The Value of Glass

Studio Glass Market Analysis 2001-2003

by William Warmus



Above: Sotheby’s auction catalog for June 4, 2001. Lot 3, Chihuly Venetian, which sold for $27,200.


 Market Overview: Economic State in 2001-2002



The market for studio glass (c. 1962-present) is a sub-set of the international art and craft market. There are dozens of dealers (several of whom have been in business for 20-30 years) representing studio glass artists, a term that means that the glass is created in the artist's studio rather than in a factory setting.

These galleries range from Marlborough Gallery (representing Dale Chihuly) and Charles Cowles, Heller Gallery and Leo Kaplan Modern in Manhattan, to Holsten Gallery in the Berkshires, and  Maurine Littleton and The Glass Gallery in the Washington DC area. The venerable Habatat Galleries has several branches (including Michigan, Florida and Illinois) while Elliott-Brown and William Traver Gallery are landmarks in Seattle. Riley-Hawk has branches in the midwest and Seattle areas. The leading New York auction houses, Sotheby's and (sometimes) Christies, conduct auctions that include glass, and recently, Phillips auction house has become active in the field, as have several internet auction houses such as ebay.com.  

For links to Galleries exhibiting Studio Glass, go here: Galleries.

There is an active and large (500-1000 range) group of serious collectors who follow the artists' careers, collect in depth, and have formed a group (the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass) that sponsors lectures, grants to artists, etc. The SOFA (Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art) group (based in Chicago) sponsors two annual art expositions (in Chicago in November and New York City in the Spring--previously in Miami) that generally include 10-15 or more dealers specializing in glass as an art medium. These shows have become a barometer for analyzing the retail market.

Above: Dale Chihuly chandelier at SOFA Chicago Art Exposition (Holsten Gallery)

At the SOFA Expo in Chicago in 1996, a collector purchased a large group of contemporary glass artworks valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars; while this is unusual, it is not unusual for a major contemporary collection to include 50 or more artworks by leading and emerging artists. The SOFA Chicago 1998 Expo (October, 1998) saw some softening in the market, but also significant sales of works at the top end—not strong enough data to indicate a trend either way in the market. SOFA Chicago 1999 (November 1999) seemed to indicate a stronger market, with rising prices and solid sales by leading figures such as Chihuly and Dailey and Libensky.  

The SOFA 2000 Expos in NYC and Chicago indicated a steady market that, while showing no signs of softening, was somewhat lackluster by the November, 2000 Chicago Expo. The first half of 2001 has shown continued flatness in the market, without a discernible trend upward or downward. For example, the artist Marvin Lipofsky had very strong sales in the $20,000 to $25,000 range at the Holsten Gallery booth at SOFA NYC in June, 2001 (and also at SOFA  NYC in 2003). Benefit auctions (notably in support of the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle) regularly raise several hundred thousand dollars through the sale of glass art. The continuing softness in the American economy from 2001 to 2003 may be having an effect on the art market, but at the time of the filing of this report it is difficult to tell if prices for studio glass are dropping.



Above: Overview of the SOFA Chicago exposition hall

Museums have become avid collectors, noteworthy among them The Corning Museum of Glass, The Toledo Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (which organized a show of studio glass in 1996), and The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (which held a studio glass exhibition in 1997 that was among the most highly attended of any art exhibition in the United States in that year). The Mint Museum of Art in North Carolina has an extremely active acquisitions program for studio glass. The Los Angeles County Art Museum is planning a major studio glass exhibition for the year 2002. And the Indianapolis Museum of Art is the recipient of the Glick collection. The opening of the new Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, scheduled for 2002, is already having an effect on the marketplace because the museum has begun to collect in anticipation of the opening (they or their patrons have purchased major works by Lino Tagliapietra and Stanislav Libensky).The American scene is paralleled by activity in Europe (especially Germany and Switzerland) and Asia (especially Japan, where a private museum focusing on the work of Dale Chihuly, Emile Galle and Daum opened in May, 1997).


