Historic Glass making in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth 16th-17th C.
By: Rick Orli
Based on material
Glass in Poland from
14th to 17th C. (Szklo w Polsce of XIV do XVII Wieku)
Instytut Historii Kultury Materialnej Polskiej Akademii Nauk 1968
222 pages, consisting of the following sections
Section One. Number and Distribution of Glass Works
Section Two. Organization of the Glass Works (technology, organization of work…)
Section Three. Production of Glass in Poland from 14th to 17th C.(by type: Window, tableware, scientific and technical, optical, mirror, lantern and decorative glass)
Section Four: Glass Wholesale Market
Section Five. Urban glassmen (the Glassman in towns and their role; Business)
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
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
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.
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 )
production is typical of central Europe, using technology such as addressed in
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.
the use of various techniques in Poland, such as blowing glass into molds.
*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.