The Buyable Past

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While Tiffany and Steuben are the most recognizable stars in the iridescent art-glass galaxy, Quezal gleams right alongside them. The firm’s guiding force, Martin Bach, joined Louis Comfort Tiffany’s staff as a glass chemist in 1892, the year before the famous designer’s Favrile products first appeared, and left around 1900 with the company’s for-mulas.

A pulled-feather vase.
 
courtesy of lillian nassau ltd.2006_2_20

While Tiffany and Steuben are the most recognizable stars in the iridescent art-glass galaxy, Quezal gleams right alongside them. The firm’s guiding force, Martin Bach, joined Louis Comfort Tiffany’s staff as a glass chemist in 1892, the year before the famous designer’s Favrile products first appeared, and left around 1900 with the company’s for-mulas. In 1902, after working as a trolley conductor, Bach, along with an ex-Tiffany glass blower named Thomas Johnson and three others, incorporated Quezal, which they named after a brilliantly plumed Central American bird.

A jack-in-the-pulpit vase.
 
courtesy of lillian nassau ltd.2006_2_20a

Quezal, which operated for just under a quarter-century, turned out household glass objects from compotes to candlesticks as well as an array of lampshades to enhance the glow of that still relatively recent innovation, the incandescent bulb. Designs followed the prevailing Art Nouveau path and were naturalistic, often deriving their forms from flowers. Many items were colorfully veined or overlaid with looping glass threads. Quezal’s “crisp, vivid, and colorful decoration … is distinctively precise, symmetrical and restrained,” the collector Malcolm Neil MacNeill wrote in a 1998 essay published by the magazine Antiques .

A shade vase.
 
courtesy of lillian nassau ltd.2006_2_20b

If the attention of that prestigious journal increased col-lector interest in Quezal, which had been somewhat obscure, Tiffany remains the premium-priced brand. Jack DeStories, who one afternoon last November sold more than 300 pieces of art glass at Fairfield Auction, his Newtown, Connecticut, gallery, credits the Tiffany “aura” and “the half-million-dollar prices” the very finest pieces command. But hand-some Quezal shades for single-bulb light fixtures can be had for a few hundred dollars. DeStories knocked down a plain but beautifully shaped 10-inch-high jack-in-the-pulpit vase for $2,300 during his November auction, and a taller, more ornate version was recently offered for $11,000 at Manhattan’s Lillian Nassau Ltd., a long-established blue-chip Art Nouveau shop whose customers have included Barbra Streisand and the Beatles.

—David Lander Resources

Little accurate information about Quezal was known before MacNeill’s two-part piece appeared in the January and July 1998 issues of Antiques ; be sure to get hold of this authoritative history at a library or by searching the Internet. Glass Threads , the catalogue for a 2004 Museum of American Glass exhibition delineating stylistic ties among Quezal and three competitor companies, Tiffany, Imperial, and Durand, is available from Wheaton Village ( www.wheatonvillage.org / 800-998-4552).