The National Glass Collectors Fair
The Rise of 20th Century
by Nigel BensonOver the past twenty years or so a greater awareness has grown of the work of 20th century British glass manufacturers and designers. A lot was achieved by the influential and seminal exhibition “British Glass Between the Wars” held at Broadfield House Glass Museum in 1987, which recognised work by Monart, Gray-Stan, James
|Stuart vase with decoration designed by Graham Sutherland (Circa 1934)
- Photo courtesy Steve Tanner -
In fact, some of those mentioned above had already featured in the exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery in 1979/80 called “The Thirties”, now thirty years ago itself. This show included all types of applied arts and architecture from Britain in the 1930s, with glass being only part of its remit.
For a number of years after this, although collecting of British glass increased, it was fairly low-key. Much of the interest in collecting was centred round the Scottish glass, Monart, and the related companies of Vasart and Strathearn. As if to underline this, in 1990 the book “Ysart Glass” was published by Frank Andrews with the main essay, on the subject of Monart, by Ian Turner. Collectors also showed a preference toward the work of James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, including the then fairly recent work of Geoffrey Baxter.
|Vasart 'Harlequin' pattern tulip lamp (Circa 1950s).|
Along with Baxter’s designs, notably the textured range, this author was also stocking and selling King’s Lynn and Wedgwood glass by Ronald Stennett-Willson and the work of Michael Harris from the Isle of Wight Studio.
The gains in value, and to some extent the interest, that had been seen over these years were eroded by the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, giving the lie to some of the artificial commercial gains made during the preceding period. Perhaps this was a good thing, as it allowed the market to realign and find its own, realistic, level. Interest in the work of the later designers, such as Baxter, Stennett-Willson and Harris, more or less ceased at this time, however there was special reason with Baxter.
The dealer, Steve Watson, who specialised in Lalique, had opened a further stand in Alfie’s Antique Market in the mid to late 1980s, specialising in Whitefriars glass, both pre and post Second World War. His success in promoting Baxter’s work culminated in gaining a large showing in one of the Miller’s Yearbook price guides. This should have meant that the glass at last had a recognised general market; however, all that happened was that prices leveled everywhere: antique shops, markets, antique fairs and boot fairs all commanded the same price. As a result the market collapsed, until that edition of Millers was no longer the first one picked off the shelf and a hierarchy of collecting and dealing was re-established. As an aside, there is a similarity nowadays with eBay and the effect that that can have upon a market.Over recent years there have been a number of exhibitions on specific subjects within British glass manufacture, a number of which have also been held at Broadfield House. These have included subjects such as Chance Glass; Davidson’s
|Cut vase decorated with stylised naturalistic design: made by
Stuart & Sons in the late 1930s
Other museums have hosted exhibitions, most notably the Manchester City Art Gallery and Museum’s highly successful show of Whitefriars, which was stimulated by a single collection that provided its core. The Museum of London had previously held a “taster” exhibition (no catalogue), but also collaborated with Manchester, loaning pieces from their archive and providing space for a subsequent, smaller version of the Manchester show in their own gallery. Two books were published at the same time as the 1995/6 exhibitions, one, a now highly desirable and out of print, hardback edition produced by the Museum of London. The other a paperback produced as a catalogue to the exhibition and edited by its curator, Lesley Jackson.
When the collection of the late Michael Parkington came to sale at Christie’s South Kensington in a two-part auction, the first being in October 1997 and the second in April 1998, British glass of the 20th century was tested by the market. In the main it was highly successful, although a few minor areas did not see high prices. The collection included a high content of Monart glass and a fair selection of Powell and Whitefriars in addition to the first outing of Nazeing glass in any quantity at auction, which was particularly noticeable through being placed in well-lit display cabinets.A small, but successful, show of John Walsh Walsh glass was given at the National Glass Fair by the author of the only book on the subject, Eric Reynolds, in conjunction with its publication in May 1999. Sadly, despite the depth of information
|John Walsh Walsh 'Leaf' pattern vase designed by Clyne Farquharson (Circa 1930).|
In the recent past, Whitefriars Glass has seen huge demand fed by both collectors’ and designers’ interest in the work of Geoffrey Baxter. In addition, interest has been fuelled by a number of in-house selling exhibitions held by dealers, including Jeanette Hayhurst, Nigel Benson, another at the Richard Dennis Gallery and a series by The Country Seat.
