What: Gallé glass was created by Frenchman Emile Gallé, who operated a large factory employing up to 200 people in Nancy. The first Gallé glass was mostly clear and decorated with enamel but he then turned to making coloured pieces, known as “cameo” glass, which were often enhanced with additions such as carving, etching and enamelling. As Gallé was establishing his reputation, most of the very early pieces were made for museums but when he won widespread approval at the Paris exhibition in 1889 his products became more commercially available.
Need to know: Although highly collectable, Gallé glass is not hugely rare. At the peak of production in the early 1900s, there were Gallé shops in Nancy, Paris, London and South America. The value of a piece is not based on size but on complexity. A small vase, for example, which is intricately decorated inside and out and which shows an interesting interplay of colours will be worth far more than a large but relatively plain one. Prices in the mid-range (from £2,000-£15,000) have remained stable for years, though the high-end suffered in the late 1980s when many Japanese buyers withdrew from the market. It is now popular to build up small collections of mid-priced Gallé for investment.
Top tips: A small and very basic piece of Gallé can be had for as little as £500 but it is the pieces that demonstrate a mastery of craftsmanship and an ability to tackle technical challenges that are most sought-after. Designs fall into the categories of botanical, aquatic and landscape, with some of the most popular pieces currently being those incorporating insects, especially dragonflies. Gallé died in 1904 but the factory continued to produce high quality pieces until the 1920s before closing in 1936. Works made after Gallé’s death are sometimes marked with an asterisk beside the signature.
Pitfalls: Gallé glass is faked extensively, so it is important to be sure that what you are buying is authentic. Damaged pieces are difficult to sell.
Forthcoming sale: Tuesday October 25, Christie’s, 8 King Street, London SW1 Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060
Renowned dealer: Mike Moir, tel +44 (0)7843 022591; www.gallecameo.com