Thursday, February 19, 2009
What is the lure of collecting the Made In Czechoslovakia glass fishing float? For a number of years I have been following Ebay glass fishing float auctions. During those years there have been a good number of Czech floats up for auction. The auctions appear perhaps once every two months. They are not found on Ebay on a regular basis, the way so many Japanese Hokuyo floats, common rolling pins, or Northwestern Glass Co. floats are. When one of these floats does appear, it attracts immediate attention i.e. bids.
It does not matter what color the float is either. The more common green floats will generally attract the same number of bids as the less common amber, blue or reds. The final price will not be as high for a green, but the desire to add one to a collection generally attracts just as many bidders.
My first float with the cachet, “Made in Czechoslovakia,” was found on an early October Saturday afternoon 1987, at the “Batsto Glass and Bottle Show.” The show is held annually, always in early fall prior to the “Batsto Country Living Faire.” As a child in elementary school, we had taken a class trip to the Batsto village, but I had not been back there since.
My wife Nancy and our two children came along with me on that beautiful sunny day, with no particular goal in mind, other then to see what kind of glass and bottles might be for sale, and to spend time together. Later, we split up for a few minutes. The family was inside the village store looking at toys, etc., and I was outside, under the porch roof that surrounded the village store looking at all of the vendors’ bottle displays. Batsto dates to the Revolutionary War Era, and the store had been there for a long time.
At the end of the back-of-the-store portion of the porch, on the last table under the roof, I saw a fairly large light brown float among the many bottles of a seller who had a Santa Claus type of white beard. Picking it up, and looking for a cachet, I saw the words: “Made in Czechoslovakia,” embossed onto the top of the float. The seal button had only a small chip off the edge, and the float’s glass was in wonderful shape, with little-to-no damage. It was a really nice float, and even though I had never seen a float like that one before, I knew that in my hand was a European glass fishing float, with a price tag of $10.00. Fortunately, I had the extra money that was for special occasions just like this one. You know how it is, when you are young, raising a family and every penny counts. But I had the extra ten bucks, and happily paid the seller without trying to bargain. That float held a special place in my small collection of European glass floats, and as the years passed, I would attend the yearly Batsto Glass and Bottle Show without fail.
A number of years passed. The children matured, and my float collection slowly grew. Our daughter began to attend college. Nancy had finished college, and while pursuing her degree had relied on using the college computers at the campus library. We knew that our daughter, and now, Nancy needed a computer in the home, so we bought one for our daughter’s birthday. The family used it, but I did not.
Four years later, Our daughter earned her BA, then enrolled in Grad School, and left home. Our son had graduated high school, and chose to join the Coast Guard. After his discharge, he came home, and the time came for that first computer to be replaced to keep up with the new technology, so we went out and bought a new one, got it home, and quickly had high speed internet installed. I finally became curious enough to want to learn to use a computer, and after a short tutorial from Nancy and our son, sat down one night to try and see what I could do.
Having been introduced to the search engine, Google, I went there first, and began to webcomb for glass floats. The first few tries of typing in search phrases for glass floats, produced nothing really good, until I typed in the search phrase: “antique glass fishing floats." A website appeared that led me to Norwegian Egg floats. Never having seen those before, I was amazed and excited by the site. The photos of the egg floats with and without nets were wonderful, but there was only limited information. Had I known about saving to favorites, that site would have been saved. Never been able to find that site again. But I did find Ebay auctions, after typing in the search engine, “antique Japanese glass balls.” The world of floats truly was before my eyes-all kinds of floats, colors, shapes and sizes: rolling pins, large tuna floats, fakes and round 3, 4 and 5 inchers too.
Once the auctions were found, every opportunity would find me in front of the computer looking at the auctions, and searching for other float sites. What an exciting and fantastic find those sites and auctions were and are! A new and electrifying float passion had entered my life.
One Sunday a red Czech float appeared on the auctions. Man! It was beautiful! My high bid of $25.00, never touched the winning bid of $150.00. That seemed like a lot of money for one float, and truly took me by surprise. What a neophyte, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Time passed, when another auction for a Czech float came up-a cobalt blue float. By then I had found out about, and purchased the wonderful book, GLASS FISHING FLOATS OF THE WORLD, by Stu Farnsworth and Alan Rammer. That book introduced me ( and many other collectors and sellers) to the many markings to be found on the European glass fishing floats.
