Tips of the Trade
Nick Dawes and Dan Elias talk Lalique at the University of Wisconsin's Elvehjem Museum.
This Lalique hood ornament, 'Victoire,' is worth more than many new cars.
Lalique glass of the 1930s was simpler than this 1925 vase, "Serpent."
This Lalique, called Bacchantes, was mass-produced.
As this chalice shows, there's even more to Lalique collecting than beautiful glass.
When it comes to glass artist René Lalique, appraiser Nick Dawes, a New York antique dealer and Lalique specialist, doesn't hesitate to use superlatives. "Lalique was the best glass designer of the 20th century," Nick asserts. "He was known for remarkable innovations, which he was making right up to his death in 1945."
Learn more about collecting the beautiful and affordable high-class glass by decorative artist René Lalique
You might not expect the creations of one of the world's greatest glassmakers to be in the reach of the ordinary collector. However, glass collectors consider Lalique user-friendly because his pieces are not all elaborate works of art, but available decorative items. While Lalique's unique glass pieces and his art nouveau jewelry regularly sell in the six-figure range, Nick reports that the innovative glass designer mass-produced enough glass to make much of it affordable.
"René Lalique was prolific," Nick explains. "Most Lalique glass was made in the factory he used from 1921 to 1945, where it's still made today. It produced tens of thousands of pieces, which means Lalique glass is not a rare commodity."
Lalique's Herculean output also means that less-than-affluent collectors enchanted with his glass can find pieces for under $500. Nick makes these suggestions for those who are in the market for these not-so-pricey Laliques.
It's probably best to begin by listing a few of the Lalique collectibles that most likely would be out of range of most non-wealthy collectors. Before turning to glass, Lalique was a premier Parisian jewelry designer of his day, and his jewelry is hard to find for under $10,000 to $15,000, Nick says. Automobile buffs with fine-art tastes might be intrigued with Lalique's famed glass art deco hood ornaments, but they start at $2,500 and rarely come in under $10,000. Lalique's unique glass creations—such as those made using a lost wax process in which each mold was broken to remove the final product—also sell for serious prices.
In the 1930s, when the Depression squashed demand, Lalique put out many more affordable pieces. "His pieces tend to be plainer in the 1930s," Nick explains. "Tastes were simpler and he used cleaner lines and less detail than he did in the 1920s."
Collectors can also search for overlooked categories of Lalique. Plates, bowls, stemware, ashtrays and sometimes boxes all can be found for under $400, Nick says, although at these prices they are usually made of clear glass. For under $1,000, collectors can find better examples of the same types of glass, as well as common vases, envelope seals, and perfume bottles in clear glass. "I think people haven't yet latched on to some of these items in the same way they've focused on perfume bottles," Nick explains.
More Means Less
Lalique—a master of experimentation—was the first art glassmaker to fully accept the industrial mass production of glass. He embraced standard assembly-line techniques, such as blowing glass into reusable metal molds and shaping molten glass with a stamping press. Even pieces that were manufactured by the thousands bear his elegant water nymphs, insect motifs, and translucent flowers.
Clear and frosted Lalique is not only more plentiful, Nick notes, but it is also less sought after by serious Lalique buyers. "Most Lalique collectors don't pay attention to the more common glass," Nick says. "They'll almost always want a colored piece, for example, rather than a clear one." Greater supply and less demand means lower price tags in the marketplace.
In the case of Lalique, mass-produced material is not synonymous with lesser quality. Unlike other jewelry or glass designers, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, who employed a stable of other designers to increase productivity, Lalique designed and oversaw the production of every piece of glass that bore his mark. "You could argue that all his pieces have the Lalique style," Nick asserts. "Almost all of his work tends to be of very good quality."
Beginning Lalique collectors might also want to collect pieces designed by René's son Marc, who took over the business after René died in 1945, and now by Marie-Claude, the great designer's grand-daughter who took over after Marc's death in 1977. "Their work is different from René's," Nick observes, noting that the descendents of René rarely use his old molds. "But it shows his influence." Nick notes that glasswork by Marc and Marie-Claude has appreciated over time, and that many collectors buy them "with that in mind." Three generations of Lalique products can be found on shelves in Lalique specialty stores, antiques shops and auctions the world over.
Nick, however, is quick to add that whatever generation you decide to collect, there's more to Lalique collecting than beautiful glass.
"Collecting Lalique often opens up a whole new world for people," Nick says. "The French culture is a colorful and interesting environment to move around in." Collecting Lalique, a pivotal figure in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, can also be an entree into those stylistic areas. And there's still one more benefit, Nick says.
"Many important books on Lalique are in French," Nick notes. "So it's a wonderful way to practice your French."
For more on René Lalique see:
Lalique Glass, by Nicholas M. Dawes, 1986.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.