rich forest green.

Brown came from manganese and iron. Cobalt gave its sapphire. Oxide of tin made opaque or milk colored glass. Purple came from oxide of manganese. And black, used so stunningly in the gilt glass vogue, was produced from manganese with cobalt and iron, or with cobalt and copper.


The rich hospitality of the village glass makers showed in the shapes and decorations of Bohemian glass. Tall drinking cups, generous goblets with covers, big bowled wine glasses, tumblers, and decanters emphasize the love of wine drinking and conviviality.

So did the ornate wedding cups which pledged bride and groom and wined them at their wedding feast. And liqueur and wine sets of decanters and glasses, sometimes with trays to hold them, came in profusion to America for the gentleman host's sideboard.

The painting on Bohemian glass was done in oils and lacquered over, but it scratched easily. However the ancient art of enameling came to perfection in some of her glass. This enamel, ground colored glass mixed to a paste and laid on in pattern with a brush, was fired to fuse it with the glass itself. The colors requiring greatest heat had to be put on first and fired. Those needing the least heat were put on last as over firing destroyed or changed the wanted color.

Portraits of lord and lady, heraldic emblems, landscapes and figures, animals and birds, flowers-with the rose a favorite, vines and fruit, all familiar to village life, were common subjects for the brush, or wheel. Cutting with the copper disk or diamond point engraved these subjects with delicate flourish on Bohemia's glass. But the iron wheel bit deep with many facets, putting flowers, geometrical figures, and curving lines over the heavy-bodied glass. Cut surfaces were polished to high brilliance with wooden polishing wheels and putty powder. The discovery of fluoric acid etching changed these subjects to shadowy design almost like a mist on the surface of the glass for the acid ate out the pattern.


A double wall glass made of two layers of glass with graved or painted gold or silver leaf imprisoned between the wails so it glowed through the covering glass, was a prized revival of ancient gilt glass. Sometimes the inner wall was of ruby glass or other jewel toned glass.

Casing, which was the laying of one coat of glass over another to as many as five various "cases" or coats in the manner of many-layered chalcedony, was another ancient art used in Bohemia. Its perfect expression was in cutting the various layers so the different colors came out in the design, cameo fashion, working out colors, highlights, shadows and muted tones in the manner of fine cut cameos.

Milk glass over rose or ruby glass was a favorite cased effect for decanters and was commonly cut back in panels or thumb prints or with bandings of vines and fruits or flowers to let the under color s h o w through. Milk glass too was popular as a background for the painting and enameling.

Collectors look for sharp edged cuttings, brilliant jewel colors, clear crystal, and that time muted quality of "softness" their fingers know as well as their eyes. Old clear Bohemian crystal has yellowed with time. This yellow can be removed by heating, if a collector would risk so precious a thing to any man's furnace.

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