Family tree of
Søren Nielsen & Lene Dræby Kottal

The Glass Works Industry

The first glass was made in the antique Egypt. Glass was very expensive, in fact, it was priced on the same terms as silver and gold. The prices did, however, fall when Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire. At the fall of the Roman Empre the quality of glass decreased.

The quality of glass depends on the mix of ingredients used to make it. At that time glass typically consisted of quarts, soda, ashes (from wood) and arsenic. Arsenic is still used today to bleech the glass so that it is clear rather than gritty. As fuel they used wood or peat and later coal.

In the 11th to 13th centuries many glass works were founded in Bohemia and just the raw materials were essential to the prosperity of the Bohemian glass industry. The area was almost covered in forest and furthermore rich in quarts. These early glass works moved from place to place as the ressources were exploited. The clearance of forests made room for villages, which is how many present day Czech cities arose. The area was tormented by many wars, for instance the Husite Wars, which curbed the development of the glass industry.

As the industry grew, the glass works no longer moved from place to place, instead the raw materials were transported to the glass works. Coal gradually replaced wood as fuel, and the renaissance fostered considerable improvement in production technology. The advancing upturn was however again interrupted by a war, this time the Thirty Years War.

The Czech glass works were most prosperous in the baroque era (17th-18th centuries), in which they became World famous for their fine chrystal glass. Coloured glass was also popular at that time. The trade was better organized via a combination of joint ventures and direct investments in factories in other countries. Towards the end of the era, they did however get into trouble, because they did not innovate their production in line with the latest fashion trends. Combined with the Napoleonic Wars, the result was that the most skilled glass makers left the area, and therefore there was a shift towards primarily making everyday glass for citizens of in lower class homes.

The Napoleonic Wars practically stopped all trade between the Czech Republic and other countries, so the crisis for the Czech Glass works did not end until the Napoleonic Wars ended at the beginning of the 19th century. The trend was once again coloured glass like in the baroque era, which lead to an upturn for the Czech glass industry. New productions technologies and a cooperation between skilled glass makers from different countries lead to the foundation of a successful glass works, however, since also this glass works failed to change its methods as the customers' preferences changed, Czech glass lost its high status and influence in the World towards the end of the Romantic period.

At the end of the same period many glass maker schools were founded. My great grandfather Maximilian Kottal did not attend a glass maker school, but as many others he started out as an apprentice at a glass works. His apprenticeship took place at the Lötz Widow Glass Works in Klostermühle, Bohemia. It was established in 1836 by Johann Lötz, but when he died his widow took over and thereafter it was called Glasfabrik Johann Lötz Witwe (Witwe is German for widow). It was up and running until 1947 and one of the reasons for its long survival was in fact the willingness of the owners and capabilities of the workers to innovate. It was in particular known for its marbelled glass and the Octupus series.

The general decline of the Czech glass works has most likely led to unemployment in the area, and that may have been the reason for the fact that Maximilian chose to go abroad in the year 1900. The Danish glass works were experiencing an upturn and therefore attracted many foreign workers, amongst others Maximilian Kottal and my other great grandfather Jacob Söderlund, who both came to Odense to work at the Fünen Glass works.

The first Danish glass works by the name of Frederiksfeld in Slesvig was established in 1812. Like the Czech glass works it seemed to have a good location. The area was filled with bog (which is rich in peat) and is close to the river Ejder, which eased transportation. Frederiksfeld primarily produced medicine glasses. It had to close in 1893 when the peat had been exploited. In 1814 Denmark lost Norway, which until then had supplied glass to Denmark. The lack of glass lead to the foundation of Holmegaard Glass Works in 1825. Holmegaard expanded with the establishment of Kastrup Glass Works in 1847. The division between glass for bottles and items made of finer glass resulted in a division of the two glass works in 1873, so that Kastrup was then independent. Other glass works were established in Denmark in the 19th century: Aalborg (1852), Odense (1873) and Århus (1898).

Odense Glass Works was founded by a brewer and pharmacist who needed glass for packaging, however, poor management led to its bankruptcy and it was bought by chancellor and wine dealer Frederik Larsen Hey in 1890, who named it Fünen Glass Work. Chancellor Hey knew that the competition was tough and therefore expanded with other glass works, for instance he bought Aarhus Glass Works in 1902.

The 20th century was turbulent for all industries and of course also the glass industry. The expansion of the rail road of course made transportation easier, however, the financial crisis of the 1930s and the World wars resulted in the closure of many of the Danish glass works in that period. The surviving factories fought together, because in 1902 the United Glass Works was founded and it included Fünen and Århus Glass Works among others. In 1907 Kastrup Glass Works joined the union, as well. Between the World wars the Danish glass works started to work jointly with the Royal Porcelain Factory, which hightened the standard and variety of Danish glass despite the rough times for the Danish glass works.

The tough times affected the Kottal family. In 1907 Maximilian Kottal went to Copenhagen to work as a porcelain painter, which further underlines the link between these businesses. The mid-1900s were marked by periods of unemployment within the glass industry and from time to time Maximilian had to work as a paper worker instead of within his line of work.

In 1965 Kastrup Glass Works - and thereby also the other glass works within the United Glass Works - merged with Holmegaard Glass Works, which is the only one of them which still exists today. Kastrup Glass Works closed in 1979 and Fünen Glass Works in 1991.

blog comments powered by Disqus