three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair


An interview with
Tracy Opie

Tracy Opie, of Pretty in Glass, is a regular in the glass exhibiting world and probably attends more fairs than most. She has been exhibiting at the Cambridge Glass Fair from the beginning and in that time she has developed a market for modern art glass from some of the world's oldest traditional factories. Recently she has become one of Sabino's representatives and actively explores undiscovered factories making quality glass. We asked her to take the Cambridge Glass Fair interview to gain an insight into one of the glass world's busiest people.

Tracy Opie
Tracy Opie

When and where did you become interested in glass?

I became interested in glass when I was about four due to my Nan having display cabinets full of glass. She had a good collection of Venetian and Eastern European wine glasses and cut crystal which she picked up when travelling. She travelled a lot through Europe, mainly Italy, and she would buy me a good piece of glass, usually for my Christmas present. I still have a set of cut crystal wine glasses she gave me on my ninth birthday and all the time I knew her we shared a love of collecting glass.

What sort of glass do you collect if any?

Obviously I have the glass my Nan has given to me over the years but I do also have a collection of glass shoes. It first started with me breaking a Venetian glass shoe my Nan brought back from a trip to Venice. This was the first one, and I started collecting the rest about seven years ago as they reminded me of my childhood, and in particular my Nan and Mother who have sadly now both passed away. There are about a hundred now. I also have a collection of distinctive art glass vases, that were usually made in very limited numbers, that I have been fortunate enough to come across over the years. They range from Burmese Ware right through to modern studio pieces.

Are there any particular periods or styles that inspire you more than others?

Although I don't have very much, I really like the quality Deco glass manufacturers such as Auguste Walther and early Sabino. Good pieces are relatively hard to come by, but I keep looking and find the odd piece. It doesn't happen very often though. Usually with Sabino the pieces are modern made from the original moulds so they still have that quality Deco style.

What is the most unusual piece of glass you have exhibited?

I did have a piece of Karlin Rushbrooke. It was a soda glass effect goblet but the unusual thing was that the stem had a perfect knot in it. How it was done I don't know but it was incredible and definitely the most unusual thing I've exhibited. It now has a home in Australia, so it has travelled further than me or my Nan.

How did you become one of the countries leading importers of modern and continental glass?

I noticed that quite a few of my customers liked some of the Venetian glass I exhibit but their main collecting areas were in other types of glass. I knew that much of the antique glass I sold had never gone out of production and was still being made. I decided to take a risk and imported some stock in the hope that the affordability of the current production would open up a market. It did, and I now specialise in sourcing long running designs, contemporary and undiscovered factories as well as the antique glass. I'm currently one of the few importers of Sabino. I like to make a point of visiting places before buying. My latest discovery is a small studio manufacturer in Greece whose kiln formed bowls and chargers use a number of techniques including internal metal meshes and threads reminiscent of Benny Motzfeldt.

Why do you think there has been such an upsurge of interest in reproduction items, particularly Czech and Polish glass?

This one is easy to answer. In the case of Eastern European glass it is quite simply that the quality and design is stunning and factories like Desna have recreated moulds from damaged originals, so you can have a fabulous piece of glass at a very reasonable price. This has meant that many collectors can have a piece identical to the first production run but with the benefits of modern advances in quality and manufacture leading to very affordable pricing. Also many collectors are now collecting purely for design reasons and are not so interested in the age of a piece but more interested in the design and art movement behind the it.

What are the best and worst aspects of being an exhibitor?

The best part for me is the really good feeling I get when I've been able to find an item for a collector. It may take a while and I will have visited a lot of places but it's a great feeling knowing you've helped add to someone's collection. As a collector myself I know how happy I am when someone manages to locate a glass shoe for my collection that I don't have. So that is for me the best thing. As for the worst its dealers outside of specialist glass fairs such as Gaydon and Cambridge who sometimes deliberately mis-describe items. I accept that sometimes there are genuine mistakes but for inexperienced collectors fairs like Cambridge and Gaydon are absolutely the best places to see a wide range of experienced exhibitors. It is a real dilemma when I know a visitor well and they show me a piece they have paid a lot for and I know it is worth a fraction of the price paid. I don't think it gets worse than that for me as it makes me quite angry, as well as the damage it does to the confidence in the glass market.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when you started out in the glass world?

The age old advice given to anyone: buy what you like, and if you'd be willing to buy it somebody else should. Also don't invest too much in the unknown and always test the market first. Of course you gain experience but I've made some mistakes and misjudged the market, which at the time knocked back my confidence. I find it quite funny now but at the time I was definitely losing sleep. Murano clown anyone?

If you had to give a piece of advice to a new collector, what would it be?

If you are not collecting for investment only buy what you like and buy the best you can afford. If you are collecting for investment, take advice from exhibitors you trust and always, always do your research and know the markets.

Lastly, if you could only take one piece of glass with you to a desert island what would you take and why?

I'm going to be very cheeky and say a magnifying glass. That way I could hopefully start a fire and cook the food I find. Also, as I get older, the magnifying glass will come in handy to let me see what I'm eating.

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