There were many different types of glass made from the 1940s through the early 1970s, ranging from Fire King kitchenware to milk glass dinnerware. But when the term "midcentury glass" comes up, it references art glass pieces made by many different companies during this period. These examples of midcentury design are defined by their sculptural, organic shapes the way they refract natural light whether they were made for home use every day or purely decorative purposes.
Many of the more modern-looking glass items made by companies around the globe at this time were inspired by the shapes of Scandinavian glass. After all, these firms were in business to sell glass, and that often required shifting focus or adding lines to accent what was in style in home furnishing and use as tastes changed. Danish-Modern furniture became more popular, and what we define as midcentury modern design in furniture hit its peak, so home accessories followed suit.
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Scandinavian Midcentury Glass
Midcentury glass originating in Scandinavia—the countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—was so popular that it was emulated by companies in other parts of the world. The sculptural forms, even for items designed for everyday use that were so popular in the 1950s, caught the eye of decorators decades ago as they do now.
The colors of glass made by Scandinavian firms tended to be less bright than that of other midcentury glass makers, but that doesn't mean this region didn't experiment with cultivating unique hues and mixed colors in its glass. Finishes, ranging from matte and smooth to highly polished and almost fluid, were also marks of quality Scandinavian glass. Sweden was generally considered to be the center of production.
Strombergshyttan is one popular maker of midcentury glass originating in Sweden. These pieces have a unique and beautiful blue-silver tone to them. Most of the glass was designed by Gerda and Asta Stromberg, and the majority of the glass made by this house is marked either Strombergshyttan or Stromberg along with a production code. The company was owned by the Stromberg family until it was purchased by Orrefors in 1976.
Orrefors is one of the biggest names in Swedish glass production, spanning literally decades. Their mid-century designs included bulbous decanters, a variety of blown glass light fixtures, and "cased glass" pieces in which a darker color is encased in clear glass. While Orrefors made glass beverage sets in more vibrant tones, some of their most popular midcentury pieces were produced in muted tones of olive green and smoky gray.
Items made in Finland are lumped in with these, although they are actually part of the Nordic countries rather than truly Scandinavian. Nevertheless, the blown glass of Riihimäki is sought by '50s and '60s home furnishing enthusiasts. The unique shape of many of the vases, essentially cylindrical with bulges and indentations breaking up the straight line, have garnered many fans. Other Finnish-modern glass companies have a following as well.
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Italian Midcentury Glass
Glassware manufacturing is legendary in Italy, especially Venetian and Murano examples. Some of the most innovative and popular with collectors were those produced in the decades after World War II.
Paolo Venini is a name most modern glass enthusiasts know. His work during the 1950s saw a development of unique designs in Murano glass that was noticed by many. This includes artists like Fulvio Bianconi and Carlo Scarpa who worked with him to create some of the firm's most desirable pieces in a variety of shapes and forms.
The designs for Aureliano Toso by Dino Martens, who trained as a painter, also captivate collectors of modernist glassworks today. He worked with the company beginning in 1939. Some of his designs fit in with what glass fans typically think of when Venetian glass comes to mind, such as Latticino pieces with coppery aventurine swirls, while others are wildly modern and innovative.
There were a number of other great Italian glasshouses including Fontana Arte, which French-born Max Ingrand led and grew during the 1950s. "He brought to the firm an expressive and luxurious use of color through his mastery of techniques for the production of subtly tinted glass. In all his creations one senses a designer at ease with the aerodynamic modernism of the post-war era," according to Christies.com.
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American Midcentury Glass
Glass factories in the United States produced some very interesting midcentury glass. One of those homegrown American companies with a collectible following is Higgins.
Unlike many other glass houses with much longer histories, The Higgins Studio actually opened in 1948. They touted “modern miracles with everyday glass” in their marketing, furthering the mid-century ideal that artistry in glass can be enjoyed while being used. Their pieces crafted using fusing and enameling techniques formed what higginsglass.com refers to as a "glass sandwich." Michael and Frances Higgins started the business in their Chicago apartment and then partnered with the Dearborn Glass Company of Chicago in 1957 to move to a new studio. The Dearborn partnership helped them to promote a full line of “Higginsware." This includes Rondelays, which are fused glass circles and squares that were pieced together (and are still being made today) for a variety of applications like room dividers and mobiles.
Blenko glass is also a name collectors know for producing a spectrum of glass colors during the period. Designers for the company during the 1950s and '60s, like Wayne Husted and Joel Philip Myers, helped them grow various lines known to readily complement mid-century modern decor. They made large, stoppered decanters, and a variety of vases among other glassware pieces. Select pieces are marked in the glass indicating they were made by Blenko, but most had a foil sticker affixed when they were new. Learning to recognize Blenko's designs and vivid colors help in identifying unmarked pieces.
Other well-known companies like Heisey also made adjustments in their catalogs to include patterns influenced by modernism. The company even hired Eva Zeisel as its art director in the early 1950s. Her designs won several awards, but never really sold well so they are hard to locate today.
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English Midcentury Glass
While England may not come to mind first when the topic of midcentury glass comes up, the pieces made during the 1950s and '60 by Whitefriars deserve recognition in this area. Some of their most popular pieces with modernism fans include their Textured line introduced in 1967.
The molds were made using unconventional materials—nails, scraps of wood bits of wire, and the like—to form the textures found in the glass. One of the company's most popular vase styles with modernism collectors is the Banjo vase. Still drawing on the Scandinavian tradition, an icy-looking line named Glacier was also introduced in 1972.