Find - Vintage Glass Medallion
In 2004, on a trip to the Czech Republic, we stopped in Jablonec
nad Nisou, which is the center of glass bead and jewelry production
for Europe. We normally go there to the factories to start production
on our next line of beads for the new year, which we showcase
at the big Tucson gem and mineral shows in February. On this
trip, however, we investigated antique shops; since Jablonec
is over 800 years old as a functioning town, and been in the
glass production business, and specifically the glass bead business
since the 1700s, it made sense to see what we could find
hidden away and forgotten.
What we found got us really excited.
In a paper bag, on a shelf, I found approximately 100 jet-black
glass medallions, in perfect condition, of a beautiful, side
profile face, of a woman that could only be an original Alphonso
Mucha design. It was classic art nouveau from the turn of the
Approximately 2 inches in diameter, cast in glass, it appears
to be from the zodiac series of Alfonsa Mucha. There are five
indentations, which would suggest crystal rhinestones were meant
to be embedded in the piece.
Mucha the Zodiac.
Alfonsa Mucha was born in Prague, Czech Republic, 1885
1935. He became famous for his art nouveau style of painting,
in particular for his depiction of American actress Sarah Bernhardt.
In talking to the shop owner, he only knew that the pieces
were very old, and that they had been stored outside in metal
buckets for decades, exposed to the elements. He also pointed
out approximately 600 chocolate brown medallions that were identical
to the jet black ones I had found on the shelf, but these brown
ones were still sitting in the metal buckets, all rusted and
filthy. I purchased the black ones, and we left. I thought about
these medallions all night, and the next morning, while my wife
went on to meet our factory rep to start placing an order for
beads, I went back to the antique shop to purchase the remaining
Once we got them home to California, we attempted to clean
some of the brown medallions with bleach, coke, water, acid,
kitchen cleaning products, you name it; but all we did was remove
the rust and dirt from the glass. There remained an iridescent
sheen over all or part of the medallions, which, although it
didnt look bad, obviously marred the original medallion.
A chance encounter with a very talented and somewhat famous
bead artist, Laura McCabe, of Just Let Me Bead Studio, in Mystic,
Connecticut, lead to an introduction to a group of archeologists
in Connecticut who immediately took possession of some of the
Medallions, and began a cleaning process using distilled water
and a soft brush. They were horrified when they heard I had used
all those cleaning products on the medallions.
The rust that had begun attacking
the glass is called vitrification, and it was eating huge holes
into the glass. If the glass were not cleaned, eventually it
would totally destroy the medallions. So although by cleaning
the rust off the glass will stop further damage, nothing will
be able to fix the damage already done to the pieces by the rust
and acid rain from the air of the Czech Republic from all the
decades of sitting outside in those metal buckets.
Headpiece designed and
created by Laura McCabe.
We contacted the Mucha Museum in Prague, which is run by a
board of trustees, one member being the granddaughter of Alphonsa
Mucha, but never received a response as to whether they recognize
the work, or the actual piece in my possession. I do know that
Mucha designed a line of jewelry, of which this could have been
a part of, or it could have been something totally different,
maybe something begun at the end of his career and never completed.
(an unpublished work, for instance). Or, it could be another
artists work, following in the style of Mucha, art nouveau,
a copycat designer. Even so, it would be a hundred year old knock
off art nouveau piece, and valuable in its own right.
Examples of how it can be used.
Wire wrapped by Shirley Hill.
If anybody out there who reads this article, and views this piece,
knows something about the medallion, I would really appreciate
any comments or information relevant to identifying the piece,
including valuation, age, artist, purpose for use, and especially
photos of the original jewelry it was designed for. I can be
contacted at Wild Things Beads, (530) 743-1339 or by e-mail,
see link below.