Swedish Glass Design.



Sweden was the world’s most significant glassmaking nation of the 20th century, and Swedes hold glass closer to their national identity than any others. The diversity of the glass designed and made in Sweden between c1950-85 constituted arguably the greatest outpouring of originality and quality over the shortest period in glassmaking history.

Almost entirely without previous national glassmaking significance, Sweden emerged onto the world stage just before 1920, following the invention at Orrefors of Graal, an entirely original method of internally-decorating glassware [figure 1]. Swedish glass continued its relentless rise towards the summit of world glassmaking throughout the 1920s and 30s, when Orrefors’ in-house designer Vickie Lindstrand rivalled René Lalique in his dynamism and diversity.


Figure 1: Goblet vase formed using the internally decorated Graal technique. Designed by Simon Gate for Orrefors, 1918. 23.5cm. [Stockholms Auktionsverk].

In 1945, Sweden emerged from World War 2 unscathed: its infrastructure intact, its economy strong and its research & development galvanised. Reaping the benefits over the next two decades, Swedes became, per capita, the richest people on earth, and their glass the most widely admired.

The ideal of twinning of craft and design to provide ‘ordinary’ people with efficient and attractive domestic wares had been at the forefront of the Swedish intellectual agenda since 1900. But it became a reality from the 1950s as a wave of young design graduates joined the industry and were positively encouraged towards experimentation. Regularly working shoulder-to-shoulder with master-craftsmen, often at the furnace mouth, they created and extended the artistic and technical range of Swedish glass.

This freedom was not based on altruism, but commercial logic. Designers were granted time and resources to develop new ideas, sometimes over several years. The results, formed as unique or limited edition ‘studio pieces’, were exhibited in department stores and galleries. The best, and elements derived from them, were then adapted for series production. Some of these, often pitched at the price of an hour’s manual labour, sold hundreds of thousands, and even millions of examples, such as Göran Wärff’s Snowball votive [1973] and Bertil Vallien’s Zoo series [1976]. [figures 2 & 3].

Figure 2: Cast crystal Snowball votive, designed by Göran Wärff for Kosta, 1973. The best-selling item in Swedish glassmaking history. From Kosta catalogue, 1984.


Figure 3: Cast crystal Hippo from Bertil Vallien’s Boda Zoo series, 1976. 12.8x24.3cm.

Inevitably, the designers with the biggest sales enjoyed both the greatest freedom and longevity. Some emerged as national celebrities [figure 4] and many, including most of the subjects of this book, enjoyed careers spanning over a half-century.

Figure 4: Celebrity Swedish glass designers: Bertil Vallien, Göran and Ann Wärff and Rolf Sinnemark [Boda 1967-86] and friends with Scandinavia’s first hot air balloon, which they bought in 1968. [Vallien Archive].

The creative wave in Swedish glass, spanning c1950-85, was manifested in a diversity of quality and price that appealed not only the connoisseur but also to lumberjacks and businessmen. With rising prosperity across the industrialised world in the post-war boom, Swedish glass enraptured the world, from Stockholm to New York and to Sydney, where young couples setting up homes proved eager for attractive objets to adorn them.

This book differs from previous studies of the subject: perhaps most importantly because it is the first in the English language. Second, most others have taken a Greatest Hits approach, concentrating on unique and high-value pieces, many in museum and private collections. This study, the result of six years research, takes a different approach by placing equal emphasis on everyday glassware, often with current values in single and double figures. Indeed, a majority of the pieces illustrated are worth under £100.

After a general introduction to Swedish glassmaking, the book studies the evolving careers of seven individuals. Their careers span 1929 to the present, a total of 85 years, largely encompassing the ‘Glory Years’ of Swedish glassmaking. Six are designers, one a businessman. The latter, Erik Rosén [1924-2009], was the most influential figure in post-war Swedish glass, who directed Boda Glasbruk, then KostaBoda, with a Midas touch between 1947-78 [figure 5].

Figure 5: Erik Rosén [front, centre] with Erik Höglund and the Boda workforce celebrating the works’ centenary in 1964. [Boda Archive].

The decision over which designers to include in the book was subjective, and not necessarily based on who is or was the best or the greatest Swedish glass designer. Indeed, Signe Persson Melin [1925-] is more a ceramicist or industrial designer, and worked only periodically in glass.

However, Vicke Lindstrand [1904-83] was an obvious choice as his eminent careers at Orrefors and Kosta, 1928-73, spanned the old and the new ages of Swedish glass [figure 6]. Another must-have was Erik Höglund [1932-98], whose cheeky and rustic approach did more than any other to expand the market for domestic glassware [figure 7].


Figure 6: Internally decorated Winter vase, designed by Vicke Lindstrand for Kosta, c1951. 17.5cm. [Geoff Lawson/Andy McConnell].


Figure 7: Cadmium red suncatcher pressed with a naked woman with folded arms, H866A, designed by Erik Höglund c1965. 25.8x18cm.

Sadly, both Lindstrand and Hoglund had passed on before the book was first conceived. The remainder were chosen from the living. Göran Wärff [1933-] and Bertil Vallien [1938-] were included for similar reasons: longevity and quality. Signe Persson Melin [1925-] and Lars Hellsten [1932-] are not as well known but both made individual contributions, through Melin’s elegant practicality [figure 8] and Hellsten’s idiosyncratic and pioneering voyage into centrifuged glass [figure 9].


Figure 8. Elements from Signe Persson Melin’s Bouquet service for Boda, 1972. [Boda Archive].


Figure 9. Centrifuge-cast crystal Mussla [Mussel] sculpture, designed by Lars Hellsten for Orrefors, 1977. 40cms max. [Orrefors Archive].

Wärff, Vallien, Persson Melin and Hellsten have all participated kindly and actively during the research into their particular chapters, each allowing total access to their archives, and their memories.

Swedish Glass Design is due for publication by the Antique Collectors’ Club, probably in 2016. It will comprise around 500 pages of texts and images in full colour. The texts will be subordinate to the illustrations, totalling some 2,000 pieces. These have been drawn from archives, museums and private collections, including those of its featured designers.

The Chapters.

Swedish Glass Design will be divided into eight major chapters. Each opens with several pages of introductory text and images before the designs of each individual are illustrated in chronological order, together with their sizes, production numbers, etc.

The chapters are dedicated to:

1. Introduction to Swedish Glass: historic background to the present.
2. Erik Rosén [1924-2009]; director Boda, 1947-64]; KostaBoda [1964-78].
3. Vicke Lindstrand [1904-83]: [Orrefors [1928-40]; Kosta [1950-73].
4. Erik Höglund [1932-98]: Boda [1953-73]; Strömberg & others [1973-98].
5. Göran Wärff [1933-]: Pukeberg [1958-64]; Kosta [1964-2012].
6. Bertil Vallien [1938-]: Boda [1963-].
7. Signe Persson-Melin [1925-]: Boda [1967-75]; Boda Nova [1971-80].
8. Lars Hellsten [1932-]; Skruf [1964-72]; Orrefors [1972-2005].