Having studied that book over and over again, the knowledge of the various sizes and colors of the “Made in Czechoslovakia,” floats that were possible to collect was part of my collector’s psyche.
Seeing the value of a blue Czech in that book, I knew my best bid would be too low to win it, but still, I watched the auction closely. It sold for $125.00-a bit under the book’s value.
During the next year, I saw a handful of Czech float auctions, and one of them was for a float like the one that I had found at Batsto. It too sold for over $100.00, and I felt pretty good about having a valuable float in my small collection. The floats were mostly reds or blues, and the price to win an auction, remained fairly constant: $125.00 or slightly more for a blue, and $150.00 or so for a red.
Still not wanting to spend that kind of money for one of those, I waited, and hoped that one would appear when I did have extra money to seriously try to win. Then one day, a 5" green “Made in Czechoslovakia,” float appeared. I had a few bucks, and tried hard to win it, and did.
At last! Excitedly, I waited for the box to be delivered. One week after the auction ended it arrived. What a beautiful float-a rich shade of green, and in perfect shape. Now I had two of them.
Perhaps another year passed, and a couple more reds, and another blue were auctioned, and the price rose a bit. The blues were selling for $150.00, and the reds for $170-175.00. Then a 2- float Czech auction for a golden yellow/amber 5" and a different shade of amber/green 5" float appeared. I knew that to win that auction would cost me. It was summer, and the spring sales had been good, so there was some money to invest in floats. Feeling the float excitement, bidding on the float, being overbid and then waiting until the auction’s end, I calculated on my biggest and final bid.
Finally! The day of the auction’s mid-afternoon ending, and I could be there in front of the computer, as the final seconds ticked away. My earlier bid still was the highest, but I knew from past experience that there was one collector who bid on and won almost all of the previous Czech auctions. The guy was unbeatable, but I was going to give it my best, and up to that time in the auction, he had not bid.
Perhaps he would be away on summer vacation, without access to a computer, and not know that this wonderful pair of floats was available? Hoping that would be the case, I still had one final bid reserved for the end of the auction.
Sitting in front of the computer, looking at the auction, and refreshing for the last 10 minutes, the countdown of the last minute started. The amount of my planned final bid, crept up another $10.00, then another $5.00, and as the count down reached 20 seconds, I put another $7.50 on top of that, and made my last bid. The auction’s end came up on the screen with the wonderful news, “You Won!” When I looked at the final winning bid, there was that guy’s handle, and his final bid was just $2.00 less than mine. Another lesson learned. He had not bid until the last 10 or so seconds-a sneak attack.
The top shelf of my display case, now had four Czech floats. There was more space available on the shelf-space that was meant to have a red and a blue one. Continuing to go to the Batsto bottle show, as well as other bottle shows, auctions and the occasional yard sale yielded little until at a mid-February auction preview, I found a pair of large dark green Czechs on one of the auction tables. These were the largest examples of “Made in Czechoslovakia,” floats that I had ever seen. About eight inches in diameter, one in perfect shape, the other had just a slight chip off the seal button.
The preview was on a Sunday afternoon, and the auction was the next day. According to the auction’s timetable, that pair of floats would be auctioned at approximately 12:30 to 1:00 P.M. I arrived at noon, and could see that it would be a good hour or more before they auctioned the goods on the table with the floats.
With bidding number in hand, I found a spot to stand among the crowd and waited.... There were so many small pieces on the table before the floats, that it seemed as if it would be at least two hours before they would get to “my auction.” Then they finished, and would soon get to the floats. Nervously I checked my numbered bidding card to make certain that when I bid, the number would be pointed toward the auctioneer. Thoughts of how much I was willing to bid, and would my luck be good, helped to pass the time. One of the auctioneer’s helpers picked up both floats. They were auctioned as a pair.
