By Marcie McGoldrick
As a ceramicist, I'm drawn to functional forms. Sometimes just a single piece appeals to me; other times I'm inspired to look for more -- which was the case with Jenaer glass. My collecting began in Massachusetts at the Brimfield Antique Show in 2000, when I spotted a Jenaer teapot that was considerably more modern in style than its companions on the vendor's table and -- according to the dealer -- highly functional. How could something that seemed so delicate be so durable? I was hooked.
I started searching online for more pieces and researching the origins of the Jenaer glassware brand. I discovered that the glass was produced by Schott & Genossen, a company founded in 1884 in Jena, Germany, by chemist Otto Schott. Manufactured with silica and boron oxide, Schott's glass was ideal for beakers and test tubes since it was resistant to chemicals, high heat, and sudden fluctuations in temperature. Schott recognized in the 1910s that those same attributes also made it perfect for cooking, baking, and brewing tea.
Schott's son, Erich, enlisted the help of Bauhaus designers to create housewares with the glass. This partnership offered the perfect opportunity to test the Bauhaus philosophy of harmony between function and design in industrial production. Gerhard Marcks was the first designer to collaborate with Schott, but it was in 1931, when Wilhelm Wagenfeld began designing for the glassworks, that some of its signature pieces were made.
As my own collection began to grow -- one egg coddler and teacup at a time -- I felt like a detective, examining the marks on the bottom of each item to piece together the company's history and get a look into Germany's past. The markings vary depending on where and when a piece was manufactured. As a result of World War II, the glassworks split apart: Jena, the location of the original factory, was now in Soviet East Germany. But Americans had relocated 41 of the original factory's engineers and scientists to Mainz, West Germany, and a new factory was built. For decades, both factories produced many of the same designs. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the two reconnected, and the company rebranded itself in the 1990s as Jenaer Glas (now a licensee of Zwiesel Kristallglas), which today sells faithful reproductions of several pieces from its early years.
Despite the company's fractured history, Jenaer's various wares share a stunning simplicity and, just as important, are all still functional. As much as I love looking at my collection lined up on my kitchen shelves, I relish using it even more.
Want to see more Jenaer glassware? See photos of the collection.
You may encounter Jenaer glass at flea markets or tag sales, but the Internet is probably the best place to find both vintage and new pieces. Etsy and eBay are great places to start. Specialized design sites (including designundklassiker.de, quintessentia.com, and design20.eu) tend to have more-interesting pieces and more-complete sets but often have higher prices. When searching online, I have found that entering several terms yields the best results: I leave off the second "s" in "glass" to replicate the German spelling, and then I type in all of the following phrases to cover pieces from different eras and places: Mainz Schott, Jena Glas, Jenaer Glas, Schott & Gen, Schott Glas, and Saale Glas.