History and Background


No table setting would be complete without the stemware, whether the setting is formal or casual, contemporary or classic. Some settings will require many sizes to pair with various courses, while most often we would use a water and wine glass. The various sizes and shapes were originally determined by their  suitability for a particular type of wine or drink such as burgundy, white wine, claret, hock, brandy, champagne, sherry and port. Water goblets might include a large bowl on a stem or a classic tumbler, which is currently popular.  [tumbler]

The red wine is usually a larger glass than the white but either glass may be used interchangeably. Today we are more apt to mix and match different glasses to create unique and exciting settings. The use of color and decoration allow a wonderful array of choices in setting the table. As we are less constrained by the formalities and dictates of style, one can create an eclectic mix of patterns or opt for a more restrained look using a set with everything that matches. Height and size can be a deciding factor for a distinctive look while gold gives the table a regal feel. 

For a “contemporary” look one need only to turn to the Art Deco period for great examples. There are examples by Rene Lalique, Steuben, in either clear or colored glass and the rare set by Libbey, designed by Nash. Steuben produced tableware in many colors before they became famous for clear crystal. You will find sets blown in elegant classical forms, either plain or copper wheel engraved. They also combined 2 colors in a single glass which adds yet another dimension to the settings. Other well-known American glassmakers who competed with Steuben were Pairpoint, Heisey, Hawkes, Tiffin, Dorflinger and Sinclaire to name a few.   [val deco martini 1]

The most recognizable English glassmakers are Webb, Webb-Corbett, Stevens and Williams, and Stuart. They were the masters of diamond and copper wheel-cut glass, made to imitate “rock crystal”. The detail and skill was unsurpassed and finding a set today would be a rare treat. 

The French firms of Baccarat and St. Louis are still producing fine stemware today and they have managed to maintain the quality and designs and continue to be a successful and forward thinking company. The earlier pieces were often cased in  [Val] two colors and cut back to clear or acid-etched and embellished with gold, as were pieces produced by Lobmeyer, an Austrian firm and Val St. Lambert, from Belgium. 

For a whimsical or fantasy setting one can turn to the fabulous glasses hand blown by the Venetian makers, such as Salviati, Venini and Cappellin to name a few. These sets were produced in every color imaginable and usually contained gold leaf embedded in the glass. The techniques included complex patterns as well as fanciful connectors of dolphins, swans and dragons as well as engraved and enamel decoration. These can all be mixed and matched to great advantage using color or size as a common denominator. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.  [Barovier gold swirl stemware]

Remember that the stemware can be as important a focal point as the china or the centerpiece. Good basic designs from any era, mixed harmoniously, can be the inspiration for the table setting.

Examples of each of these makers can be found at our show room.



Bohemian Glass

A decorative glass produced in regions of Bohemia now in the current state of the Czech Republic, the extraordinary beauty and great variety of work that came from this region comprises an immeasurable contribution to the lucent world of glass. Archeological evidence shows glass successfully produced in this area as early as the 13th century. By the later 19th century, the Bohemian glass making industry had been developed and perfected over 500 years, and [Bohemian]  nowhere else in the world was there such  [Bohemian2] a concentration of talent. It was a living art and a family heritage business, passed on from fathers to sons who maintained and preserved the skills while adapting and enriching the process. The glass industry, with few exceptions, was confined to the mountainous regions, where the forest provided a ready supply of fuel. Depending upon the economic environment from year to year, there might have been as many as 100 glass houses employing some 50,000 people. 

Due to the ever changing political scene during the period between 1880 and 1940, it is also necessary to include parts of Austria, Germany and Poland in the discussion. In addition, until after WWI, Bohemia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was integrated with areas such as Moravia, Slovakia, and parts of Silesia.  Even after the war’s end, when these areas were unified to form Czechoslovakia, the production of “Bohemian glass” lived on. Just as it can be difficult to pin down an exact geographical area, there is a certain mystique surrounding Bohemian glass that makes it hard to categorize and define. Bohemian glass is in fact more of a philosophy rather than any specific formula, color, shape or technique. However, it is exemplified by the richly colored, iridescent glass and lighting designs by Loetz and Bedrich Egermann and those who were inspired by such creations. Egermann, who discovered and was the first to establish a way of adding an orange and red glaze to glass, originated the idea of producing opaque colored glass masses and decorating with glaze. These techniques would inspire glass production in the second half of the 19th century and Art Nouveau and modern art mainstreams in the 20th century.


Venetian Glass

Beautiful, inventive pieces created within 22 minutes, these fantastical works often represented the collaboration of multiple master craftsmen on one goblet, controlling the slippery molten glass and quickly coming together to fuse cup, stem and base before it hardened. Thus, Venetian glass is wonderfully delicate and spontaneous in design, and the slight specks, streaks and tiny bubbles all contribute to its unique appeal. Inspired by the mythical creatures that featured prominently in Italian Renaissance design, late 19th century glassblowers on the Venetian island of Murano created delicately thin goblets with winged dragons and whimsical candlesticks with splashing dolphins. 

American Industrialists on their “Grand Tour” of Europe discovered the glass, carting it home in large amounts. Following these wealthy trendsetters, the glass became popular and soon department stores were importing pieces in huge numbers. It is estimated that 80 percent of Venetian glass made at the turn of the century was exported to  [Art Deco] America.

