Hungarian glass-making is an alien subject for most foreign glass expert. Although the country has been truncated to one third of its original size after the 1st World War (Figure 1), during the history Hungary was an important state that shaped the shape of Europe, its industry including glass industry. Unfortunately glass articles were not the favourite items for Hungarian museums until the middle of 19th century. By the turn of the last century however the Hungarian National Museum had acquired a large stock of glass items that later moved to the Museum of Applied Arts, established in 1879, and public donations grew to stock to its current size. The first part of this 2 part article series tells the story of Hungarian glass industry from the beginning until the 18th century, and the second part will focus on the 19th and 20th century glass making including contemporary glasses.    


Hungary at the end of 19th century (blue line) when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Green line shows the current border of Hungary, red dots are glass manufacturing places, most of them are outside the current border.  Modified from Laszlo Veres: Hungarian glassware production in the 16th-19th centuries

The genesis and development of the independent Hungarian glass industry has started after the establishment of Hungary in 896 AD. In the Roman province, Pannonia, which was located in the western part of the Carpathian Basin, glass making began only after the 1st century AD. Articles for everyday use, such as cups, jugs and bottles for storing oil were mainly found in excavations in cities along the Amber road and in Aquincum (now part of Budapest). These hypothetical glass factories were destroyed during the Great Migrations and when the Roman Empire collapsed. Thus no articles from the factories can be found and we can only have indirect evidence of their existence from fragments of personal articles found in graves.  In the era of migrations and conquest (around 895 AD) glass was used as jewellery, as glass beads and necklaces which were found in graves during archaeological excavations. Due to the high level of trading activity glass objects, mainly of Byzantine origin, reached the Carpathian Basin, and thus we still cannot talk about independent glass manufacturing process in Hungary.


Goblet of King Mátyás. Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary.

After the foundation of the state and the adoption of Christianity (10-12th century AD) the church building started and monasteries brought the glass making technology into the new country. From this period several artefacts were surfaced when the excavation of the former Benedictine monastery in Pásztó was started. Clues about the existence of glass works in monasteries were dug out.  This was a building with 2 separate rooms housing 3 glass melting furnaces and kilns. The building contained space for preparation of raw material, drier and kilns. In Pilisszentkereszt, where the Pauline monastery and glass works existed in the 14-15th  century more artefacts related to glass making were found. Other items were found in the eastern part of the Bükk Mountain where the names of places still reflect the heritage of glass industry (Nagyhuta, Kishuta, Répáshuta. Huta is the place where glass was manufactured). This shows that the glass manufacturing industry began in the area in the 12-13th century to produce sheet glass, although the blown-glass production to make items for home use started and spread at later stage. Of course this does not mean that the households did not use glass objects but they were imported from neighbouring countries. Glass works in Mátra Mountain and in the Esztergom county also existed but the importance of these are not significant and thus we will not discuss it here.


Richly engraved cellar flask from 1666. Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary

The first written records about glass manufacturing were found among Turóc county’s magistrate documents showing that in 1360 a glass master named Peter Glaser applied to receive glass making and timber permit. Another source shows the donation and later the sale of a glassworks in Teplice (now called Sklené Teplice, Slovakia). Teplice, like the rest of the Highlands area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1918 (Figure 1). This document, dated on January 2nd 1549, proves that glassworks were existed for more than 200 years to provide glassware to store acid for gold extraction for the use of gold and silver mines located nearby. Thus, furnaces had already worked in the 14th century, and probably manufactured and served glass vessels used in mines producing precious metals. This fact is further argued by documents from the 14th century and also by names of towns, for example „Glashütten-Bad”.


Flask with guilt top from 1693, Transylvania. Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, Hungary

In the 15th century the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire tried to occupy the southern part of the country several times. This was unsuccessful until the 16th century, when in 1541 with the capture of Buda (capital of Hungary) the 150 years of Ottoman occupation of Hungary had begun. The owner of the glassworks mentioned above sent a request to King Ferdinand to redirect master workers to his workshop because his masters dispersed and he did not know much about the practicality of the glass making. The history of this particular glassworks somewhere ends here, further data are not available. Where did the master of glass making go? For this interesting question the answer is even more fascinating. The Turks drove them to escape to Western Europe, and after wandering around in Europe a smaller group in 1556 ended up in Stourbridge, settled down and established a glassworks. This is still reflected by the name of an area in Stourbridge called Hungary Hill.

The glassworks in the 13th century manufactured articles for primarily used in the mining industry. Noble families looking after the territory were responsible to maintain the glassworks and provide wood for the glass furnaces. Only in later times we can talk about glassworks and masters of the industry who could produce everyday objects and stained glass windows.


Klukflaske, 17th century, Deri Museum, Debrecen, Hungary

During the Turkish occupation, the country was divided into three parts. The southern and central areas were deserted.  Here neither ecclesiastical nor civil constructions could be conducted, so there was no demand for glass manufacturing. But in the western part of the country under the Habsburg power, and in the autonomous Kingdom of Hungary (Transylvania) the glass industry survived and evolved. Mining areas in the northern areas continued to require glass objects. To meet demand mining societies established local glassworks. Glass masters were imported from the Silesia region. One of the most important glassworks was established in Újbánya (Nova Baňa) in 1630. The centre produced bottles used not only in the mining industry, but also provided „glass disks for making windows” for the neighbouring area.

In addition to these glassworks, so-called estate glassworks were also established. These were founded by the aristocratic nobility primarily to meet the needs of their manor. But at the same time they saw a great investment opportunity in this business. The court in Vienna and of course the mining society running their own glassworks did not like the new establishment of private glassworks.  The barons long tried to explain with extensive correspondences that this behaviour was „inappropriate for nobles”. One of the main arguments of the nobles was that they create articles only for amuse themselves. Of course it was only party true, and the glass production was also intended for trading.       


