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The Desire for Daum

Nicholas M. Dawes
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 1)

All but one of the pieces offered at the Tokyo sale found buyers, mostly Japanese collectors or their agents, for a sale total of eight million French francs, about $2 million at the time. Almost two million francs, or $500,000, were realized by a unique, internally decorated, overlaid, applied, wheel-carved and etched-glass vase engraved with a verse from Victor Hugo, which is about as good as artistic Daum gets.

While many art glass enthusiasts, including Prushkin, consider most artistic Daum secondary in quality of design to comparable work by Daum's great rival, Gallé the finest works fetch prices that exceed even Gallé's masterpieces. The Daum/Majorelle lamp--the overlay glass and bronze three-light lamp in the lotus form--is a prime example of the high prices paid for Daum. But Lloyd Macklowe acknowledges that although bidding at those stratospheric prices would be unlikely today, the demand for Daum of this caliber remains very high. One aspect that contributes to the high price levels was and is the superb condition of the pieces involved, an all-important factor in glass collecting. The effect of condition on value was felt sharply by Christie's New York in 1990, where a breathless crowd watched an overlay glass owl-design lamp sell for $880,000 to a Japanese collector. Less than a year later, the same lamp was reoffered at Christie's with damage it had suffered during handling. It sold for $190,000.

Most dealers identify two principal categories of Daum: the Art Nouveau style, which includes all artistic and most multicolored ware made before the 1920s; and the Art Deco style--typically monochrome, heavily walled ware with geometric designs deeply etched in the glass by the action of hydroflouric acid--made between the First and Second World Wars. "The market for Art Deco Daum always followed the Art Nouveau glass market and the market for Lalique," according to Prushkin. "In the 1980s, many collectors realized that Art Deco Daum was underpriced, and the market took off, although even the best prices never approached those for artistic Daum."

"There has been an established market for Art Deco Daum for over 15 years," says Robert Zehil, a decorative-arts dealer based in Monaco who is an internationally recognized expert on the subject. "Before the mid-1980s, most collectors were in the United States and Germany," Zehil adds, "together with a few South Americans who bought mostly in New York and Los Angeles." Zehil was responsible for introducing Art Deco Daum to Japanese collectors in the late 1980s, which caused a significant upswing in what had been a relatively stable market. In 1984, a blue glass Art Deco vase was sold at auction for $7,000. A year later, Zehil bought it at Christie's, New York for $6,000. Within two years, he sold it to a Japanese collector for $30,000 as one of the jewels in an impressive collection of Art Deco Daum vases and lamps that Zehil had accumulated.

"There are likely to be very few major pieces of Art Deco Daum still in private hands," claims Zehil, although he says that demand for good examples is still very strong, especially in the United States.

The finest Art Deco Daum was made before 1935. During the late 1930s and 1940s, Daum's decorative glass was typically thickly walled, pale-colored, of plain, geometric or curvilinear outline, infused with thousands of tiny air bubbles. Pushkin refers fondly to this moderately priced ware as "Champagne Daum" and suggests it is a good area for the novice collector to explore.

Daum pieces also cover several other periods including the recent and modern eras. One style was introduced at an exhibition in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris after the Second World War, which coincided with the revitalization of the French glass industry. Company heir Michael Daum displayed a variety of new clear crystal styles at the 1951 event.

Tableware and decorative sculpture dominated the exhibition in a fluid style that the French lyrically describe as limpide, which loosely translated means loose or flowing. There is little collector interest in Daum of this vintage, and examples can be found for a few hundred dollars.

But there is growing popularity for the company's limited-edition issues of the past 25 years. These include the series of decorative objects made in vibrant-colored pâte-de-verre and metal designs by Salvador Dali, the first of which was conceived in 1968. A modem series was reintroduced in 1988. It is likely that the current line of glass and furnishings by several young, avant-garde designers, notably Elisabeth Garouste, Mattia Bonetti, Frank Evennou and Phillipe Stark, will earn their own following and respect. This status has already been achieved academically and commercially by the "Cactus" range of tableware designed by Hilton McConnico, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who works in Paris and recently opened a boutique there.

For the discerning collector, there are only a few things to look for when pursuing Daum. The majority of the glass is signed, typically engraved or etched with the words "DAUM NANCY" flanking a cross of Lorraine, an acutely important French symbol in Daum's early period following the Franco-Prussian War. Fakes do exist but are relatively scarce, owing to the high technical standards of Daum glass, which is extremely difficult to replicate inexpensively. Nonetheless, novice collectors should proceed with caution. One tip: Don't buy from anyone who pronounces it "dowm" (to rhyme with "Tannebaum"), or from anyone who says "Nancy," as in Reagan. For that matter, anyone who suggests it as an appropriate substitute for Mace in a bar fight, probably isn't on the up and up either.

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