History of Glassmaking in Sweden
The art of glassmaking comes to Sweden in the 1500’s, which is relatively late compared with the rest of Europe. The skilled glassworkers came mainly from Germany and Italy and were hired by the wealthy nobility that owned the glassworks. The glassworks were first located close to the capital Stockholm. As glass became more and more accessible, glassworks were established all over Sweden. Due to the geography of Sweden, with large forests and an ample supply of sand and other raw-materials needed to make glass, glassworks were able to operate in most parts of the country. The oldest Swedish glassworks that are still operating today are Kosta (founded in 1742) and Limmared (founded in 1741).
In the latter part of the 19th century, most glassworks were founded in central and south Sweden, particularly in Småland (Smaland). Fifteen out of Sweden’s 16 glassworks of today are still located in this province, which has since then become known as the Glasriket, or the Kingdom of Crystal. The reason why most of the glassworks were founded in Småland was simple: before, Småland was home to most of the Swedish iron works, and as these closed down, glassworks were established on the old iron works sites. The newly founded glassworks had the benefit of being able to use the existing infrastructure that was left behind by the closed-down ironworks, as well as of the plentifully available cheap labour force. Indeed most of the labourers were poor and unskilled, and had no other means of subsistence than to work in the hard and difficult conditions of the glassworks, much like they previously did in the ironworks. An example of such a case would be Kosta, which was founded on an old ironworks site.
After the Second World War, the Swedish glass industry flourished again. Rising exports together with an increased spending power due to an increased standard of living both internationally and domestically, made a large portion of people worldwide susceptible to purchase higher quality glass wares. In the 1960s, the spirit of freedom and rejection of established values led to new designs as well as new techniques in glass, as it did in so many other fields of industry.
Glassmaking became to be regarded again as a craft in which an artist could express himself. Consequently, experimentation was common and these artists who could not align their ideals and ideas with the harsher economic reality of working in a large glassworks, joined the Studio Art Glass movement. During the second half of the 1970s, Swedish glassworks started to compete with cheaper foreign imports, and many smaller glassworks could not survive this new economic competition. In 1976 the glassworks of Kosta, Boda and Åfors merged to form Kosta Boda AB.
Wealthy collectors started to collect Swedish art glass on a large scale, raising auction prices and thereby putting Swedish art glass even more in the spotlight. A shift in consumer behaviour from interest in cheap, mass produced table-ware to higher quality and higher priced, hand-made or hand-finished glass table ware also helped the glassworks.
1990 and the two leading Swedish glassworks of Kosta Boda AB and Orrefors AB, decided to merge to form Orrefors Kosta Boda AB. The group comprises 7 glassworks: Orrefors, Kosta, Boda, Sandvik, SEA and Åfors. All glassworks are encouraged to preserve their identity and traditional glass making techniques. Other, smaller glassworks such as Bergdala, Gullaskruf, Johansfors, Lindshammar, Målerås, Nybro, Reijmyre, Rosdala and Skruf remain independent to this day.