Kitsch often means cool with today’s fondness for retro styling. Nothing more so than with ‘handkerchief vases’, those colourful bowls that look like handkerchiefs frozen in time as they fall through space. Once the mainstay of trendy 1960s coffee tables, they fell out of favour enormously during the 1980s. However, the late 1990s saw a resurgence in the popularity of these affordable, colourful and decorative objects.
The original form was devised by notable Italian glass designers Paolo Venini and Fulvio Bianconi for the Venini glassworks on Murano in 1949. However, the majority you’ll come across today were produced in the UK by Chance Glass from the 1960s-80s. Rather than hand blowing and forming the vases, they used a ‘slumping’ process. Here, a plate of glass was placed above a mould or solid object. The panel would then be heated until it was pliable, causing it to fall over the object, or into the mould. With the handkerchief vases, spider-like tools were also used to help shape the form. Despite the fact that each vase looks identically shaped, this process meant that each is in fact slightly different. This can be seen very simply if you try to stack them.
The panes of glass were decorated in two ways. Lightly textured surfaces were created with moulds. The patterns used came from Chance’s vast range of industrial and domestic window panes, so don’t be surprised if your vase matches your kitchen door window!
Those decorated with printed patterns are the most popular with collectors today. Here, a single or two-colour design was screen-printed onto one side of the pane. As this side became the outside of the vase, always look at the rim of the bottom to check for wear to the printed surface, as this reduces value. The range of patterns is vast. Polka dots were, and still are, popular. Prices range from as little as £5 ($10) for a small example, and can rise to as much as £60 ($100) for large examples. More desirable are those with psychedelic swirls, optical Escher-like patterns, or designs that are cut into the glass itself. The medium 5inch and large 8inch high sizes tend to be the rarest sizes.
Interest has been consolidated following the publication of a book on the company, listed below. If prices rise again, it may be best to invest now to own an example of what many are already calling a design classic.
Find out more:
'Chance Expressions' by David P. Encill, published by Cortex Design, www.chanceglass.net