Empirical Research as a Necessary Tool

by Craig Orkney

The purpose of this article is to describe the reasons for, and the concept of, Empirical Research as a best and viable alternative to actual production records for the identification of Bohemian / Czech glass.

Empirical Research is defined as:

A way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence (the record of one's direct observations or experiences) can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.

In the case of companies such as Loetz, Harrach, Moser and others, there is known documentation regarding the company’s production. These records and archives are invaluable, and as a researcher of this glass, I am thankful that these records and archives exist.

Unfortunately, we are not as lucky when it comes to companies such as Kralik, Welz, Pallme-König, Rückl, Rindskopf and others.

Using Rindskopf as an example, I would point out that although we have access to a variety of pieces of factory documentation regarding pressed glass production, we have no available documentation I am aware of that is in reference to their art glass production. Even in light of this, Passau has a large amount of glass shown in the Rindskopf cases, and as collectors and researchers we readily identify at least some of their production. I for one would have to believe that the process of identification of their glass would appear to be the result of empirical research..... as without factory documents, what else could it possibly be?

In the case of Rückl, we know from surviving family members that when faced with nationalization of the company under communism, the company records were destroyed by the family. This was done as an alternative to simply handing them over to the communists who were in control and taking over industries. Although the thought of doing so is certainly understandable, I am also saddened that it has created a huge void in our records of this industry, and it presents us with an equally staggering challenge when contemplating the process of attempting to identify and make sense of the glass, region, and companies so sadly affected by wars and politics. For many of these companies, any surviving information is primarily in the form of brochures and sales items held separate of the companies.

When researching Kralik, considered to be one of the more prolific companies of the period, we find that there are only a couple of pieces of hard documentation which exist, and it covers very little in the way of references to the vast majority of production we now define as Kralik. Regarding many smaller companies such as Welz, and others, the absence of documentation, although unfortunate, is not surprising in the least. In light of the regional devastation caused by WWII, and the ensuing communist regime, it is not surprising that very little original documentation remains. Researchers must then begin at a reasonable starting point. In the case of Welz production, the starting point was some unique shapes and decors as shown in the Welz case at Passau. Fortunately, some of these examples are labeled.

Does this lack of factory documentation mean that we can not derive a reasonable idea of at least some of the production by these companies? Absolutely not. Can we figure it all out? Absolutely not.

There are in most cases, only small remnants of documentation that have surfaced and been saved, since the Second World War.

When facing this lack of any substantial amount of hard evidence, researchers and collectors are confronted with a choice. Do we classify all of the unique and colorful production by a wide range of companies in this region as a single family of glass produced for export, unidentifiable due to lack of paperwork, or do we make an attempt to discern, as much and as accurately as possible, who made what?

I have chosen the second approach, and do so being as diligent as possible in my work, as critical as I can be of my own conclusions, and as open to reasonable evidence which may change conclusions I and others have come to previously.

There is a large amount of knowledge regarding Bohemian glass that has been researched using empirical methods through the last several decades, and those findings and attributions are a solid part of our foundation of knowledge. Much of this knowledge has come to light since the Velvet Revolution, and the non-violent dismantling of communism as the governing political party in the region now referred to as the Czech Republic.

Much of my work, using empirical methods, is in relation to my research of Franz Welz Klostergrab, a little recognized house, even as late as 2007.

You will find, in the “Methodology” section of the menu, a link to an article describing my methods used.

Are these methods susceptible to errors? Of course they are, but I find an attempt which may make mistakes to be a better alternative than simply grouping all the glass together and declaring that we do not know, and never will until someone finds the “records” that will reveal all.

I remember a story told to me in history class when I was a child…. And obviously not true or factual, but likely taught to provide insight to a concept at an early age…. Here it is in a condensed and paraphrased version, and it relates to empirical research and observation.

Columbus stood by the sea and observed that as ships sailed to port, they appear first from the tip of the mast and then downwards to the hull as they approached. He surmised that this was because the world was not flat, as everyone thought, but was curved, and therefore round. An empirical observation that led him to believe he could reach certain regions of the world by sailing around the earth by heading west, as opposed to sailing south and then east around the tip of Africa.

We now know that he did not reach the region he was trying to get to, but he also discovered that the ship would not sail off the “edge of earth”, as was the common belief of the time.

What we do know beyond a shadow of a doubt though, is that if the empirical observations which Columbus made had been ignored by him, maritime history of the world would likely be much different.

Do we know for a fact that Columbus did this? Of course not…… but we do know that the concept of Empirical research is sound.

Empirical research has been used for centuries, and has led to some great discoveries. I say this, not because the study of glass will lead to great discoveries, but as evidence that it is a viable and sound tool that can produce solid results if used logically and in a responsible and consistent manner.

Please see the "Empirical Methods Explained" link under the Methodology section of the menu for an explanation of some of the methods used for researching information presented on this site.