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What are Float Bowls?

The Stump Lady - Sowerby (UK)
Grecian Lady - Jobling (UK)
Float bowls have remained an important genre in the decorative arts for decades.  So, what are they?  If you’re guessing that they have something to do with water because of the word ‘float’, you’d be right. Specifically, they’re bowls used for floating flowers or sometimes candles in. 

Modern float bowls are usually simple clear glass bowls with petals or more often a votive candle, floating in or surrounded by water, and sometimes used as centrepiece at weddings.  But the float bowls I love are decorative bowls designed to hold water and flowers and used as centrepieces on mantles and dining tables right through the mid-twentieth century.  They usually required a frog, an insert with holes all around it, designed to hold the stems of the flowers and greenery to be used for decorating the bowl.  Other additions were beautiful figurines or figural groups, which were either made to sit in the frog, or designed to be the frog themselves, with holes all around the base of the figurine.

This example of Walther's Hollanderin is Uranium Glass, prized for its glow-in-the-dark attribute
These float bowls, frogs and figurines are all highly collectable today.  As with any other collecting field, interest in them waxes and wanes, and now, with the worldwide recession, examples can be picked up for a fraction of what they cost only several years ago.  There are exceptions, of course, and rarer items will always retain their value.  As I write this (in June, 2011), a hard-to-find Walther Koala figurine has just sold on eBay for £600 - 600 British pounds; at current rates, that’s a little over 900 Australian Dollars, or 970 USD -  a goodly sum in a depressed market.

A Czech figurine/frog
Float bowls, frogs and figurines were produced by many different glass manufacturers.  Quality varied; there are many nondescript samples, but some truly beautiful items were produced by several outstanding houses. Some have become ubiquitous, like Sowerby’s Stump Lady or the Czech Poisson Volant.  Success guaranteed imitation, and like so many popular glass products, they were widely copies and one can find versions produced by several different factories; without some historical sleuth work it becomes difficult to discover who made what first!  Mass-produced items were manufactured for the export market in Czechoslovakia and exported by the thousands to England and other countries, to the extent that they were assumed to be English- (or Australia-, or American-) made.  Dissemination of information across The Internet has been most helpful here, and many of these pieces have now been correctly identified.
Orla - Walther & Sohne (Germany)

Few people actually use these items for flower arranging today, they are generally considered antiques and collectables, and displayed as such. My own favourites are Art Deco era glass figurines.  I’ve attached photos of some I adore, what do you think?


Gwama Terri said...

These are really neat, I've never seen a float bowl but I'll be on the lookout now for them.

that's life! said...

Thank you, Gwama Terri.

I love them.

Watch out, they're addictive!

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a message.

PJ said...

That showsw how much I know! LOL! I've seen them, but I thought they were just a decorative candy dish! LOL! DUH! I'm definitely showing my ignorance on this subject.

God Bless,

that's life! said...

Well now, PJ, you weren't too far off - the same makers made decorative candy dishes, which were also a big deal in the same era!

Thanks so much for leaving a comment, it's much appreciated!

busymom said...

i love your blog design! very neat and clean and very interesting.
i also would love to find these float bowls;p they are lovely!!

that's life! said...

Thank you so much, busymom. Thanks especially for leaving a comment.

Yes, the designs are so attractive, one can see why so many people decided they didn't actually need flowers (though they look fabulous with them!)