“Who’ll start the auction at $150.00 for this pair of net balls? $110.00? $80.00? $50.00? $25.00?” My hand shot up, and the auctioneer saw me. “I’ve got $25.00,” another hand shot up, now it was $30.00. I bid again at $35.00, and another person bid them to $40.00. Then the second bidder raised to $45.00. My hand went up at $50.00, and that was the final bid. Wow! The helper put the pair into my hands. People looked at me, and I felt great.
Once home, Nancy eagerly asked me if I had won. She’s great! Later, one of them was placed on the shelf with the other Czechs, and still there was room for the red and blue one-if I could just find them somewhere to purchase, or win them on the Ebay auctions.
A few years passed. I bid on a number of auctions for either a red or blue, once on an auction for both colors, and always came up short, having been overbid at the last second. I tried to trade for them with another collector or two, only to find that no one wanted to part with their’s. I scouted out the auctions and local bottle shows as well as a few antique shops for them, and searched the web. No luck.
The Ebay auction winning prices for both examples continued upward. By 2008, a blue Czech would cost $200.00 or more, and the reds were going for $250.00 to over $300.00. Would I ever fill that spot on my shelf with either color?
July, 2008, and an auction for a blue Czech appeared on Ebay. I had that feeling of excitement, and knowing that I was going to try to win. On the day of the auction’s end, with bidding strategy in place, the last minute counted down. The current price was about $110.00. Curious to know where the current leader was money-wise, I bid again, and was leading. With about 20 seconds to go I put my final bid down, refreshed and saw the words, “You won!” It was hard to believe, but finally a blue one was coming to my collection, at a great price.
Just two weeks later, another “Made in Czechoslovakia,” float appeared on Ebay-a red one. Counting my shekels, I knew that there was enough to bid for that float. Once again an auction for a red Czech was counting down, and on the last day, I made certain to be there for the auction’s ending.
The bidding was a bit more spirited for that float compared to the blue, and at the last minute, the high bid was $150.00. Still somewhat low. So much can happen in the last 10 seconds, and it did. I had decided what my final bid would be, and gave that figure a shot at winning. Those wonderful words appeared again upon refreshing, and my last bid was exactly what the winning price ended on. Fifty cents less, and I would have lost.
After all of those years of searching, being overbid and waiting, the colored pair would finally be joining the collection, and occupying the spot at the front of the top shelf. Both floats coming within two weeks of one another was wonderfully good fortune.
This story continues for just a bit longer. This post to the blog would not be complete without some history too.
A few collectors have asked me what I thought about the Czech floats. Are they real fishing floats or are they just contemporaries? From what I have seen, they are both. Beautifully made in vibrant colors of sufficient weight to be used for net fishing, in molds that were expertly built with the letters perfectly engraved, examples of both used and pristine floats are found on the Ebay auctions, and for those lucky enough to encounter them at yard sales, antique stores, auctions and estate sales.
Mostly, the floats are in pristine and unused shape. The Czech floats that I have seen, which were used for gill-net fishing, were offered by two collectors who found them in Norwegian boat houses among fishing gear, and one collector from Sweden, and a few from Maine, where the floats were used to mark Lobster traps. The colors that I have seen were: green; amber/green; dark amber/green; brown/amber; cherry red; dark blood red; orange and bright blue.
One interesting pattern noticed, is that almost all of the “Made In Czechoslovakia,” Ebay float auctions have originated from the U.S. Northeastern States. The southern boundary has been Maryland. When Ebay auctions for those floats have come from other states in the U.S., after emailing and questioning, the sellers have always told me that they either found them in, or the floats were previously purchased in a Northeast Coast State.
My guess is that the majority of these floats were made as “Contemporary” floats. The history states that the Contemporary floats were mostly made from the late 1950's to early ‘60's, for the tourist and decorating trade. From what I have read a few times, there was a maritime-decorating craze during those years
The sizes that I am acquainted with are: 5" height, 16" diameter; 6.5" height, 22.25"diameter and 7.5" height, 25.5" diameter. The lettering on the embossing or cachet, can be found in different patterns. Mostly found in a circular form, there are also examples of a straight line embossing, as seen in the photos above.
