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Buying and Collecting Orrefors Swedish Art Glass

 My glass collection began surprisingly enough with an award offered by the Acura dealer where I used to work; our employees had a choice of 5-6 different items such as watches, a camera, a personal radio, jewelry and a Lancelot large crystal bowl from Orrefors.  Of the roughly 110 employees at the dealership I was the only one to select the Orrefors Lancelot bowl.  It is a magnificent and beautiful design by Erika Lagerbielke; over the years I've amassed a large collection of Orrefors glass, most purchased on eBay and others from antique and thrift shops in the Northern Virginia area.

  I have learned quite a lot about this company by researching each piece, either by searching the Internet or by contacting the factory directly.  The customer service department at Orrefors has been very helpful in providing me with the pattern name and date for some of their older more obscure pieces.  Knowing the designer and age of an art glass item significantly adds to my appreciation for the work and to the value if/when I decide to sell it.

  Some things that I've learned in 10 years of purchasing Orrefors glass on eBay:

1.  Some art glass listed as "Orrefors" is instead made by one of their precursor companies such as Strombergshyttan or other Swedish makers.  When I notice this I sometimes will contact the seller and advise them about their incorrect description; some sellers revise their listing however many others leave the listing description "as-is" with incorrect information.  I would not want to sell an item that was incorrectly described, firstly because the listing is not accurate  -- and secondly I would not want to have the item returned due to being "not as described."  In other cases the item is in no manner made by Orrefors or one of its' precursor companies; the seller having no expertise regarding art glass adds the Orrrefors name to the title and description in order to enhance the listing and attract interest in the auction -- if you look thru their current and completed listing you usually find that their other listed items are clothes, toys and non-collectibles. 
 
2.  There are many Orrefors items being listed with ridiculously high prices, usually due to the fact that the seller is not at all familiar with Orrefors glass (you can check their items for sale and their completed listings to determine this).  The seller will sometimes describe the item as "rare" when in fact it is a widely distributed and common Orrefors design -- and not at all rare.  If you look at the current Orrefors listings for "Corona" bowl you will find literally hundreds; this pattern is readily available new at markdown prices from many Internet glass sites but some eBay sellers are looking for an informed buyer to purchase one of these "overproduced" bowls. Some clues which denote a seller who has little or no expertise with Orrefors glass is a listing description such as "nice piece," photos taken with a Coca-Cola can next to the item, or listings lacking a clear photo of the base showing the engraved signature.

3.  Almost all genuine Orrefors glass will have an engraved signature, with the exception of the earliest production which may have only a silver metallic foil Orrefors label.  Their vintage glass will likely have the lower case "of" and 4 numbers denoting the pattern; later Orrefors will have the full "orrefors" name in lower case letters followed by either a single letter or two letters indicating the designer and again 4 numbers that describe the pattern.  Beginning in the 1930's the company employed an engraved 4-digit sequential numbering system to identify the specific pattern. Glass with an engraving of flowers, butterflies, birds or women may also have additional engraved numbers or letters which represent the name of the engraver.  Modern Orrefors glass is easily recognized by a lower case "orrefors" with "c" for copyright.  The factory marks their "seconds" with a green Orrefors label rather than the usual red label; sometimes these are worth buying however if the price is too high you might want to think twice before purchasing a "second."

4.  Most of the Orrefors that I've purchased on eBay have been close to perfect and accurately described, however I've received several items that had rather obvious scratches or damage that was not disclosed in the listing description.  I believe that this was due partially to the seller not thoroughly inspecting the item rather than purposely selling an item that they knew had problems.  If the purchase price was low or the item was rare I've usually kept it rather than seek a return -- and either not left feedback or left good feedback without stating "item not as described."  Before placing a bid on an expensive Orrefors item I would recommend contacting the seller and asking them to do another thorough inspection to make sure that the item is free of scratches, water clouding, discoloration, chips or other imperfections.  At least you will have done due diligence before paying too much for an imperfect item.  Be advised that most internal water stains or "glass sickness" cannot be repaired.  Some listings incorrectly state that damage such as chips and abrasions can be repaired however this is usually not the case -- repairs will generally not be successful and will definitely reduce the value of the item when you decide to sell it.

5. I find that Orrefors glass is a perfect investment and vastly underappreciated by the majority of the collectors of American glass.  Most are more familiar with the names Waterford, Lalique and American pattern glass.  Orrefors glass, especially their 1930-1970's production, shows beautiful and highly imaginative designs -- coupled with a perfection in manufacture unsurpassed in the glass industry.  In general the types of Orrefors glass that have the highest value are 1) those produced during the 1930's-1950's, especially with unique engravings, and 2) their limited edition pieces done in the Ariel and Graal techniques -- also those which are signed "Expo"  -- having been manufactured for a specific Exposition and signed by the individual artist.

