Dartington label

above: example of a
Dartington label

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Dartington Glass

above: "Daisy" vase
FT59 designed by
Frank Thrower in 1968
for Dartington

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Dartington Glass from
The Glass Encyclopedia

A short explanation of Dartington Glass:

Dartington Glass was founded in 1966 by the Dartington Hall Trust based in Devon in the UK. One of their key objectives was to provide employment for the young people of North Devon, and the town of Torrington was chosen as their glassworks site. Frank Thrower, a protege of Ronald Stennett-Willson, was influential in persuading the Trust that a glassworks which created high quality Scandinavian style glass would succeed, and they sought skilled management and glassworkers from Finland and Sweden. Their first Managing Director was Eskil Vilhelmsson, who came from being works manager of a Swedish glassworks. He recruited a workforce of some 35 people which included many skilled Scandinavian glass blowers who then trained local employees.

Frank Thrower was the first designer and Sales Director of the company; Peter Sutcliffe was the Chairman of the Board. The glass factory opened in June 1967 with a hugely extravagent opening celebration, but it was to be four years before they actually made a profit. Once their success started, however, the orders flooded in and they soon had the reverse problem of too many orders for their limited production capabilities. Glassworks in the UK, in Sweden, and in Norway were used to supplement their production. This dramatic success was partly due to Erskil Wilhelmsson's skills in managing his workforce and the efficiency and quality of production; and partly due to Frank Thrower's brilliant salesmanship and his readily identifiable designs.

In the early years Dartington glass was soda glass, but in later years they turned to lead crystal. All their output was hand-made, and amongst their several signature ranges there were:

  • - simple Scandinavian-cum-18th-century English goblets, glasses and decanters in clear soda-glass and later in crystal
  • - angular and cylindrical mold-blown vases and candleholders with textured or patterned surfaces in clear, smoke, kingfisher blue, and flame (like the "Daisy" vase shown on the left)
  • - straight and spiral blown optic "Ripple" vases
  • - and their range of kitchen accessories.

Vilhelmsson retired in 1978 and in the early 1980s Eric Dancer was appointed Chairman of the Board and Jan Mollmark the Managing Director. A merger with Wedgwood Glass in 1982 (formerly Ronald Stennett-Willson's glassworks) produced initial financial benefits for Dartington and fresh designs and management ideas for Wedgwood. Frank Thrower and several other Dartington managers were unhappy with the new regime. In 1984 their problems worsened due to poor quality glass (which was eventually traced to poor quality sand supplies). Marketing and Distribution decisions made by Wedgwood further upset Dartington staff; and when Wedgwood merged with Waterford Crystal in 1986 Eric Dancer seized the opportunity to negotiate a lucrative deal to end the partnership between Dartington and Wedgwood, and the company name was changed to Dartington Crystal. It was only a few months after this that Frank Thrower died from a brain tumour.

After Frank Thrower's twenty years of designs for Dartington there were many different designers and teams of designers who contributed to the Dartington range. The company went through further takeovers, mergers, and two management buy-outs, returning to being an independant company from 2007 onwards, and acquiring Caithness Glass and Royal Brierley Crystal along the way. They produce a range of art glass by recognised designers and export it to over 50 countries. Their visitor centre entertains tourists, and the company still fulfills its founders' aims of providing skilled employment for people in North Devon.

Further Reading

Frank Thrower Dartington Glass (2007) British Glass Book 2 20th Century glass Jackson 20th Century glass McConnell 20th Century glass 2004

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