Identifying Loetz by Deb Petersen Fitzsimmons
You notice these two vases being offered in an auction and they immediately catch your eye. The auction catalog mentions that they are Loetz and one of the vases is even signed: “Loetz Austria”. You have heard about Loetz art glass but don’t know much about it. All you know is that these vases are beautiful and would like to own them. The high end auction estimate for this pair is close to $3,000. You decide that if you are considering investing this much, you should find out more about them. You start by making a list of questions and then go to the internet and type in “Loetz” and a link to Loetz.com appears. You decide that this site looks like a good resource to help answer your questions.
Is there a way to tell if a piece of glass is Loetz? You assume that the auction house is correct about these vases being Loetz and begin by visually searching Loetz.com for examples that look similar to these. (Note: If you don’t find a similar example on Loetz.com using this visual search method, chances are high that the piece is not Loetz.)
Sure enough, you locate a simlar example shown under rubin PG 6893. But is there a way to tell if a certain piece is actually Loetz? The answer is a definitive, “Yes”! Thanks to the many dedicated researchers, collectors and Loetz preservationists before us who helped save and subsequently published much of the remaining Loetz archives and who also provided photographic examples of preserved pieces matching the archived paper patterns, collectors can visually search shapes and match documented decors. However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the publication of “Lötz Böhmisches Glas 1880 - 1940 - Band 1 & 2“, containing the research work conducted on the Loetz archives, was made available to the Loetz collecting community. Prior to 1989, very little was known about Loetz art glass.
Do these vases have a name and, if so, what are they called? Now that you have searched Loetz.com and found several photographic examples of vases that have a similar decoration pattern and color located in the section labeled “rubin PG 6893”. What does this mean?
The first word describing these vases means that the ground color (the base color of glass used before the decoration is applied) is “rubin”, a deep, dark cherry red. The next word, “PG”, is short for “Phaenomen Genre”. Phaenomen Genres were produced by Loetz between 1898 and 1908 and are distinguished by their unique decorations of trailed and combed threads and metallic iridescence. Phaenomen Genres are considered to be of the highest quality and are one of the most desirable of the Loetz productions. The number “6893” is the number assigned to the specific decoration that is applied to the ground which, in this case, is a wave pattern often drawn in a 16 part ribbed design. PG 6893 was produced in almost all of the ground colors available and was one of the most successful and popular of the Loetz PG productions. Once you recognize this décor, it will be easy to spot other examples. PG 6893 is a good example of the Loetz Phaenomen Genre productions and would enhance any Loetz collection.
Why do these two vases look similar but slightly different? Looking at the various photographic examples in the rubin PG 6893 décor section on the site, you notice that some examples look more blue & silver, others exhibit gold & maroon tones, some exhibit narrow columns of uniform wave patterns whereas others show gaps between the waves and heavier applications of the silver-yellow threads in certain areas. These visual variances can be caused by several factors. Of course, since we are looking at photographs, different lighting or color enhancements can be used to change or distort the actual colors. But here we have two vases next to each other shown in the same photograph. The vase on the left appears to have more of the blue and silver tones whereas the one on the right has more of the rubin ground showing through the waves. There is also a thicker application of threads at the top. The reasons for these slight variations is that even though the two vases are mold blown, meaning that hot molten glass was placed in a mold and blown to fill the contour of the mold so that it would conform to the shape of the mold, the decoration was applied and worked by hand which creates the variances we see here.
Why are the shapes the same? After you become familiar with the various Loetz decors, you will start to notice another set of numbers and letters that appear below many of the photographs. Looking at the other examples of rubin PG 6893, we notice that photo #5 in the 2nd row and photo #1 in the 3rd row, are the same shape as these two vases. Below these examples are the letters and numbers “st PN II-346”. “PN” is an abbreviation of the words “production number”. The “II-346” references the specific decors that were produced in this particular shape found in “Series II”, a date range of productions from 1900 to 1914. An “st “ before the “PN” indicates that while the example is exactly the same shape and size as production number II-346, the decoration, PG 6893, is not included in the list of decors that were produced for this shape. The reasons for this could be that the decor information is missing from the archives or the vases produced in PG 6893 could have been given a different production number. For more information on the terms, notes and abbreviations used on Loetz.com, please visit the “Glossary” page.
Can all of the shapes and decors produced by Loetz be documented using the information from the Loetz archives? In the new book, “Loetz/Series II, Paper patterns for Glass from 1900-1914” by author Jitka Lněničková, she estimates that there are 70,000 to 80,000 paper patterns in the Loetz archives but these represent “just a small fragment of those originally made and used in the glassworks”. She also estimates that only 35% of Series I, 5% of Series II, 2% of Series III and 15% of the commissioned orders were made available to the public when the book “Lötz Böhmisches Glas 1880-1940, Band 2” was published in 1989. As a result, conclusive identification of suspected Loetz productions as well as known productions with unknown decors may not be possible.
Matching actual photos of existing Loetz pieces with their corresponding paper patterns and finding the specific design and décor notes is where the investigative process of documenting and researching decors begins, but it is also often where it ends with inconclusive results.
How old are these vases? Each of the Loetz decors on the site begins with the name or number of the decor and the date that this décor was first produced. We know that PG 6893 is not only one of the most common PG decors produced but one of the oldest. This décor was first produced in 1898 and production continued through 1908. Therefore, these vases are anywhere from 107 to 117 years old. However, if we look up production number, II-346, we will see that it was produced in 1900 indicating an age of 115 years.
Does all Loetz art glass look similar to these vases? At the factory's peak Loetz had between 150 and 200 employees. During the years of 1898 to 1902, over 1.7 million pieces of Loetz art glass was produced in 3,500 different shapes and over 200 different decors in 30 different colors! The sheer volume of unique combinations of art glass created by this company during this period is staggering. But it is also why I enjoy collecting Loetz because I can fill a glass case with Loetz examples and each piece will stand out as being different and unique. I never get tired of looking at our Loetz collection. Who would guess that this contemporary looking blue vase, known as Ausf 143 created by Loetz in 1907, could be 108 years old!
How can I learn more about Loetz? Along with the Loetz.com website, there are several references and publications available to help the collector learn more about Loetz art glass. Visit the publications page on the site to learn more about each of these important resources.
There are also several internet sites such as Pinterest, Collectors Weekly and various glass groups on FB that can help one learn more about Loetz art glass.
It will take some time, but the more you study the easier it will be to recognize an example of Loetz. For most of us, the best way to learn about Loetz is to start collecting it. While visually studying glass from photographs can certainly help, actually holding it and seeing it in person is the best method. Try to attend auctions and shows so you can see and handle the glass in person. Don't worry about a few art glass mistakes; these can make the best art glass education. If you enjoy the beauty of the glass, you won’t mind a few mistakes here and there. Happy Collecting!