Review by Frank Andrews December 2009.
Charles has previously given us British Glass 1800-1914 and for anyone with the interest that book is a total must have. With that under the belt, the expectation for this volume was extremely high. There is no doubt that he has succeeded and the collector of British Glass can rejoice in having excellent coverage of 200 years of excellent knowledge at their fingertips.
But to review a book that is covering the most complex area of British Glass is not a task for one person, so I hope to see others commenting on the content for their own interest areas. For me this is mainly Scottish Glass, including paperweights, lampwork and non-Scottish Pirelli Glass. My comments here are open to discussion but I believe they are the most accurate.
My own voyage into glass history was certainly influenced by Charles Hajdamach long before either of his volumes appeared so I do have a clear bias to a person who has demonstrated passion and academic rigour in his work.
My primary knowledge is the work of the Ysart family both in and before Scotland. What this work has succeeded in doing is setting the record straight on the knowledge that has come to light since Ysart Glass was published 19 years ago. Yet at the same time I have a few minor concerns that parts of the Ysart history have been glossed over, perhaps necessarily, and some uncertain 'facts' given new life. But in the absence of absolute certainty I cannot really make that a criticism. The reader has to take into account that the brevity need in such a huge volume omits much information and is certainly not the appropriate place to discuss minor details. Not a bad thing as it encourages further research. The only major error was the mention of problems with colours for Monart and that seems to have missed on the detail covered here http://www.ysartglass.com/Ysart/YGcompany.htm essentially Schuster & Wilhelmy and Kügler were a continuation with a shift from East to West Germany. Many of the colours found in pre-war Monart remain in the Kügler range but possibly not all were available as production of Monart restarted in the late 40s.
I was excited to see such a significant interest in lampwork, long regarded as an insignificant area of glass work. So I ploughed into this chapter with eagerness and was mostly not disappointed. Charles has clearly made the case that lampwork is an important area of study and collecting. Having at the Glass Zoo uncovered several British lampwork makers and identified a huge range of Pirelli lampwork, combined with 20 years researching that particular company, it was lovely to discover new things and makers. That some of the other makers do not get a mention is sad but not a big issue as again this chapter will stimulate interest in this virtually unexplored territory. Missing though are important pointers for collectors that many of the lampworkers learnt their skills from others and often these roots can be traced... Pirelli is becoming a very collectable form because their is a unique nature to their work and that is 'humour'. Their main designer was one Edward Robbins and while he later decamped to Canada his legacy of designs remained. Unfortunately I have never revealed that information so it is missing in this book, mea culpa. Missing in this chapter is the work of the paperweight lampworkers - they are covered under paperweights though. The reality is that most lampwork collectors do not follow weights.
But paperweights get a significant chapter that rightly places Paul Ysart in his important and influential role in this field and also the importance of the resulting explosion of paperweight making in Scotland. Yet I have a few niggles, hopefully I do not misreport, while Peter Holmes and William Manson get appropriate accolade this is not the case for John Deacons and Mike Hunter seems to have been missed entirely! Chris Dodds of Selkirk and Tweedsmuir glass fame is mentioned yet this is the glassmaker that Peter Holmes considers one of the best he ever knew. Well, so it goes, fame is fleeting and we normally have a long wait for the most significant names to become established by collectors.
Caithness Glass is given an interesting treatment. Largely expunged from the record, politically, Charles has, no doubts with the superb work of Graham Cooley behind it, giving back Domnhall O'Broin his important role in the history of this company and glass design. So a good 'well done' here! Yet the following period of Caithness almost pales to insignificance - despite being one of the most successful glassworks in the latter 20th century with Colin Terris receiving an OBE for what he did at Caithness. As we move into the 21st Century this company could well find its feet in providing Glass 'Art' for the masses but out of scope for this book.
Allan Scott missed the editors eye and got misspelt as Alan and lumped in with some of those that he trained. Allan while having spent most of his career at Caithness is probably the best lamp-worker that this the UK has ever seen and sadly mostly invisible.
Strathearn Glass was covered fairly well but it was not clear that when Stuart took over, production of glass was shifted to Stourbridge and Angus Sillars role as a designer prior to that take-over seems to have been omitted.
Of the areas that my own knowledge is less detailed I can offer little critique. I had been hoping that this book would reveal some new names to me in terms of the coloured glass that gets confused as Monart, I was not disappointed but only one was new to me and that was Arculus. Yet there were many other examples shown that were "ahah! moments" so very pleasing.
The section on engraving was excellent, perhaps what really made it for me was the prominence of Whistler - there is no other craftsmen in glass whose work I hold more in awe. And to see so many illustrations of this exquisite skill was magical.
For a book published in the 21st Century I was surprised that no references to websites as sources were given, today there are so many well researched sites containing information that is just not available in print.
It took a day to read and no doubt will take 10 years to absorb, I learnt a lot in that day and expect to learn a lot more as I dip in over coming years. The indexer needs shooting, not the authors fault, it is the publishers responsibility! So many important names are not indexed but do appear in the text, frustrating for a major reference work! I also missed the patent section that existed in the earlier volume, but I guess the sheer volume of patents worth mentioning in the 20th Century would have doubled the page count.
This is a must have for all glass collectors regardless of location or interest as it charts influences from other countries as well as too them. My own niggles are very minor in the overall context of this volume - which serves extremely well for the history it sets out to provide.