Publications such as Glass magazine (NYC), Glass Art (Texas), Neues Glas (Germany) and American Style (Philadelphia) and American Craft (New York) regularly document the work of glass artists and provide (especially American Style) market information. The bibliography of books and articles about studio glass is extensive; the reader is referred to the bibliographies maintained on this web site at: Bibliography.



The Secondary Market: Auctions and Dealers


The secondary market for earlier studio glass (c.1962-1990) is developing through the auction market cited above and active sales by private dealers. Recently (1997-1998 season) Christie’s auction house has become less involved with studio glass, but Habatat Gallery in Michigan has been conducting regular auctions of secondary market material (April, 1998 and March, 2001). Sotheby’s remains active, as for example with the Frankel collection of studio glass, which it auctioned in 1999. Prominent dealers, notably Barry Friedman and Donna Schneier in New York City, have entered the secondary market in the last few years and are very actively seeking older works.





Above: Left, Sotheby’s June 4, 2001 sale: top, Littleton lot 1, which sold for $29,500 and Pavlik, lot 2, which sold for $38,125. At right, Sotheby’s sale of the Frankel Collection, June 10, 1999, lot 4, Libensky and Brychotva sculpture, which sold for $25,300.



In general, auction prices for studio glass have shown considerable volatility, and require expert interpretation. They do not necessarily indicate the full retail value of comparable artworks.


Market Variability and Stability, and Discounting







Above: Highly magnified detail of Botanical by Paul Stankard, showing a dragonfly. Stankard is a perennial favorite among collectors.

Studio glass has largely recovered from the recession of the early 1990s when prices are estimated (by this appraiser) to have declined 15% to 25% or 30% from late 1980 values. In retrospect, the early 1990s were a good time to acquire studio glass at depressed prices. Discounting was a factor in the price decline. Current levels of discounting require expert documentation and analysis.


The New York Times, in an article by Carol Vogel (Once Modern, Now 20th-Century: New Category Attracts Strong Bidding, 5.13.98, page B4) reported that “Labels really don’t matter. In the art market today, where demand far outweighs supply, a painting, drawing or sculpture of reasonably good quality will draw strong prices...” The market for contemporary studio glass is no exception, and works of quality are currently appreciating in value. In fact, two major problems for the appraiser in this field are that glass artworks of highest quality are either being donated directly to museums or withheld (by knowledgeable collectors) from the market—making it difficult at times to obtain comparables when a key masterpiece is donated to a museum collection.




William Morris “Canopic Jar, Fallow Deer”. Sold at E-Wolfs Online Auction for $150,650 in September, 2000.


The Internet and the Rise of the Electronic Art Market


The Internet may be having an impact on the market, although the recent turmoil in this medium may have long term consequences for its growth as a medium of exchange and a source of data in the artworld. The rise (and fall) of sites like E-Wolfs (in decline in 2001) and E-Bay, the cyber auction house, in 1999-2000 helped to expand the market for collectibles and works of art, as have dealer sites that include prices, as well as the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass site and established auction houses including Sotheby’s. In the opinion of this report, the widespread availability of data about objects and prices on the internet can only help to stabilize the market, provided safeguards are established to prevent false information about sales from being published. For now, the use of this data in value analysis must be tempered by skepticism about accuracy and counterbalanced by direct market research.


Internet auction activity has proven to be very uneven, and some auction houses on-line have been plagued by problems, injecting uncertainty into that market. For the expert, the analysis of price data available on the internet must at the moment be tempered with caution, and buttressed by other data obtained directly from dealers, artists, and exhibitions.


William Warmus

Ithaca, NY

February 2002 and July 2003







Frantisek Vizner Bertil Vallien
Lino Tagliapietra Klaus Moje
Ivan Mares Paul Stankard
Richard Marquis Dale Chihuly