Most people know that glass beads made in Europe come from Czech Republic. Or Austria. Or Bohemia. From Gablonz, or Jablonec. Its a little confusing because of the name changes of empires, countries, provinces, and towns through the ages, but actually it is quite simple.
The bead town we all know as the center of glass bead production in Europe is Jablonec nad Nisou, Czech Republic. Although the town is situated now in the Czech Republic,since 1989, in a province called Bohemia, it used to be called Czechoslovakia since 1918. Before that, it was situated in Bohemia, which was a province of the Austrian Empire, ruled from afar in Vienna. The Austrian Empire broke up after World War One, and Czechoslovakia came into being. Before that it was the Bohemian Empire, and during the 12th through 14th centuries was the strongest empire in Europe.
King Charles and other nobles of the Bohemian Empire had invited German industrialists to settle in Bohemia, bringing their skills with them, which they did, and ultimately settled what Hitler later called Sudetenland, and annexed in 1938 into Greater Germany. German glass makers settled into Northern Bohemia where there was unlimited forests and sand and water for making glass, and where by the 17th century the town of Gablonz became the center of the glass bead and jewelry industry. As it still is to this day. But because of all the country changes, and idealogical changes, its name also changed - to Jablonec.
In 1945 World War Two ended, and the Czechoslovakian government deported most of the Sudeten Germans from the country back into war torn Germany, giving the refugees 48 hours in some instances to prepare, with only 40 kilos of their personal belongings allowed to leave with them.
Most of the Gablonz residents who were glass makers ended up resettling in southern Germany outside of a small town in Bavaria, called Kaufburen. In an abandoned ammunitions complex that did not get destroyed during the war, a new town was created - Neugablonz.
At its height, Neugablonz had over 2,000 bead and jewelry related businesses operating in the town and surrounding area.
But by the late 1990's it was all coming to an end.
Germany joined the European Union, and the Euro Zone, so its currency immediately became more expensive, hence its beads became more expensive. Labor costs went up.
At the same time, communism collapsed and Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Exposure to the free world and the west meant glass beads from Jablonec could be exported by all the bead factories that under communist rule could not, and business flourished. Czech glass beads were cheaper than German glass beads.
China began producing glass beads in huge quantities at such a low price that even though the quality wasn't on par with German or Czech beads the price was irristable to many buyers.
All these factors led to the decline of the German bead manufacturing industry.
We at Wild Things Beads have been importing beads and buttons from Neugablonz since the 1990's, and have been documenting some of the companies and their stories as we have found them.
Here are some of those stories:
At the end of the war, 1946, the Germans, known as the Suduten Deutsch, as Germany had called that region of Bohemia Sudutenland during their occupation of the area during the war, were expelled from Czechoslovakia. They were given 48 hours to leave, usually with just one suitcase of belongings. They had to leave behind everything else they owned; their houses, their furniture, their businesses. The Czech workers who were employed by them were able to take over the factories, and keep them running. Whole Czech families moved into German houses, filled with furniture and chinaware, silverware and linens. The German refugees streamed into war torn Germany, and most of the bead makers ultimately settled in Bavaria, near the town of Kaufburen. In all, five towns were settled by bead makers; Lauscha being one, as was Neu Gablonz, Austria. Bayruth was another town. Another was Quedlinburg in the Harz Mountains.
Efforts were made to keep all the bead makers together, so the bead industry would survive, and a bombed out ammunitions factory outside of Kaufburen was purchased for this purpose. The town was named Neugablonz. Kaufburen/Neugablonz is about an hours drive south of Munich on the way to Austria.
One of the town squares in
By 1947, over 2000 bead makers had settled in Neu Gablonz, and started producing beads. Resources were so scarce, clay and bubblegum were used as molds to create bead shapes. Some of the bead makers did bring their molds with them, and of course some of the refugees were mold makers.
Today, these early beginnings are documented in the bead museum in Neu Gablonz, which is located at the Gablonzer Industries building and conference center.
Gablonzer Industries Museum
Sadly, although the bead industry is still alive, it is shrinking. As of 1998 there are less than 400 factories still producing glass beads, and most of these are small, family run operations, where the owners are older, and the children are showing no interest in continuing the business. Most of the glass beads being produced are for internal consumption by the factories themselves, who make finished jewelry for sale to the European market. Very few are willing to sell just the raw component beads.
