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Classical Glass

December 14, 1997|Barbara Thornburg

When postwar tourists returned from Europe bearing souvenirs of handblown glass, 1950s America couldn't get enough of those fanciful shapes and dazzling colors. Then the pieces, many crafted in Italy, Finland and Sweden, fell out of fashion, relegated to shelves of kitsch at thrift shops. Now, thanks to a boom in mid-century modern design, these sculptural vases, bottles and bowls are again hot collectibles.

Jay Novak, co-owner of Modernica, an L.A. store specializing in mid-century furnishings, says his sales of Italian glass have quadrupled in the last three years. "It goes so well with the whole [period] look. When light plays off the colored glass, it's beautiful: A concentration of pieces in the same hue can affect the color of a room." And as demand has soared, so have prices. Jeffrey Schuerholz, co-owner of Fat Chance in L.A., recently sold a vase by Dino Martens, an Italian artist famous for his patchwork patterns, for $15,000. "Ten years ago," he says, "that same piece would have been half as much."

Collector-dealer Ara Tavitian bought his first piece, a '50s Danish ashtray by Per Lutken, for $5 at a garage sale in the late '70s; today it's worth $150. Tavitian has one of the largest glass selections in L.A. at his store, Retro Gallery. "When I opened four years ago," he recalls, "I was one of the first people to sell vintage Blenko [the thick American-made glass in vibrant hues of tangerine, jonquil and lilac]. Other dealers laughed at me. It was considered one step above junk." But what was trash to others Tavitian recognized as treasure: "Most art glass was handblown, so no two pieces are alike. Many of the techniques have been lost and cannot be repeated."

And no one's laughing now.

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Glass from Retro Gallery, Los Angeles

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