In 1836, Johann Eisner established a glassworks in the Southern Bohemian town of Klostermühle, today part of the Czech Republic and called Klášterský Mlýn. His heirs sold the glassworks to Martin Schmid in 1849, and two years later Schmid sold it to Frank Gerstner, attorney-at-law, and his wife Susanne. Susanne was the widow (‘Witwe’ in German) of Johann Loetz, a glassmaker about whom we know very little.
Gerstner transferred sole ownership to Susanne shortly before his death in 1855, and she successfully led and expanded the company during the subsequent 20 years, manufacturing mainly crystal, overlay and painted glass.
In 1879, Susanne transferred the company – now called ‘Johann Loetz Witwe’ – to Maximilian von Spaun, the son of her daughter Karoline. One year later, von Spaun hired Eduard Prochaska and the two of them modernized the factory and introduced new, patented techniques and processes.
The glassworks created large numbers of its own new designs of iridescent, trailing art nouveau glass, sometimes in collaboration with well-known artists and designers like Marie Kirschner and Franz Hofstötter (aka Franz Hofstätter). The zenith of Loetz art nouveau glass was epitomized by the so-called Phänomen series of designs, much of it designed by Hofstötter, which won a Grand Prix (alongside Tiffany, Gallé, Daum and Lobmeyr) at the Paris World’s Exposition in 1900.
The company’s success during this period had two prime drivers – the technical expertise of Prochaska and the business acumen of von Spaun. Loetz Witwe created many of its own designs, and also supplied glass commissioned by major customers like E. Bakolowits (Vienna) and Max Emanuel (London).