The Cambridge Glass Fair
three hundred years of collectable glass in one day
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When and how did you become interested in glass ?
When I started dealing with antiques in 1975, I was very uncertain of which line in the business I was going to choose. In those days auction rooms were like gigantic treasure chests full of china, objects, glass, furniture, paintings, oriental, you name it. I received at that time "The Antiques Trade Gazette" weekly, so that I could decide from the auction lists what interested me most and where to go.In those days there was no computer. I travelled every single day of the week, driving from Plymouth to Leominster, or London to Chester. I came home always with fabulous pieces which I sold at good profits from my street stall in Westbourne Grove, the Portobello Market. I started with antique silver, then Georgian and Victorian jewellery, then objet d'art et vertu, and then, without even thinking, I started looking at antique glass, glass and metalwork. Slowly I was closing the circle on a certain type of glass, and the doors opened to me. There it was, a world of 18th century English and European glass. And then, of course, the incredible period of Art Glass from 1880 to 1940. Galle, R. Lalique, Moser, Muller Freres and so on and so on.
By then I was doing fairs every week, not much sleep between auctions and fairs.
And it was at the Take Five Fair in Woking, when one Sunday another dealer approached me. Rather large, with a beard, and the most wonderful kind face who said to me : I do like your stock very much, would you like to try one of my glass fairs in Cambridge?
I remember that I asked another glass dealer: "What's it like, this fair at Cambridge?
His reply was: "They are all right, you can always try it!".
And I did, and never stopped doing them. I realized then that glass was going to be my main interest. Incidentally, that man was Paul Bishop who has been my great inspiration ever since, not forgetting Christina.
What sort of glass do you collect personally, if any?
I can't afford to keep the glass, otherwise I will go broke!
What I would like to keep is, not much, but the best of the Galle pieces, the vases in particular. Galle's patterns and colours fascinate me, especially the blues, purples and terracotta colours. I sold at Cambridge the most fabulous Galle with the Mount Fuji pattern in blues, creams and yellows. I would have liked to keep that. Then the other piece was unfortunately an absolutely wonderful perfume burner in blues, creams and greens, which was stolen at a fair in Westonbirt. That was 5 years ago, and I am still looking for it.
I would like to have some of the special pieces by R.Lalique, some vases, a few mascots, and one or two of his famous pendants.
Of course having seen so much years back, I wouldn't mind having two or three pieces of Loetz, and naturally Legras, and some of the exquisite Bohemian glass. Not to forget the exquisite pate de verre by the two great glass artists Henri Berge and Almeric Walter, and finally the one and only Daum!
I have in my Georgian cabinet a set of 6 excellent Bohemian tumblers, circa 1880, a very beautiful green and clear crystal decanter from Stourbridge dated 1885, and some exquisite cranberry tall sherry glasses.
Do you have collections of anything other than glass?
Yes, a pair of superb Worcester moonflasks, one with a design of cocks fighting, and the other commemorating the war in Crimea. Bought them separately, but have the same marks and dates! Phillips auctioneers saw them, and bombarded me with telephone calls, saying that they would be honoured to put them in a special sale. They are still with me and not going anywhere.
I also keep the most outstanding silver strawberry set, of spoons and server, Art Nouveau Period, made in Germany for the Kaiser. The spoon handles reflect a tulip with some fine and delicate leaves. I was told that the woman who put this up for sale was a nurse during the 1st World War, who worked in Germany and was given this set in gratitude for her services.
Too emotional, couldn't possibly part from this set.
I also have some 18th century mourning rings, two superb Art Nouveau pendants and a mid 18thC pair of large earrings, superbly made. All this is kept in a safe, as I consider them an investment.
Are there any particular styles, periods or designers that inspire you more than any other?