In late 1999, Circa Glass held an exhibition, “Blown in London”, celebrating the work of London-based factories and designers of the 20th century, beginning with the work of James Powell & Sons, including Nazeing Glass (because of its London connections), the work of Bermondsey Art Glass, and work by later designer glassblowers such as Peter Layton. Dealers The Country Seat have held a series of exhibitions devoted to the work of James Powell & Sons, entitled “Glass Act” (numbers 1 –3), “Harry Powell”, “Great Whitefriars” and “Wilson of Whitefriars”, all having catalogues, which have drawn attention to and underlined the strong interest in the work of this internationally renowned factory and its designers.In 2003 there was an exhibition of glass produced by the Nazeing factory and its Victorian predecessors, the Kempton’s, called “Nazeing Glass and its Origins”, held at Lowewood Museum, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire and curated by the author of this short survey. A limited edition book on the subject, “75 Years of Diverse Glass-making to the World”, was published in conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, written by Geoff Timberlake. This show attracted over 1600 visitors and has already stimulated a general interest in this hitherto overlooked area of glass collecting.
In September 2003, Kensington Church Street dealers Nigel Benson and Jeanette Hayhurst held a selling exhibition of British cut glass. They published a forty-page monograph on the subject entitled “Art Deco to Post Modernism, A Legacy of British Deco”, giving a short essay on each of the factories with a large quantity of photographs. The publication attempts to draw attention to a very misunderstood and highly underrated area of glass production.
|Green flashed, footed vase with alternating cut pattern - Stevens &
Williams mid to late 1930s
September 2003 also witnessed the sale of Ian Turner’s renowned collection of Monart glass at Christie’s South Kensington, including rare items, pieces from the Ysart family and company ephemera. This saw mixed results, with some real highs, but also reflecting the lull in the world of antiques and foreseeing the current economic climate.
Over the last few years there have been a number of books and exhibitions on various topics relating to British glass. Broadfield House Glass Museum held an exhibition taken from the collections of Dr Graham Cooley and featuring mainly the work of Geoffrey Baxter and Ronald Stennett-Willson, with a few examples of Frank Thrower’s designs. In July 2004 Dr Cooley expanded upon one section when he launched an exhibition of the complete works of Ronald Stennett-Willson at the King’s Lynn Arts Centre, with an accompanying catalogue written by the eminent author, Lesley Jackson.
Whilst this put glass from Wuidart, Lemington, King’s Lynn and Wedgwood on the map, it has not had the expected effect of escalating prices, as with post war Whitefriars. This is possibly because expectation often outstrips reality, which is then followed by disappointment and disillusionment. Maybe this should be a lesson, since many people are still searching for the collecting area that will see huge rises in prices; usually this sort of market falls back when the ‘South Sea Bubble’ is pricked and the truth of the situation hits home. A far better situation is when a market grows gradually with the odd fillip along the way. That way a solid market, such as that of early (Arts & Crafts) Powell, grows up.
Conversely, there was very positive reaction to Mark Hill’s book about the work of Michael Harris at Mdina and the Isle of Wight Studio when it was published in 2006. In all probability this was a result of there being a number of collectors already beavering away, meaning that the book tapped into an existing demand, and then went on to accentuate it.
There was a reprise of the cut glass exhibition in July 2006, held by invitation at the NEC Antiques for Everyone fair. A fresh approach to the subject was taken, concentrating on the categories of cutting, splitting them into Geometric, Figurative, Abstract, Abstracted and Sculptural. This exhibition was received well by visitors and trade alike. There was an accompanying article in the fair’s visitor guide, explaining the aims of the exhibition.
2007 was the 40th anniversary of the founding of Dartington Glass and saw two exhibitions, and two books on the subject, celebrating the work and designs of Frank Thrower. This lead to a fairly frenetic collecting bout by many people, which has now leveled since the rarities and common items have been identified.