Glass decanter with externally applied glass trail decoration and engraving, late 17th century (Transylvania, Porumbak or Komana). From the collection of the author.

Based on archaeological evidences and scarce contemporary descriptions these 16th century glassworks looked like the following: the glass factory was located in a wooden building that contained 3 kilns. The kilns had 3 different functions: drying the raw materials, workshop to do the actual work, and cooling furnace.

Glass items from the Medieval period are very scarce and unique. One example is the impressive goblet of King Mátyás (Mathias, 1443-1490) that it is now in the Hungarian National Museum, is the piece of Venetian glass making (Figure 2). The tip of the funnel-shaped thick-walled cup (42.8cm tall) runs into a node which is internally decorated by white threads. The base has been replaced with guided silver foot decorated with small turquoise-coloured stones. According to the verse engraved on the surface of the silver base, the goblet was of Venetian origin and they had a drink such times when they defeated the enemy. So it clearly had a ceremonial function.


Small jug with trail decoration, 18th century, Transylvania. From the collection of the author

In the south-west of the country, Bajcsavár (now Weitsch-war) was one of the most important border fortresses at the end of the 1500s to suppress the Turkish attacks.  The castle was mainly built from the support of the Styrian estates. The archaeological excavations of a pentagon-shaped fort have surfaced several glassware in Italian style, which were intended for the lords in the fortress. Footed drinking glasses with white stems, cylindrical beer glasses and conical twin-bodied brandy bottles were found. They were produced in the nearby Styrian workplaces.

We have to mention the Transylvanian glassworks where approximately from the 15th century important glass production took place. In the 16th century manufacturing of window glass, stained glass and trading with glass articles were common place here. Later, in the 17th century the Transylvanian glass window production had considerably increased. The main reason is that numerous natural disasters - especially fire – stroke the region, and also the number of new manor houses increased that required more glass windows. The technology to produce plate glass was imported from Vienna and according to contemporary statements local glassworks produced plate glass in 1634.  


Large jug with tin-glazed decoration made by Habans, 1630, Transylvania. Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, Hungary

Since the Turkish occupation lasted for 150 years, in the 17th century Hungarian glass production was mainly confined to the manufacture of window glass and artistic glass making was not developed. Glass objects for household use were obtained from Bohemia-Moravia, Poland and Vienna. The only exception is the so-called “cellar flask” which are mold blown bottles that fitted in a container. As the name indicates a wooden case containing usually 6 padded compartments housed these bottles. These were used to store and to transport wine and other household liquids. In the 16th century these bottles were made of colourless glass without decoration. By the 17th century these were became “independent”, left the container and various engraved, and enameled motifs decorated them (Figure 3 and 4).  Obviously the blown glass manufacturing was not restricted to cellar flask and “klukflaske” or Kuttrolf (“kotyogos” in Hungarian) was also produced (Figure 5). A third type is a glass decanter with externally applied glass trail decoration dividing the bulbous body into six segments.  These parts are engraved with peacock and grape motifs (Figure 6). The shape but not the decoration is similar to Dutch decanters from the same period, which are more common. This type of flask can still be found in second hand and flea markets and were made by German glass blowers in Porumbak from 1650 onwards to present days, thus the correct identification is not easy.


Three enamelled cellar flasks from the late 18th century. Note that similar flask can be found in many European countries including Austria, Germany, Spain, and Russia. From the collection of the author

Only three glassworks are mentioned in written documents in the southern part of Transylvania: Rozsnyó, Olthévíz and Talmács. Under the ruling of Gábor Bethlen, lord of Transylvania, several glassworks were established alongside the Olt river between his election in 1619 and his early death in 1629, in which the lord himself invited Venetian glass masters.  These masters left Transylvania and returned to Venice after the death of Bethlen. The proof of this event is that a contemporary historian, Georg Kraus, met the craftsmen in Venice who previously worked in the glassworks in Porumbák.  After the death of the lord they left the place because of the economical uncertainties and harsh treatment by the local officials. This fact is certainly not equal to the closure of the kilns, only temporary suspension of glass production and in 1648 they restarted the glass manufacturing process. In this century the tinted glass, i.e. the cobalt blue glass, appeared. Where to obtain the cobalt was not a problem, since a significant amount of cobalt was mined in Transylvania. In fact, these mines provided cobalt to most of Europe. The main purpose of using colour in glass manufacturing is to mask the weaknesses and errors made during the production. This is also the period when opal and milk glasses appeared (Figure 7). It is interesting that the so called Haban ceramics had great impact on glassmaking. The ceramics made by the Habans (German catholic religious sect) were of the following characteristics: the tin-glazed body was decorated with four basic colours, purple, red, green, and yellow. Since the glass making and decorating workshops had insufficient equipment to perform a sort of glass decorations, so they did it in the Haban pottery. So the glass was decorated with similar methods as potteries resulting milk glass appearance but in fact these glasses are tin-glazed (Figure 8).

From the second half of the 17th century with the emerge of Czech crystal glass the glass crafts has evolved and separated into different professions. From the mid-16th century a new profession, the glass decorators have emerged. As the documents of contemporary glassworks did not include any tools used in the decoration, engraving, or painting, we can assume that the decoration took place in a separate workshop as an individual profession (Figure 9).

Overall, the historical events and technological developments in the 13-16th centuries paved the way for the heyday of Hungarian glass making in the 19-20th century which will be covered in the next part.