CZECH GLASS CHARMS
The town of Gablonz and its surrounding area in Czechoslovakia became well known for its glass and jewellery making in the second half of the 19th century even though it had been producing both for many centuries. Whilst they made some wonderful paste set charms, like saphiret hearts etc, it is the press moulded glass trinkets and charms that I am going to cover in this article.
I have had many Czech glass charms over the years that have been of a very similar design but still different from each other. The quality of the moulding, the finish, the actual design, were all just slightly different and I always wondered why this was. Having read many articles about the production of glass in Gablonz I now realise that there wasn’t one large factory producing everything but rather hundreds of individual press moulding workshops. In each of these workshops there would be a single furnace which several workers would share. This would account for the huge differences in quality that you find with the charms. Some of the workshops would have produced very good quality items whilst others not so good.
Exports were handled by many different companies so there was little quality control for any of the work except perhaps for the pieces that were destined to end up in expensive designer jewellery in countries like the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Many pieces were shipped out in their bare state with no mounts or suspension bales having been added while others would have very inexpensive brass mounts or rings added before exporting.
When people think of Czech glass charms they normally think of the black cat cracker charm. It is the most common of the charms. They were produced from the 1890s up to the 1930s in various forms; frosted, gloss, some were marked ‘Czechoslov‘ some face forwards and some are flatter than others. A small selection are pictured below to show the difference between them. The first picture shows a 1920's one whilst picture four shows a late Victorian one.
I don’t think they were produced in Czechoslovakia specifically for putting in Christmas crackers but companies in the United Kingdom bought them for that purpose. I also have the glass animals with labels showing them just as lucky charms and sometimes you find them glued to metal ornaments so they were imported for other purposes.
There are many figures available to collect but you also have the different colours and, in some cases, frosted and gloss finishes. A small selection are pictured below.
Pictured are a frog, a grizzly bear, a pink cat, a polar bear, a French bulldog, an elephant, a dachshund, a painted parrot, a painted Sphinx, two different rabbits, Squeak the Penguin (from Pip, Squeak and Wilfred) and a duck. There are other models I know of that are not pictured including a monkey and a pig and I am sure, many years ago, that I saw a lion. If anyone can add others to this list please let me know.
From the Edwardian period these cracker charms also came in a smaller size and were very popular during the 1920's and 30's. Sometimes they were attached to necklaces and bracelets which were marked ‘Made in Czechoslov’. There is a huge range of these available though the finish on them is quite often poor.
Better quality shaped glass charms can be found. Some even have the mould marks ground out. The detailing on these can be quite exquisite. The handbags below are a good example of the quality the Czechs could produce.
Another charm the Czechs did well was the reverse painted intaglio. It had a brass mount and the picture was moulded in reverse on the back. This was then highlighted with paint. The designs were simple but quite effective. These were made from early Edwardian times as some were made for King Edward’s Coronation in 1902. Lucky symbols were most popular with four leaf clovers, horseshoes, No.13, pigs and cats featuring strongly. Most were round but heart shapes were also made. A good selection are pictured below.
Just like the figural charms, these also came in a smaller size.
My absolute favourite Czech charms are also reverse painted intaglios but slightly different to those above because they are three dimensional….the gold fish bowls. I think they are the only charms that were made like it and they work so well. Three different examples are pictured below. The first two are straight forward Czech pieces. The last one though is a fantastic example of a piece of Edwardian jewellery c1910 that was made in England. It is a 9ct gold cat, with green gem stone eyes, on the side of a fully 3 dimensional gold fish bowl that has two painted fish inside. The glass bowl is the only Czech part but brings the whole piece to life.
I am going to finish on my second favourite glass Czech charms. They are called ‘berry hearts’ and a turquoise one has featured on my business logo for many years. They get their names because they are covered in tiny bobbles that look like raspberries or blackberries. The Czechs made buttons and brooches using the same type of glass but it is the heart charms that are most sought after. I have only had three in all my years of collecting, two turquoise and one translucent red one. Unfortunately I didn’t keep a picture of the red one but the two turquoise ones are pictured below.
As these charms have a wide range of quality then their values are also wide ranging. The black cats can be picked up for as little as £5 each at antiques fairs with eyes and collars missing but expect to pay £30 plus for a well moulded cat with a beaded collar and nice diamante eyes. If they are unusual colours then add a premium. The other figures range from £30 for the more common French Bulldog , £40-£70 for the rabbits, pigs, ducks etc and then £100 plus for the much rarer pieces like the sphinx, parrot and Squeak the Penguin. The small cracker charms can be found for just a few pounds still and are a great starting point for a collection. The better quality pieces can command huge prices. I have sold handbag charms for £100 plus but these are getting very hard to find. Intaglios are quite easy to pick up. More common subjects like four leaf clovers are inexpensive at £20 but pigs, cats and anything unusual expect to pay quite a bit more. The smaller ones command the same price as the larger ones. The goldfish bowls and good quality berry hearts are all in the £100 plus bracket if you can find them.
(Values updated January 2016)
All images and text copyright Sandy’s Vintage Charms 2009