In the same year the long awaited book on Chance glass by David Encill was published. Despite a huge amount of research and work of his own, David recognises the help he was given by many members of the internet based glass collectors’ forum, the Glassmessageboard (GMB). This is believed to be the first case of contribution through the internet by a group of people to a book on glass. The success of this book on an area of glass collecting that is accessible to all levels of collector is testament to this sort of collaboration.
The work of the organisers of the Cambridge Glass Fair should not go unrecognised, since they hold a one day exhibition at each of their fairs at Chilford Hall. These exhibitions are of high quality, presented in cabinets and with an explanation of the items on show. Topics on British glass of the twentieth century have included: Chance Glass; Hartley Wood; Slim Jims – designed by Alexander Hardie Williamson; Stuart Enamelware; Powell Glasses; Michael Harris; and Sam Herman.
A pattern of successful collecting of the work of notable factories can be traced through the last twenty or so years, but it is also noticeable that the work of other factories which has been overlooked and has recently been brought to the attention of collectors is growing in favour. The next twenty years will surely see further growth in collecting the work of previously unnoticed, or underrated British glass factories, along with a strengthening of the already established areas.
Looking into the immediate future, Charles Hajdamach’s long awaited book on 20th Century British glass is now available and is likely to stimulate collecting of glass from throughout this period of British glassmaking.
See below for a list of relevant Books and Catalogues on 20th century British glass.
Article Written by Nigel Benson
Nigel Benson (www.20thcentury-glass.org.uk) has been dealing in 20th century glass for many years. He is extremely knowledgeable about glass from this period and is a regular exhibitor at both the Cambridge Glass Fair and the National Glass Collectors Fair.
Please note that unless otherwise stated the content of this article is the sole intellectual property of the author. No reproduction or reference to the text of this article may be made without the express permission of the author.
Benson, N., “Millers Glass of the 50’s & 60’s, A Collector’s Guide” Mitchell Beazley (London 2002) o/p
Benson, N., Hayhurst, J., “Art Deco to Post-Modernism: A Legacy of British Art Deco Glass”, Liber Vitreorum Publications (London 2003)
Clegg, W and Ferry, H., “Glass Act” o/p
“Glass Act II” o/p
“Glass Act III” o/p
“Harry Powell” o/p
“Great Whitefriars” o/p
“Wilson of Whitefriars”, The Country Seat (Henley-on-Thames – various dates)
Dodsworth, R. (Ed), “British Glass Between the Wars”, Dudley Leisure Services (Dudley 1987) o/p
Encill, D., “Chance Expression: The History of Domestic Glassware from Chance Brothers”, Cortex Design (Birmingham 2007)
Evans, W., Ross, C., and Werner, A. “Whitefriars Glass: James Powell & Sons of London”, Museum of London (London 1995) o/p
Hajdamach, C., "20th Century British Glass", Antique Collectors Club,
Hill, M., “Michael Harris, Mdina Glass & Isle of Wight Glass”, Mark Hill Publishing (London 2006)
Hill, M., “Frank Thrower and Dartington Glass”, Mark Hill Publishing (London 2007)
Jackson, L. (Ed), “Whitefriars Glass, The Art of James Powell & Sons”, Richard Dennis (Shepton Beauchamp, 1996)
Jackson, L., “20th Century Factory Glass” Mitchell Beazley (London 2000)
Jackson, L., “Ronald Stennett-Willson: An exhibition of glass designs from 1954 -1980 From the Graham Cooley Collection” King’s Lynn Arts Centre (King’s Lynn Arts Centre 2004)
Reynolds, E., “The Glass of John Walsh Walsh, 1850 –1951”, Richard Dennis (Shepton Beauchamp, 1999)
Smithson, L & S., “Dartington Glass, The First Twenty Years”, Smithson (Torrington 2007)
Timberlake, G. C., “75 Years of Diverse Glass-making to the World. A Celebration of Nazeing Glass Works 1928 – 2003, and exploration of their Victorian origins”, Timberlake(Luton 2003) o/p
Tobin, S., “Wedgwood Glass” Tobin (Queensland 2001)
Turner, I., Clarke, A.J., and Andrews, F., “Ysart Glass”, Volo Editions, (London 1990) o/p
Note: o/p = out of print