6.  I purchased a set of "Freeze" crystal candleholders on eBay (November 2012) that are in an original red Orrefors box and with red Orrefors labels affixed but was surprised to find very small plastic labels on the bases that read "made in Austria." Not aware that any of their production was manufactured anywhere but in Sweden I e-mailed the company and quickly received a confirmation e-mail that these had indeed been made in Austria.  An Internet search for "Orrefors Austria" did not show any results; I would guess that most collectors are not aware that Orrefors Kosta Boda AG now has several manufacturing facilities outside of Sweden.  Curiously the Orrefors website does not provide any information about these plants.  An eBay auction for two Orrefors candleholders showed a plastic label "Made in Germany."

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Comment by Mark D Swartz on December 28, 2013 at 7:01pm

Liz,

  The engravings of the warriors and the ship on this Orrefors sculpture are almost identical to those on one of the ancient Stora Hammars stones that were discovered on Gotland.  I found several web pages that show pictures of these stones; and also descriptions of some of the armed conflicts that took place on Gotland.  This is the web page for the Stora Hammar stone:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Vikings._Stora_Hammars_1...

Comment by Liz Bryman on December 28, 2013 at 6:24pm

Very interesting background on your Olle Alberius piece, Mark.

The island of Gotland, located centrally in the Baltic Sea, was once the main international trading center for all of the surrounding countries. The old Hansa League, an early organization of trading cities, had at times its headquarters there. Because of the generally ice-free water surrounding Gotland (Gulf Stream sweeps by), the Gotland port of Visby was very busy.

Gotland, Swedish now, was at times contested by Russia and other states on the Baltic.

Even today it still enjoys a warmer year-round climate than the nearby mainlands and is a popular resort for all of them. One still can only reach Gotland by ship or air, no bridges or causeways joins it to any mainland and hopefully never will.

My favorite niece with family lives there, in the boat building business, and would never want to live anywhere else she says.

Re the hunting scenes: I find them rather fanciful. Not much hunting was ever done on Gotland as there are no wild animals there. From what I know only cattle, horses, sheep, goats and other domestic animals are kept there. This island is not very big at all and it only has one city, Visby, with tourism and fishing its main businesses.

The ship appears to be a stylized interpretation of a classic viking ship. The whole piece is very attractive for many reasons.

I don't know if the depicted scene shows a part of the history of Gotland or not, such as a city shield f.ex. It'd be interesting to find out. Perhaps I'll ask my niece!

Comment by Mark D Swartz on December 28, 2013 at 5:16pm

  One final Orrefors collectible: a marvelous glass sculpture designed in 1978 by Olle Alberius entitled "Swedish Cultural Monuments."  It depicts the Swedish island of Gotland and shows scenes of prehistoric warriors in battle (and/or hunting?) along with an early warship with mounted shields.  I e-mailed Orrefors directly in order to obtain accurate information about this sculpture.  Funny story: this was listed on eBay with a description indicating that the engravings were Egyptian hieroglyphics -- how far "off" could this description have been? 

Comment by Liz Bryman on December 28, 2013 at 5:09pm

Both pieces are wonderful, Mark, congratulations on such terrific acquisitions! I can't recollect any of the names on my Orrefors pieces but one day I'll bring them out of the cabinet and make a record of their signatures and years, that should be fun. I never collected Orrefors (or anything) as much as I amassed it, picked it up where I could for its beauty and decorative values but did not delve into any history about it beyond that. I've been moderately embarrassed many times in the past when friends and acquaintances pointed out what I owned when I had absolutely no idea myself(!). Am always discovering something interesting, that's most of the fun of collecting vintage I find.

Comment by C. Dianne Zweig Editor's Desk on December 28, 2013 at 4:51pm
Some gorgeous pieces shown here.
Comment by Mark D Swartz on December 28, 2013 at 4:48pm

Liz,

  I appreciate your gracious comments.  Here are two of my favorite Orrefors vases, one is a large Vicke Lindstrand vase with three engraved birds, photo is not great but vase is perfectly clear and in near mint condition.  The other vase was designed by Sven Palmqvist and had been engraved by Felix Moslein, a well known USA glass artist.  It was an award or trophy for the 1975 Bull Rastus horse race in California, the engraving of the horse was done with great skill. This Palmqvist vase was an eBay purchase several years ago for only $37 plus shipping.

Comment by Liz Bryman on December 28, 2013 at 4:30pm

Mark, my heartfelt thanks for a thoroughly fair and informative article about Orrefors glass! I would recommend it to anyone already collecting Orrefors or other Scandinavian crystal or thinking about collecting crystal. Much of your "due diligence" advice should apply to any glass (or porcelain) ware.

Having grown up with Orrefors in Sweden I can attest that it has always been considered top of the line there, comparable to Steuben in the U.S.

A gift of Orrefors glass for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, or even retirement, was always considered in the finest taste.

In the U.S., however, I found it very underappreciated when I arrived here in the mid-1960s. This actually helped me acquire some very nice pieces just because it was fairly unknown and therefore reasonably priced. Not so any more, which is bad for me trying to buy it at affordable prices but good for those who invested in it many years ago or received it as gifts!

I'll be saving my good Orrefors and passing it on to my grandchildren when they are  ready for them (one day I hope). In the meantime my collection graces my china cabinet and sees occasional single appearances as accent pieces.

Although not seen clearly in this photo, this cabinet actually holds most of my sweet pieces of Orrefors:

Liz B.

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