Identifying Loetz by Andy Jelcic
In the world of iridescent European Art Nouveau glass the worst verdict that a piece of glass and its owner can experience is “not Loetz”. Once this is established, the object in question is excluded from 4 of 5 serious collections and its value is estimated in the range from 1/5 to 1/3 of a comparable Loetz. Is this just? Or what does Loetz have that the others do not have? I would say a few things:
1) An active creative relation to shapes. While most other makers produced just generic molds, Loetz shapes were partly designed by important architects, painters, and sculptors; many factory derivatives are based on or influenced by their ideas. There is a constant correspondence between shapes and decors and a striving to present a decor in a favorable synergy between the decor and the shape.
2) By far the widest range of designs, of which some are incredibly modern, preceding their time by fifty years or more.
3) The best documentation of their production, which provides important back-up in the process of creating a collection, buying or selling
4) The largest international collector community, always ready to take over the pieces replaced by other ones in your collection
The loetz.com site is intended as an important tool in the process of identification of your glass, so how should you use it?
First, try not to be biased. Everybody wants his piece to be something very special and valuable, but always be prepared that it is not. There are many similar decors, and not only that: several makers have copied Loetz designs, mostly in somewhat less refined versions; many contemporary glass artists have been “inspired” by Loetz designs and this is not even a new occurrence, such glass has been produced since the 70s, so by now there are examples almost half a century old, with traces of age very similar to the ones from the 20s or 30s.
Second, take your time. Most of the decors on the site have subcategories and sub-subcategories, you just need to click on the photo and they will open. Study the subcategories and individual examples. Bear in mind that the photos come from different sources, so even if two pieces of glass are similar in reality, they can look different in the photos.
Third, there is a large part of Loetz production which is not yet documented, for different reasons: because the corresponding parts of the Loetz archive are missing, because they have not yet been researched and published or because the Advisory Group has not yet been able to establish a firm connection between a decor name and a particular design. However, if you study the existing photos and descriptions closely, you will be able to recognize a pattern in different Loetz lines, be they Phaenomen Genres, Titanias, controlled bubble glass or something else. This pattern will school your eye to recognize a possible Loetz even if you don’t yet know what it is or, vice-versa, diminish its chance as a Loetz candidate.
Fourth, examine your piece closely. The thickness and structure of glass, inclusions from firing and accidental bubbles, burst or not, the shape of the pontil, all this will point towards or away from Loetz. Also bear in mind that although there is a wide range of sizes, from miniscule to giant, the typical Loetz size is from 4’’ to 8’’. Other producers generally tended towards larger or much larger objects.
If we apply the above principles to the photographs of the vase accompanying this article, the procedure will be the following: you can see that it is iridescent and that it shows a pattern of wavy lines. You also see a typical silver overlay, very much en vogue on the British and American market at the turn of the century and at the beginning of the 20th century. Nothing speaks against Loetz yet. On the Decors page you don’t find it, but see a few shapes pointing in that direction, so it still may be Loetz. Then, knowing that Titania is cased glass and that the Ausfuehrung section is later glass, you try the Phaenomen Genres category first. And indeed, there is something very similar, the subgroup of PG 6893 decors (Loetz used a numbering system for their PG designs). Within this group, you can see that there are different grounds for the same decor, so you try the ones that look blue. That leads you to the insight that the examples on blue (in Loetz terminology Cobalt) ground appear less dark and that they do not show that purple quality in the interstices or on the inside. However, this matches perfectly with the examples on red (in Loetz terminology Rubin) ground, so at that point you have all the necessary arguments to say: PG 6893 on Rubin ground.
Of course, not every search will be that easy, but many will. Just keep the above principles in mind and let us know when you have something that has Loetz characteristics but cannot be found on the site, we appreciate any new insights as the site is constantly expanding and fine tuning each category.
Note: Loetz was definitely one of the pioneers of modern marketing. Here we could speak of the elaborate international network of retailers who sold Loetz products, their feedback and special commissions, Loetz sample plates or small perfume bottles in the form of little vases. But of all their very modern and professional marketing actions, the most fascinating one was the naming. Not because these names were such a great invention – at that time every person with a decent education learned Latin and Greek, which included a lot of reading – but because of the manner in which they were used.
Loetz made a distinction between the ground, the molded basic glass to which decors were applied, and the décor, thus emphasizing the complexity of the production procedure. The usual range of grounds – green, blue, red, or amber – was renamed into much nobler Creta, Cobalt, Rubin and Candia, to mention just the commonest ones. This ground was then enriched by Papillon, Silberiris, Delphi, Norma and many other decors. Thus even relatively simple and pretty common products like Candia Silberiris or Cobalt Papillon were – in modern terms – branded. More complex decors were subjected to even more complex naming: they were not only ingeniously called Phaenomen Genres and numbered after an only partly logical system, but many of them got even “nicknames” like Juno or Medici. This, of course, perfectly fits into today’s brand-crazed world and it is not too bold to say that Loetz owes a great deal of its popularity and value to this attractive naming.
Why are we speaking about this in the context of identifying Loetz?
Because sometimes the call of the mermaids is very seductive. The temptation to have a Norma or Delphi instead of Silberiris or a Papillon instead of Cisele may be misleading. But in the same way as you should not be too hasty in recognizing your particular décor or shape in the array offered by the loetz.com site, you should also not be too fast in adopting a name just because you like how it sounds.