Historic Glass making in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth 16th-17th C.

By: Rick Orli                                                                                           

Based on material from

Glass in Poland from 14th to 17th C. (Szklo w Polsce of XIV do XVII Wieku) by Andrzej Wyrobisz

Instytut Historii Kultury Materialnej Polskiej Akademii Nauk  1968

        222 pages, consisting of the following sections

The history of the Polish glass industry shows a few clear trends over this period, especially the strong growth in the number of master craftsmen and the glassworks they run, and the quantity of fine glass products produced.  The location and production of glass depends on finding an economical balance point between the location of a consuming population, and the natural resources of which the foremost is wood.  Since finished glass products are high value and a few pounds of glass are far easier to transport than the ton of trees required to make that glass, the glass industry followed the supply of trees as the deforestation of the16th C. progressed.  Most major cities had at least one glassworks nearby, nevertheless, (even though most glassworks controlled woodlots of pollarded trees* which supplied at least some of the wood needed on an annually renewable basis) the majority of bulk glass products were clearly shipped from heavily forested production centers.  

There was a well-developed wholesale market with middlemen who would supply glass to urban centers.  The costs there were gauged to offset the shipping costs and other risks.  The middlemen did not specialize exclusively in glass products, or at least Wyrobisz did not identify any specialists in his research. (p.172-174).

The products were typical of any set of glassworks.  Volume products included of course window glass and tableware.  Colored and decorated window glass for cathedrals and private estates, as well as luxury tableware and decorative items were important economically for some specialist makers.  Other specialty goods known to be produced by Polish glassworks in quantity include distillation and other chemical and scientific apparatus, and optics.  Wyrobisz provides statistics indicating the growth of these industry specializations, such as amounts of window glass used in certain towns over time, and examples of orders for scientific apparatus.

There were to Wybrobisz’s knowledge at least “93 glassworks operating in the (greater Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth) from the beginning of the 14th C. to the middle of the 17th C.  The most famous and excellent of these were in Malopolska; 58 glassworks (62% of the total) in operation including the most renown marks.  In Wielkopolska there were 11 works, (12 % of total).  Prussian: 10, 11%, Ruthenian: 12, 13%, Lithuanian 3, 2%.  We also know that many glassworks are part of glass manufacturing aggregations or centers, for example a group of works in the region of Myslenic, a group near Czestochowa, ……” (P.48)

Map of the location of major works between 1300 and 1600, by time.  For 1300 and 1450, showing a cluster of 4 near Gdansk, another cluster near Cracow, another near Posnan.  By 1600, the count and distribution of glassworks increased dramatically.  (P.50)

 

 “Unfortunately of the (unique) techniques and technology of glass production in Poland from 14 to 17th C. we can say little… there is a lack of iconographic record of glasshouses, and workings of Polish glass factories….” (p.79 ). There exists one picture of a possibly Polish or Silesian glasshouse in operation, decorating a map in the 1716 Olsnensis atlas. 

Of writings there is primarily Relations of a Glassworks (Relacje o hutacj szklanych) from the 2nd edition (1679) of J.K. Haur’s work General Economics of our Land (Ziemianska generalna oekonomika)… (p.79 )

Glass production is typical of central Europe, using technology such as addressed in Agricolae’s  De re Metallica.  The illustration there, and other period illustrations of Silesian and other central European glassworks are certainly representative and consistent with the archeological remains of some Polish kilns.

Wyrobisz documents the use of various techniques in Poland, such as blowing glass into molds.

Glassworking tools

 

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*The great demand for wood for charcoal making, glass works and even home fireplaces led to the widespread practice of pollarding trees - cutting off all the branches, which will grow back vigorously in the spring - supported by mature roots and trunk, this growth is far faster than new saplings would produce wood.  Depending on the species of trees and the quality of soil and water, pollarding can be done every year, 2 of 3 years, or every other year. The product is a nice fairly straight faggot with few side branches and no old knots, well suited for neat stacking.  This wood is mostly sapwood, so it burns hot when seasoned but is unsuitable for any other sort of use.

 Primary Sources

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