One such family is the Blaschke ‘s. When we first met them, they invited us in to their house, where they had a sales room to show off their lampwork beads. Along one wall was a show case of beautiful beads. When asked if any were for sale, they replied no, they were beads made by all the previous generations of Blaschke’s that came before, their father, and his father’s, both who had been in Gablonz. When they were young adults in 1946 they had been kicked out of Czechoslovakia, and had taken these beads with them as examples of the beads to continue making once they were settled in Neu Gablonz. We then asked if they could make beads just like the museum beads in their display case, and they said they could. We began our relationship with them by ordering their new production beads, and by commissioning them to remake new beads based on their grandparents designs. The next year when we went back for more, they allowed us to dig through a file cabinet in the back room that had job lots of old vintage lampwork dating from their great grandparents, grandparents, and their parents. While we were digging, we came across the job lots of the current Blaschke production, where he was continuing the tradition of filling up the filing cabinet drawers with over production beads. It felt good to see history happening right in front of us.
One sad thing about the Blaschke’s, which is mirroring all the German bead makers, is that they are the last generation to make beads. Their daughter is the book keeper for their business, but does not make beads, nor has she shown any interest in making beads. Their style of lampwork beads will die with this generation.
The Blaschke’s brother has a building next door where he manufactures plastic beads using injection molds.
Another family whom we met and purchase buttons from are the Schnabels. The Artur Schnabel Co. manufactures traditional Bavarian accessories using metal parts and eidelweiss flowers from the region. They were originally from Gablonz, and had to leave at the end of the war with all the other German refugees.Artur Schnabel Co. This company closed in 2000.
One interesting side note about the bead making community of Neu Gablonz and the town of Kaufburen, which is right next to it, at least from a non german standpoint, such as myself, is that at first blush they are all Germans. But this is not so. The inhabitants of Kaufburen have been there for centuries, and in fact are a mixture of German and Italian, because of all the shifting of national borders over the centuries due to wars, treaties, (an example being the family who owns the beautiful bed and breakfast Inn we stay at, built right into the medieval wall of the town, the Lombardini’s.) whereas the inhabitants of Neu Gablonz are Sudeten German, which are foreign born Germans who have been living in Bohemia under Austian rule since 12th century, then Nazi German rule during the war, before settling in Neu Gablonz in 1946/47. They are foreigners to the area, and there is a lot of conflict and turmoil going on between the two communities.
View of the town of Kaufburen and the Tower where the hotel Am Turm is located
The last time we met with the Blaschke’s they took us to dinner, and told us a little about their experiences in going back to Jablonec for the first time in 1990, after the wall came down following the Velvet revolution in 1989.
They had been given 48 hours to leave Czechoslovakia, with just suitcases of belongings, and consequently had to abandon their house and all its contents. In 1990, they were able to go back for a visit, which they did, and when they walked up to their house they had lived in, they noticed it was in a ruinous state, plaster crumbling off the walls, window panes cracked and broken, unpainted, just in terrible neglect. They knocked on the door, and an old Czech peasant lady open it, and after explaining who they were, and why they were there, she invited them in for tea. They sat in their original furniture, drank tea from their old china, and on the walls were their oil paintings and decorations that they had been forced to leave behind. They were just amazed, but quite happy to leave the house knowing the Czech lady had looked after everything. They have gone back every year since, and have become friends with the current occupant.
In America, there are only a handful of importers who offer German beads for sale. We are one such importer. Where ever possible, we try to use old glass made in the 1940’s, and of course old molds. On one trip, we found a stash of old German milk glass, dating from the 1930’s, which is a milky, opaline white, and had fire polish beads made from it.
Another recent development because of the decline in the German bead industry is the export to India of entire factories from Germany – the molds, the machinery, and technicians to train the Indian workers how to use the equipment. The only deviation is that the Indians are still using Indian made glass, which differentiates their beads from the original German.
One warning to unaware customers of German beads, is that we have found that some German factories purchase Czech beads and resell them as German beads. The most common example of this practice is fire polish facetted beads.
Although glass bead making is a large portion of the trade in Neu Gablonz, they also make plastic beads, buttons, crystal, metal beads and findings, and side industries such as metallic coatings, vacuum press technology, and faceting. Labor is expensive in Germany, and the beads are all packaged loose. Stringing in masses like the Czechs do is not feasible.
