20th Century Glass


By Andy McConnell
Mitchell Beazley, ISBN: 1-84533-099-4, Hardback, 256 Pages

'Twentieth-century glass is a booming collecting area which, at least to the uninformed, can appear an un-identifiable mass of complexity. With prices still affordable and great examples readily available, the field is a perfect entry point for the new design collector who is prepared to do some reading. However, newcomers should beware that 20th century glass collecting should carry a health warning stating: VERY ADDICTIVE. Typically, the author’s own collection exceeds 20,000 pieces, he apparently lives in a glass shop and has a brain brimming with the stuff!

This book is illustrated by over 2,500 beautifully photographed pieces, intentionally ranging from the affordable and available to rare and highly valuable design icons. It is directed towards resolving the key difficulty for collectors: that of identifying glass that rarely bears maker’s marks. The book is laid out country-by-country and then by glassworks and designers, in alphabetical order making identification easy.

The ‘identifying and collecting’ section gives great tips for buying, and a price-guide for each piece, based on current glass dealer prices, will help you to identify bargains. Price guides, however, simply provide a snapshot in time and should not be viewed as absolute (they tell you which bits are generally expensive but not precisely how much at some future point).

The key factories are explored, each with key-dates boxes, and presented using visual timelines that provide an excellent view of each company’s design development. The author’s background as a journalist is apparent in the easy-read, clear texts.

The sections on Holmegaard (Denmark) and Riihimäki, Kaj Franck and Iittala (all Finland) are particularly outstanding: the result of the author’s ability to gain access to previously unexplored company archives. The sections on British designers such as Alexander Hardie Williamson, Ronald Stennett-Willson and Frank Thrower are also very useful and underline the fact that some great glass remains cheap and readily available.

This book is the result of two years of solid research, and it shows. The author visited most of the glassworks featured and has interviewed many of their key designers and ancillary staff. The inclusion of designer sketches, catalogue illustrations and contemporary advertisements adds to overall feeling of quality and depth. The result is excellent and, crucially, an accurate summary of the development of glass design in the 20th Century.

As an accessible guide to identifying the glass this book really works and is a great entry point for the new collector. It even contains some very interesting surprises for the old hacks.

Well done Andy McConnell...where do you put it all?'

Graham Cooley