Bohemian Beauty: The Glass of Loetz Witwe

Popular Art Nouveau Glassware

Loetz Vase

Morphy Auctions

Loetz, more formally referenced as Loetz Witwe, is known to be one of the most prolific producers of European art glass. Founded in what is now known as the Czech Republic, this foremost Bohemian glass house produced primarily iridescent wares during its most successful period. Cameo glass by Loetz is the hardest to find, but the silver overlay cameo pieces in Art Nouveau styles are what some glass experts and collectors consider to be this manufacturer’s most beautiful work.

Early History

The early history of this glass factory founded in 1836 notes it changing hands a number of times, according to Loetz.com. It eventually ended up in the ownership of Susanne Loetz, the widow (Witwe in German) of a glassmaker about which little is known. She became the sole owner in 1855 when her second husband gave ownership to her before he died. Susanne Loetz oversaw the business known as Johann Loetz Witwe, named after her first husband, for the next 20 years. The factory manufactured mainly crystal, silver overlay, and painted glass at that time.

The business was transferred again in 1879 to Loetz’s son-in-law Maximilian von Spaun. He worked with Eduard Prochaska to bring the factory up to date and they introduced new techniques and processes, some of which were patented. The team saw success at exhibitions in Belgium, Germany, and Austria as well as receiving accolades at the Paris World’s Exposition in 1889.

Early Loetz glass isn’t as popular with today’s collectors as their later Art Nouveau styles, but the company was known early on for a technique called Marmoriertes. This glass featured a marbled red, pink, or green surface on items like vases and bowls, as noted on CollectorsWeekly.com. Another late-1880s innovation was the company’s Octopus glass with white curlicues on dark, mottled surfaces thought to resemble the sea creatures for which the design is named.

Loetz Iridescent Glass

In the late 1800s, von Spaun was inspired by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Favrile glass like so many other Art Nouveau glassmakers at the time. Loetz Witwe concentrated on similar styles of iridescent glass over the next eight years entering the most “the most artistically significant and profitable period in the entire history of the company,” touts Loetz.com.

Prochaska employed his glassworking technical skills while von Spaun focused on the business side, and together they achieved greatness. One of their brilliant moves was collaborating with acclaimed designers from time to time. The company’s patented iridescent Phänomen (referencing a specific type of décor unique to Loetz with rippled or feathered patterns) glass designed by Franz Hofstätter won a grand prize at the Paris World’s Exposition in 1900 alongside Tiffany, Gallé, and Daum, among other glassmakers. The company also made commissioned works for others further growing the business and garnered more praise at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Cameo and Opal Glass – Too Little, Too Late

The popularity of Art Nouveau styles and iridescent glass, in general, began to wane leading up to the World War I era, about the same time as von Spaun transferred the business end of Loetz Witwe to his son Maximillian. The younger von Spaun was not as astute in managing the firm as his father. In spite of increased partnerships with designers located in Vienna and appointing Adolf Beckert as the new art director in 1909, the beautiful etched Cameo glass made during this time wasn’t enough to keep the business solvent. The company declared bankruptcy in 1911 and financial infusions from the von Spaun family ensued. Beckert, who specialized in Cameo glass, left in 1913 dealing the floundering factory another blow. An ensuing fire and the start of World War I in 1914 also impacted the business negatively.

Post World War I production included opal glass, which proved to be popular. But the renovation of the factory in 1920 led to more financial distress. With no real innovations in terms of Art Deco styles in demand by consumers at that time and a concentration on lower quality wares, sales remained slow. Another fire, the Great Depression, and further ownership changes led to bankruptcy yet again. The factory closed down completely in 1947 after being used to make utilitarian glassware for the Third Reich throughout World War II, as noted on Loetz.com.

Was All Loetz Glass Marked?

Not all glass that left the Loetz factory was marked and, in fact, the unmarked iridescent pieces are sometimes confused with Tiffany glass. Those well-versed in Art Nouveau glass styles know how to distinguish unmarked Loetz pieces by looking at the colors, intricacies of the designs and the way the pontil (indicative of blown glass) is polished on the bottom since Loetz pontils often consume most of the base.

The most common Loetz mark listed in reference guides is “Loetz Austria,” which was distinctively machine-engraved in the pieces. Sometimes Loetz wares would be marked with initials relating to the artist that produced the pieces. Others were marked with a label indicating the company that commissioned them, when appropriate.

After 1918, Loetz wares were marked Czechoslovakia rather than Austria, which helps to distinguish the age on those items.