Trying to find out who the maker of these floats was, has taken me to many search avenues. Combing the web produced nothing other than art glass sites showing the same or a similar cachet, but no information as to who the maker was. Thanks to my son-in-law Chad, who is a glass artist, I have been acquainted with many very knowledgeable glass artists, who’s contacts are far-ranging. No luck. One of those artists, Frantisek Janak, is also the headmaster of the oldest glass school in the Czech Republic. Surely, contacting him would get the answer I was looking for?
I was introduced to this fine man on a trip from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon. Chad, Frantisek and I were together in a truck driving south, delivering glass cutting and polishing equipment for an upcoming seminar about glass techniques that they were giving. After conversations about politics, governments, artists’ problems with art and lecturing, comparisons of women and beer, etc., I introduced my passion for glass fishing floats. Franticek was very interested, but truthfully told me that he had no knowledge of them. He was interested though, and I had his ear.
Broaching the subject of the wonderful floats that were made in his country, I enquired if he might be able to help me locate the maker. In his jovial and hearty way, he said, “Yes!” Giving me his email address, he told me to send him some photos, and he would find out who the maker was. Nirvana!
After the lecture was over, and Franticek returned to the Czech Republic, I sent him an email with photos of the floats, and their cachets. Then I waited. Perhaps two to three weeks passed, before there was an email from him. He had searched, he had asked others to search, and yet nothing could be found. He did say that he would keep looking, and was certain that the mystery could be solved. Subsequent emails over the course of the next couple of years came up empty.
December 2007, Nancy and I took a Christmas trip to be with Chad, our daughter and grandson in Prague, Czech Republic. What an opportunity! What an experience! Chad had received a Fulbright Scholarship to study glass engraving and polishing techniques in the Czech Republic, and the family would be there for 10 months. Nancy and I wanted to be with them for the holidays, as well as to experience one of the chances of a lifetime.
What a great trip that was! The historic atmosphere in Prague, the musical and visual cacophony of many people from all over the world, who spoke in so many languages as they passed-filled the senses, and the wonderful architecture spanning many centuries and many styles, filled the eyes and happily-strained the neck as Nancy and I looked up, across, side-to-side, ahead and behind. Both of our cameras were in constant use.
After three days in Prague, we took a bus trip to Kamenicky Senov, where our family lived, and where Chad pursued his studies. On the way, Chad told me that he had some books borrowed from the school, that might have some information that I was seeking about float makers. I couldn’t wait to see them.
We were only going to be in Kamenicky Senov for two days sandwiched between the bus trips out of and back to Prague. There were outings planned: working glass factories as well as defunct glass houses to visit; trips into a neighboring town to meet friends who lived there and a wonderful dinner planned in another town with Chad’s friends. When would I get the time to study those books?
On our last night there, I asked Chad about the books, and he promptly put three books in front of me. Two had nothing that I was looking for in them, but one: The Glasmarken Lexikon, was not only a huge book, but also packed with glass makers markings, their meanings and sources. I spent hours during that last night while everyone slept, pouring through that book.
All of us who search for float history know how difficult it is to find anything significant. That night with that book was no exception. I could find very little showing glass float cachets that I was familiar with, but did find many drawings and three pages of references to the “Made In Czechoslovakia,” cachet. What great excitement! After all of the time spent researching, I had found the maker credited with the mark. Every reference showing the mark was credited to: UNBEKANNTE MANUFAKTUREN. At last, the maker had been found, and possibly, no other float collector knew what I knew. Another chapter for my book. I couldn’t wait to get home to translate the German, and to research the company.
Any serious glass collector who is reading this, has to know that many times the thought of this new knowledge, and my desire to get back on my computer, entered into my thoughts during the flight home. The first day back, at the first opportunity, found me sitting in front of the computer with the goal being to translate, “UNBEKANNTE MANUFAKTUREN," and the information that was written next to the company name.
Using “Babel Fish Translation Services,” I excitedly typed in the German phrase, hit the translation cue for German to English, and waited for the box to be filled. There it was! The translation: “Unknown Manufacturer.” Three pages of ascribing the cachet to this company, in that incredible book, only to find that it meant close to nothing. My coup was dashed!
The search goes on, and one day maybe, just maybe, one or more of the glass companies who used the "Made In Czechoslovakia ," cachet will appear.