Although it is extremely hard to get in with a German bead factory, it is not impossible. The first place to go to would be the Gablonzer Industries center, in Neu Gablonz. They can also be found on the web at www.gablonzerindustries.com. The center houses a museum, and map of the exodus of bead makers from Jablonec in 1946 to the different cities in Europe that they settled in and started up business again. The center also has a gift shop which offers for sale finished jewelry made from the beads manufactured in Neu Gablonz. One reason that it is so hard to buy from these factories is that they are cottage industries, and the family business is making beads, not exporting. So in most cases you would have to find an exporter who is familiar with different bead makers, and who would be willing to work with you. Unfortunately, most export agents in Kaufburen are already affiliated with a large importer, such as John F. Allen, or Alvee Rosenberg, and by using them you would not be buying direct, but be buying through them. Another good resource to find beads in Kaufburen/Neugablonz would be antique shops. Children who have no interest in continuing the family business are unloading the beads, tools, molds and sample cards from their parents attics and basements into antique shops and flea markets all the time.
Another factory we used to buy from and has since closed as of 2012 is Emil Hubner and Sohn:
It was 1945, and the Germans had just lost the war. The new Czechoslovakian government, under the terms of the Benes agreement hashed out by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, started to evict the Suduten Deutsch from the country. They had 48 hours to pack 40 kilo’s of belongings per family and leave the country. This became known as the wild deportations.
Due to the foresight of one man, Erich Huschka, who was a radio operator during the war on the German side, (and a draftee selected from amongst the Suduten Deutsch living in Gablonz, Bohemia), he convinced the Suduten refugees of Gablonz involved in the glass industry to settle in a bunker complex not damaged by the Allied bombing in an area next to Kaufbeuren in Bavaria. He named it “Neugablonz”. Working with the Allied governments and the new West German government, Huschka was able to negotiate the empty bunkers to refugee glass bead makers. Marshall plan funds were involved.
One of the first bunkers was issued to Emil Hubner and family as the building to be transformed into the glass bead-making factory of Emil Hubner and Sohn, in 1946.
Gistei House #44
Ernst Emil Hubner formed Emil Hubner and Sohn as a corporation back in 1860. The company was located in a tiny village outside of Gablonz in house #44. The village was called Gistei. According to Uta Preis, the current Director of Emil Hubner and Sohn in Neugablonz, the first ancestor of the family to start making lampwork beads was in the 1820’s. (Joachim Hubner, born 1801).
In 1946 the Hubner’s were targeted to be deported. Uta Preis was two years old, and along with her mother began the trek to Kaufburen. They had a handcart with 40 kilos of belongings, and a long journey before them. They arrived in Kaufburen along with Uta’s grandparents, and were assigned housing in a small village outside of Kaufburen. On the same day they arrived, Uta’s father arrived by train from Northern Germany where he had been held in a prisoner of war camp run by the British. The grandfather, Emil Hubner, and Uta’s father Joseph Hubner took possession of the bunker and began producing beads. Actually, the first item they produced was a 4 hole sew through button for the clothing trade. Germany was desperate for buttons
In 1947 Uta’s mother connected with a smuggler whom she paid to guide her over the West German border into Czechoslovakia so she could return to their former house at 44 Gistei to attempt to recover some more of their belongs they had been forced to leave behind. When they reached Prague the smuggler gave the group 48 hours to get to their destination and return so he could smuggle them back into West Germany. Uta’s mother was able to reach her old house and make contact with the occupiers of the house.
The man, Miroslav Masecha, had been a worker in the Emil Hubner factory, and had been appointed as the Administrator of the house by the Czechoslovakian government. He and his family had moved in, taking possession of the property and all its contents. His daughter Hanna greeted Uta’s mother with open arms, grateful she and Uta had survived the long march to Kaufburen. She gave Uta’s mother a very expensive plate, a very expensive camera and some material for making a business suit, which had previously belonged to the Hubner family, and Uta’s mother rushed back to Prague. She met up with the smuggler and made it back safely to Kaufburen. The plate was traded for a military jeep, the first private vehicle in the new town of Neugablonz. The Hubner’s were on the way to recovery. Emil Hubner and Sohn grew to become the first and largest fire polish and pressed glass bead factory in Neugablonz.
