Historians disagree on whether the founding date of this remarkable glass house was 1712 or 1714. No one, however, will dispute the fact that it is the second oldest glass factory still functioning, and that the glassware produced There he has always set the quality standard. The glass works that had been built and operated in the state of Harrach, were under direct ownership and direction of Count Arnost Harrach in 1763.
Despite the ban on Bohemian glass (promulgated in 1742), Harrach remained the main supplier of high-quality glass base objects for Silesian engravers. In addition to the clear glass for engraving, Harrach also produced the white glass (called milk glass) for enamelling. The Silesian ban on trade with Bohemia really became an asset to Harrach when numerous Silesian painters and engravers moved to the village of Harrachov, which grew rapidly (indistinguishable from Nový Svet).
In 1778, Count Harrach retired from the direction of the glass factories and leased the factory to Antonín Erben. Erben’s experience continued the profitable enterprise until his death in 1795. At that time, the new count, Jan Harrach, could be discontinued with glass work if it had not been for the impulse of the state manager, Martin Kaiser. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars perpetuated a serious fall in the bohemian glass market. The export was impossible and Europe was being devastated. After Napoleon’s defeat, England quickly dominated the world glass trade.
Martin Kaiser lived up to his task and, after instituting positive reforms (including a Sunday school for painters), led the Harrach glass factory to a successful sales career. So successful was that Jan Harrach encouraged Kaiser to resume an active role in his overall management.
In 1808, Johann Pohl was appointed director of the glass factories and held that position for the next 40 years. During the Pohl’s tenure, the glass works of Harrach had a meteoric success. Innovative forms of glass, creative forms and, above all, an unprecedented zeal to achieve the latest in manual work, distinguish their products.
Pohl was impressed with the French technique of sulfide material applied to glassware, and quickly adapted and greatly improved the technique. His innovation of the red or blue glass layer in the clear sparkling glass provided a totally new medium for the engravers of the time.
The first of the engravers was his brother Franz, his horse engravings have never been matched. Franz Pohl’s workshop produced not only magnificent engravings, but also master engravers. The legendary Dominic Bieman (1800-1857) learned his art as an apprentice of Pohl.
With the passage of the Biedermeier period, Harrach changed the production of popular merchandise in designs to suit the taste of the consumer in any country where the consumer resided. Glassware for China and Japan was especially specific for these markets. In England, the inclination for overly decorated covered glass resulted in Harrach producing glasses and other utensils that were indistinguishable from crystals made in England.
After the death of Johann Pohl, the production seemed to flounder without a specific theme except “quality for quality”. For 30 years, the dictates of fashion were answered at the time, producing what would come without any particular mandate except to survive. During this period, he installed the Seimen gas oven, and both the quantity and quality of production expanded.
Finally in 1884, Bohdan Kadlec accepted the responsibility of guiding the company in its rebirth. The moment could not have been better. Kadlec was well connected with the faculty of the School of Applied Arts in Prague, which were actively promoting the first phases of the Secession Movement. Numerous designs, both the form and the motif were prepared at the Prague School and executed in Harrach. The results were seen quickly. In the following year (1885) Harrach produced a respectable 700,000 pounds of finished glass.
During Kadlec’s term (1884-1900), Harrach committed a balanced approach to production that included designs that ranged from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau. Each design was chosen based on a marketing strategy and executed in the tradition of excellent craftsmanship. The success of Kadlec can easily be seen in the production records of 1900. Harrach then employed 500 people in the production of glass and refining, 2/3 of them in their own stores. In 1900, the company produced a record of 1,500,500 pounds of finished glass.
The painted glass of the Art Nouveau era produced by Harrach was greatly influenced by Alfons Mucha and Julius Jelínek, and when combined with the technical merits of the decorators surrounding Harrachov, his success was unconditional. Unfortunately, the obstacle of World War I brought a variety of problems for Harrach. Material shortages, labor strikes and an increasingly reduced export market conspired to the detriment of the company.
After World War I, the new administration and the infusion of cash from the Harrach family breathed new life into the ailing company. For a while it seemed that the company would again rise from the ashes when it won the grand prize in Paris in 1923. But in fact, it was only beginning to suffer its greatest difficulties. The depression of the 1920s and the occupation by Germany in the 1930s, nearly dealt the death blow to Harrach. Almost, but not totally, because today the area and the company are again at the forefront of glass manufacturing.