Loetz Witwe – the first forty years, 1858-1897

When did ‘Loetz Glass’ begin?
It is not of great significance to which date we assign the birthday of ‘Loetz Glass’, as very little is known about the production of the company until the mid-1880s anyway. No glass definitely attributable to Loetz has appeared in the literature, and the earliest ‘Musterschnitte’ (paper patterns) describing the shapes and décors created by the glassworks date from 1885. Lacking this first-hand evidence, we have to depend upon the surviving literature to decide – and sometimes to speculate – on what Loetz Witwe was manufacturing during the first thirty years of its existence.
So we will start in 1858, which is the year in which Susanne Gerstner (the widow of Johann Loetz) officially registered the name of the glassworks which she had owned for the previous few years as ‘Johann Lötz Witwe’. At this time the production appears to have consisted of cut glass, crystal glass, overlay glass and painted vessels. Loetz is known to have exhibited cut overlay glass at the Universal Exposition, Paris, 1878.

In 1879 Susanne Gerstner, who had buit up a thriving and profitable company, made the decisive step that was later to propel Loetz to the forefront of Bohemian glass production: she transferred ownership of the company to her 23-year-old grandson, Max von Spaun. Within a year he had hired Eduard Prochaska as his head of operations, and the two of them set about developing new techniques and processes for creating innovative glass at the furnace.
Within five years they had created several new types of Historicist glass which were to form the basis of the company’s biggest success so far.

Intarsia Glass

IntarsiaThis was the first of the new types, patented in 1885. It consists of transparent colored crystal glass with embedded inlays in the form of plant tendrils, twigs and fruits which are then engraved, etched, enameled or gilded. Similar glass had been produced in the past, and the innovation that justified the new patent was in the process. Instead of adding the tendrils or other elements to the vessel after it had been blown, Loetz added them before mold-blowing so that they appeared in the finished piece flush with the surrounding glass instead of in relief. It may well be that this technique served as the inspiration for Gallé, who patented his similar technique ten years later.   


Octopus Glass

OctopusIf Intarsia Glass built on existing techniques for its innovativeness, Octopus Glass was truly something completely new and is one of the most instantly recognizable of all Loetz décors. It was patented in 1887. In a first step, white opal glass is partially blown and then overlaid with colored glass (leather-brown most commonly, but sometimes brownish-orange, turquoise or light violet). Blowing continues into a mold containing a pattern in relief on the inside, which cuts through the colored overlay. Each ‘blade’ of the relief is wedge-shaped, so it separates the edges of each cut as the vessel grows, with the edges becoming compressed and darker in color. A second overlay of clear glass is then applied which captures air in the channels left as a result of the cutting. (It was because of these polyp-like air tunnels that the decor was called Octopus).In a final step, the vessels are decorated with painted gold ‘squiggles’ emphasizing the air channels. A more opulently decorated variant of Octopus Glass, with painted intertwining gold tendrils and leaves and painted enamel ornamentation in the Indian style was also made, but in smaller numbers; this décor is called Victoria.

Marbled Glass

Marbled Glass - CarneolThe concept of making glass look like stone was not new at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, even the Ancient Romans had created glass that resembled sardonyx, among others. Neither were the techniques involved, which consisted of trailing threads onto a colored glass rod to give the appearance of veining. What was new was that Loetz made better marbled glass than its contemporaries, and this ‘Marmoriertes Glas’ was a considerable commercial success which the company was able to build on right up until its art nouveau business took off. The first semi-precious stone to be imitated by Loetz was probably Onyx, and this probably in 1887 or early 1888. Early on Loetz used an underlay of clear glass, but later this was changed to opal glass to better show off the colors and the veining. Carneol – the most dramatic and popular of them all – followed in 1888-89, then the rarer Lapis Lazuli and Malachite in 1893. Loetz first exhibited its Onyx Glass at the 1888 Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Munich, where its showpieces were the two gigantic Kaiser Franz Josef vases, 4 feet high and made of Onyx Glass mounted on gold-plated bronze. But the crowning success of this period of Loetz’s climb to world renown was the Grand Prix it received at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, sharing the top award with Gallé, Murano and Salviati. The Austro-Hungarian press proudly reported that “here we saw magnificent masterpieces in a technical perfection and with an artistic taste that is the glory of the Bohemian glass industry and the pride of the whole Austrian arts and crafts movement”. Museums from Paris and abroad acquired particularly Carneol and Victoria items during the exhibition.   

New décors

Following this success in Paris, Loetz continued to introduce new décors during the 1890s, including Alpenrot, Alpengrün, Arcadia, Chiné, Olympia, Pêle Mêle, Persica and Rainbow. Alpenrot won the Grand Prix at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chacago. Some of thee décors experimented with iridescence (e.g. Olympia) and trailing threads (e.g. Chiné), techniques which were to prove fundamental when Loetz made its next quantum leap into the future, following Max von Spaun’s visit to the first Bohemian exhibition of glass by a certain Louis Comfort Tiffany in Reichenberg (Liberec) in 1897 Just two years after Siegfried Bing had opened his boutique in Paris to herald in the all-conquering age of art nouveau.