The Art Nouveau period. There were so many artists who created the most extraordinary pieces. Of course I love the 17thC and 18thC glass, but I think that the Art Nouveau period was the most inspiring one. Superb colours and styles, shapes and designs. I could mention first of all Daum who until today is considered one of the greatest glass artists, who like Galle and Moser never ceased to look for new types of glass, design, shapes, patterns, all sophisticated to the maximum.
I also love Legras, Muller Freres, Josephine Hutte, and many more. It would take me pages and pages to mention so many artists who are still today relatively unknown and who deserve better credit.
Lately, at the suggestion of Christina, I started looking at glass costume jewellery from circa 1880 to 1970. I am discovering it now, and there is a lot to say about it.
The unsigned superb glass necklaces of the late 1800's, Art Nouveau designs, then the dazzling Art Deco pieces which were made initially as expensive jewellery. Unfortunately everything stopped in 1939 with WW2. But it sprung back in full just after 1945, when there was an explosion of creation in the world of fashion.
Which are the best and worst aspects of being a dealer and exhibitor?
The best, because we dealers get together, and I can see what they have, and what I would like to buy from them. The process of shared identification of the unsigned pieces, and finding exciting glass, which of course happens before the fair starts.
Then there is the excitement of the buyers coming into the hall, looking at the items, asking about them, hoping they will buy of course. I always try hard to make time to be able to look around, and love looking at contemporary glass, which is also the antique glass of the future.
The worst aspects are when I forget that there is a chair for me to sit down, until my feet can't hold me anymore. And of course the packing at the end of the fair.
Also, when we get a client who asks thousands of questions and finally goes away without buying!
What is the most special/interesting piece that you own?
A set of minute engraved clear liqueur glasses which are early Victorian. They are exquisite: I think they were hand blown. I had seven, but we moved house and I clumsily broke one. Didn't occur to me that I could have had it repaired.
What was the best piece of advice that you were given when you started collecting/dealing in glass?
To get books about glass. To examine each piece carefully, feel the weight, feel the engraving or whatever is there and of course to identify it. To go to special fairs and try to find some hopefully important pieces. To go to as many special glass auctions as possible.
What advice would you give anyone just starting to collect glass?
First of all, to acquire as many books which specialize only in glass, which will describe and give information about each piece they are dealing with, especially with good quality photos so that she/he will be familiar with the different types and makes of glass. To acquire enough knowledge that can be put into practice when it comes to choosing an item. To be part of a glass association, and mix with people that have the same likes and dislikes. To get hold of a book that contains glass marks: this is terribly important. And lastly, to acquire good knowledge so that it will be easy to recognize fakes. There are too many fakes in the market today which may not be easy to identify.
Another important point: to identify any damage or modification to the piece, which would reduce the value.
In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a section dedicated to only glass, that's worth having a look at.
There is also the Glass Museum in Stourbridge, Broadfield House, which has a permanent display exhibiting superb pieces of English glass, among them the most dreamy cameos. Early pieces and contemporary ones are also on exhibition.
What would you do if somebody comes with a piece of glass that you can't identify?
There is a wealth of information on the internet where you can do deep research. Once you start getting into a website, it's amazing how one thing will lead you to another. For example, if you were presented with a piece of glass which looks like, let's say Loetz, you can tap in Loetz.com, and it will give you not only information and pictures of Loetz pieces, but of all the other Bohemian glass designers of the period. The same will happen if you are looking for Galle, or Lalique, etc etc.
I have found public libraries very useful when I exhausted all other resources.
Since I started working with antiques, I have also acquired a large number of books which give me mostly the information I need.
But if all fails, then you should consult other glass dealers, who may assist you with the identification of the piece.
It is all very easy when there is a signature or a mark, that will tell you what it is.
When there is no mark, that's when you have to do as much research as possible.
You will also have to be prepared for all sorts of eventualities, such as reproductions which sometimes are so good that it is crucial to be able to identify a copy from an original.
In short, when in doubt, always consult either the books, the internet and other experts. You are not alone.