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Review of Sklo Union Art Before Industry: 20th Century Czech Pressed Glass


Review of Sklo Union Art Before Industry: 20th Century Czech Pressed Glass by Marcus Newhall 
ISBN: 978 0 9560623 0 7

I am more used to writing books than reviewing them. In fact this will be my first book review – and I’m delighted that it is for Marcus Newhall’s first book: so, a double first!

Carnival Glass is my “thing”: press-moulded, patterned glass covered with iridescence. Most people think of it as being predominantly an American glass, but in fact a huge amount was made by European glass factories – and one specific region that made some astonishingly beautiful Carnival was Czechoslovakia. My research in this area brought me into contact with Marcus some four or five years ago, and our collaboration since then has been mutually beneficial on many levels. For my own part, I have learnt much about 20th Century Czech Pressed Glass – and with the publication of "Sklo Union Art Before Industry", I have had further opportunities to gain even greater knowledge by perusing both the printed book and its accompanying CD.

So, what’s inside "Sklo Union Art Before Industry"? Well, stop before you even open the book! The cover alone is a treat for the eyes. Della Breukelaar’s crisp rendition of Sotola’s “Hobnail” cake plate (Rosice, from 1977) is mesmerising. I was learning before I had even got inside the book’s enticing pages……….

Marcus knows his subject inside out and upside down: he lives and breathes Sklo Union and his knowledge and passion sing out on every page. I found the section on historical context fascinating and illuminating, usefully filling many gaps in my own understanding as I read. The information on factory histories was of particular relevance to me and fortuitously provided me with further important evidence that has a cross-over into the sphere of Carnival Glass. Throughout the rest of the book I dipped in and enjoyed: designers (I have lost my heart to Jiri Zejmon’s work), techniques, commemorative products, useful notes for collectors and some splendid contemporary photos of exhibition glass. 

And then the database CD, which contains some enticing catalogues. What a treat. I am a “catalogue junkie” – I am totally hooked on them and I enjoy nothing more than curling up with a good glass catalogue in front of the fire. You can keep your Agatha Christies’ and Conan Doyles’. There are far more mysteries to be solved in the world of glass and, for me, perusing catalogues is far better than any “Who Dunnit”. The catalogues on the "Sklo Union Art Before Industry" CD are compulsive viewing. They are the closest we can get to a time machine, providing the reader with a peek back in time to the 1950s through to the 1990s.

This is a splendid book, an information-rich book, a ground-breaking book, and without a doubt, it is a “must-have” book for the collector of 20th Century Czech Pressed Glass.

Glen Thistlewood

Hi all. Just returned from the glass fair and I must say how great it was, fantastic glass, friendly dealers and very well attended. I purchased some nice pieces including a lovely Milan Metelak vase and some Sklo Union vases, I also finally got Marcus Newhall's book on Sklo Union glass.. and what a great book it is very well researched, fantastic photographs and a CD database for my computer I love it, well done Marcus.
I also met Mark Hill and thanked him personally for the help and advice he has given me through this forum he is such a gentleman. I will post some pieces soon that I need help with. Thanks Paul.


--- Quote ---Updated version of review posted earlier this year, I had waited until I had discussed issues with the included CD database with the author before completing. Reposting the updated review with database review added slipped my mind. Only other change was an edit of the introductory paragraph.
--- End quote ---
Lacking detailed knowledge of the Czech glass industry I cannot comment on the actual subject matter but the preface by, well qualified, Sylva Petrová makes it clear that in this respect the book will be held in high regard. This book has the potential to be considered for classic status, but does this hold up? So to the book review…

The first chapter, Historical Context, is invaluable as many in the West have some preconceptions of the climate in which this glass was produced. For collectors in the modern world understanding the influences on design and production helps to establish where the glass will fit into the world of collecting. Clearly some very difficult impositions, first the war and then the communist regime, yet still design broke new ground in the period covered by this book.

First impressions - The main criticisms of this book are also apparent after reading this first chapter. My greatest difficulty was with the minute type used for the captions and lacking a magnifying glass to hand, I will need to go back to these later. My only other issue is very minor and was with the Czech words used for which there is no guide to pronunciation - however many anglicised translations are given. Perhaps the author could add this to the website with sound files for each term. This is mostly an issue in the early part of the book.

The second chapter gives brief but detailed histories of the factories concerned, sufficient for the collector and a solid basis for further study. The third chapter is less condensed, covering the subject in a clear style with good structure. It relates glass design to philosophy and social conditions, establishing the important influences of the periods - particularly the 60s and 70s. It is interesting to read that the roots of this had been well established before the turmoil of World War 2 and about the isolation that led to the relative invisibility of Sklo Union glass on the global markets. This chapter is a tribute to the author's style of writing and his research ethos.

Next we are introduced to the main designers in good well written detail and lavishly illustrated. Each of the main designers is treated individually and this will no doubt lead to designer oriented collections of Sklo Union glass.

A chapter on techniques discusses vital knowledge for the collector to be able to appreciate the processes used and a solid ground for further study. But when we get to a brief but basic chapter on applied decoration, I was a little disappointed not to see more examples in what is a growing area of interest. But in the context of the whole book this is understandable and a ripe area for future studies. This is followed by a summary of some important exhibitions.

Finally "Notes for Collectors" gives some sound advice although it is perhaps a little opinionated and mildly contentious. A comprehensive bibliography and index bring us to the end and the computer disk with its database of well over 5,000 items!

Overall, layout makes for a comfortable read apart from the minute captions. Photography is excellent. The cover price is remarkably low for such a seminal study. This book will certainly have a huge impact in creating a market for this glass that is likely to parallel the success of Art Deco French pressed glass, such as Lalique, in previous decades - all the ingredients are in place: Celebrated design, readily recognisable, huge volume of production (and rarities) and a massive design base. Armed with this book, collectors and dealers will create a market with the assurance that the market will grow, especially once the relative rarity of designs and their variations becomes clearer. The book also offers tantalising hints of other areas of Czech and Slovakian glass that are still waiting to be explored.

Clearly, a classic of classics has been born.

The database  is a useful resource for the collector but thumbnails are often truncated. Due to poor design of metadata the search functionality is disappointingly weak and for example it is not always possible to track down a piece with just a size. It contains a lot of catalogue images so browsing is possibly the easiest way to use it until you are familiar with the contents.

 :hiclp: I received my Sklo Union book  yesterday and it's WICKEDDDDDDDDDDDDDD thanks !!!!! :kissy: :kissy:

Enjoy it please!
Marcus Newhall had spent 10 years to collect this unique source of information.
It is the must to have for every Czech/Czechoslovakian glass collector.



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