In 1984 while on vacation in Austria, Uta received a phone call from her mother that her father, Joseph Hubner, had been caught up in some of the bead machinery and was killed. She rushed back and took over the reins of the company, giving up her career as a teacher.
The Factory Building
Uta ran the company for 8 years alone; when her husband Werner retired as an engineer in the concrete business to join her he worked for another 8 years before retiring again.
At the height of their business Emil Hubner and Sohn had 42 pressers working full time producing glass beads, faceting and fire polishing; as well as producing plastic (Lucite) beads and bangles which they started in the 1970’s, as that had become all the rage.
According to Uta, most of the glass bead factories threw out or sold off their glass bead machinery and switched to plastic injection mold equipment. Emil Hubner just stored their machinery in the attic in case it was needed later, and begun producing plastic beads.
According to Uta, at its height Neugablonz had over 2,000 bead makers or related manufacturers scattered around town. Some were large like Emil Hubner and Sohn, others were cottage industry businesses with one family member coating beads or cutting glass or fire polishing. Almost every house was involved in the bead business.
Uta remembers growing up within the Emil Hubner business, where all her grandparents and parents talked about was business; both old business in Gablonz and new business in Neugablonz, probably because they had had it all and then lost it all. All their energy had gone into rebuilding.
Another company we found
Tracing the history of a particular glass company is not always easy, especially if the current owners are not aware of the history beyond a vague knowledge handed down by an old employee or ancestor or illegible documents stored in a basement file cabinet.
Back in the late 1990’s we (J-Me & Guy of Wild Things Beads) had started importing glass beads from German bead factories in Neugablonz and one factory we did not buy from was Friedrich Farbglashütte GmbH, mainly because it was not a bead factory but a glass rod producer. Our bead factories would buy glass rods from Friedrichs to make our beads.
Then we stopped buying German beads altogether, and Friedrich Farbglashutte dropped off our radar totally, until our last visit in 2012.
Driving around Neugablonz we stumbled across the factory building of Friedrich Farbglashutte with a sign in the driveway stating it was in bankruptcy.
We had been documenting Sudeten German bead makers that had been deported from Czechoslovakia after WW2 and/or stayed behind by force to continue making beads or buttons, and were now scattered all over Europe. Mainly Neugablonz, (Emil Hubner and the Blaschkes) but also Austria, (Walter Bruckner), Sudetenland (Pueschel) and Paris, France (Fried Freres). Almost all these companies had closed or were in the process of closing, or contemplating closing.
We realized that another old German glass company was going away.
Surfing the web one day I discovered the Friedrich Farbglashutte website stating it had come out of bankruptcy and was now operating under the name Spezialglashütte Kugler Colors GmbH.
Under their “History” page was a very brief mention of their early days. A little more research was needed to fill in the gaps before this company too vanished from our memories.
This is what they wrote: The Spezialglashütte Kugler Colors GmbH has its roots in the "Sudetenland", the Dressler company in Morchenstern and has been operating for four generations. After World War II, the tradition of glass making was continued in Neugablonz. To read the full article, click here.
Travel to Neugablonz today, and you can still find bead factories, museums and trade organizations catering to the bead industry.
Rumaging through our old files in the office, I came across this old Gablonzer Industrie brochure and thought I would share. Most, if not all of these companies are closed now.
The Germans who relocated to Neugablonz were torn from their ancestral home in the Bohemian province and the Giant Mountains/Jistersky Hory, and the town they loved, Gablonz.
So much so that in 1970 they negotiated with the Czechoslovakian government and the town of Jablonec to dismantle and relocate the fountain/statue seen below. It is now in Neugablonz.
The fountain was from 1931-1945 a landmark of the city Gablonz an der Neiße (now Jablonec nad Nisou) and in 1970 reconstructed using the original sculpture and reliefs in the Kaufbeuren district Neugablonz (New Gablonz). Metzler had sculpted the statue for a Nibelungen Fountain in Vienna, which was not built.
Neugablonz also has a coat of arms that mirrors the crest of Jablonec.
The Jizerská Museum Neugablonz located in Kaufbeuren district Neugablonz and deals with the history of German populated Jizera and the fate of the expellees Isergebirgler using the example of fashion jewelry Neugablonz city. It was opened in 2000.