During this period, Muranese glassblowers based their designs on eighteenth century Venetian glass from the glassblowing museum in Murano’s town hall, founded in 1861. After 1920, they went even further back, reproducing designs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the financial support and efforts of lawyer, Antonio Salviati, glassmakers renewed age old techniques, such as millefiori, or the twisting and pulling of hot canes of colored glass.

As deliberate reproductions of historical designs, these pieces are almost like museum reproductions. Out of the hundreds of glass shops producing work during this time, collectors today seek out the best: Salviati & Co. as well as Giuseppe Barovier. However, most pieces were not signed so design takes precedence over designer labels. Look for the fluid forms and rich hues that characterize these works and always handle with great care, as sodium glass will crack if not handled delicately.



The decades leading up and following the turn of the century were not monopolized by one movement. Various movements existed simultaneously, competing against and reacting to one another. From the Aesthetic to the Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, and Art Deco there was a constant exchange and overlap of ideas as artistic trends spread throughout Europe and made their way to America.

One major design influence that had an impact on all of the movements of this time period was the new access to Japanese decorative arts. After centuries of isolation, Japan was opened to the West in 1853-1854, and Europe was suddenly exposed to an entirely new perspective on art and design that would captivate artists and audiences alike for decades to come.


Aesthetic Movement

Seen as a reaction to the high Victorian period, the phrase “art for art’s  [Aesthetic2] sake” is commonly associated with this predominantly British movement taking place at the end of the Victorian period from roughly 1860 to 1900. Proponents believed art should be enjoyed solely for the pleasure of its beauty and rejected the established Victorian notion that art must serve to represent and uphold cultural standards or convey a moral message. Working under the belief that art need only provide a sensory experience; pieces from this period were decadent and rich. Followers of this movement belonged to a kind of “cult of beauty”, believing that art should not be utilitarian or sacrifice physical beauty for practicality. A dominating characteristic was the prominent use of nature heavily influenced by Japanese art. Strong lines, open or undecorated space are associated with Aesthetic pieces. The movement is often seen as a transition period that paved the way for the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts styles which would take hold shortly thereafter.


Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau movement in France grew out of an unusually peaceful time of great economic prosperity in Europe, and from about 1890 to 1905, glassmakers, silversmiths and ceramic artists celebrated the startling possibilities of a new style that was original, modern and distinct. The name, literally New Art, originated from the Paris shop of the art connoisseur Samuel Bing, La Maison de l’Art Nouveau, where the finest examples of china, glass and silver of the day could be found. It was also known as Jugendstil, meaning "youth style" in German, from the magazine Jugend which popularized the movement, as well as Stile Liberty in London after the department store Liberty & Co. that helped to promote the style. Works from this time were heavily influenced by Japanese decorative arts and can be characterized by an imaginative use of organic, free-flowing lines and a passion for daring color combinations representing almost psychedelic depictions of the natural world. It was a bold, new style at first met with criticism from those who saw these wild depictions as bizarre and even in bad taste. The movement moved throughout Europe and onto America, where it was defined by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his spectacular lamps. His designs exemplify those popular in his day: motifs from nature strongly influenced by Japanesque decoration including birds, flowers, fans, dragonflies and insects among other naturalistic subjects.


Arts & Crafts

Out of a similar desire for change that had produced the Art Nouveau period, the Arts & Crafts movement was simultaneously growing in England and would later gain popularity in America. While the two shared many similarities, distinct differences in approach set them apart. Although proponents of both styles were fascinated with the natural world, the major distinction between the two movements can be found in the artists’ use of line to represent natural subjects. Art Nouveau’s flamboyant lines, sensuous curves and erotic subjects can be juxtaposed with the cleaner, simpler depiction of nature favored in England. A passion for Japanese decorative arts informed both styles; however, each borrowed different ideas and patterns, utilizing them in separate ways. The Arts & Crafts movement was influenced by the bold colors, sparring use of decoration, and the interesting perspective of the Japanese. It was at once a design reform and a social movement.  Idealizing a time prior to the Industrial Revolution, when the world seemed simpler and easier to navigate, proponents advocated a return to the higher morals and pride of real craftsmanship. The alienating effects of industrial labor combined with the inferiority of machine-made goods flooding the market, instigated proponents of the movement to advocate a return to a quality of craftsmanship of an earlier time when objects of real beauty where made by hand with a personal touch.


Art Deco

While the Arts & Crafts movement had reacted to the present by looking to the past, the Art Deco style reveled in the possibility of the future, celebrating the machine’s artistic

capabilities. This new, modern style embraced the sparing use of line and the unadorned, angular form. It was a clean, new style that rejected  [Art Deco] superfluous decoration in favor of a streamlined aesthetic exemplified in such structures as the Chrysler and Empire State buildings as well as the Golden Gate Bridge. The speed and shine of the twentieth century were expressed in the minimalism of the Art Deco movement, influenced by Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism and Fauvism as well as new exposure to African art. The organic, flowing lines of earlier movements gave way to clean geometric patterns in a sleek, futuristic style that captured the energy of a world racing into the modern era.