180 years of glass production
The people of Samobor have an unusual, somewhat weird relationship with glass making – it has a hundred-year long successful tradition in this area, and it used to be unimaginable to leave Samobor without a piece of a glass souvenir. However, the industry saw several closings of big glass-making trades and factories, but, the love towards glass making remained. Valuable glass handicrafts from the town’s history are kept in the town’ museum while the skills which the old masters taught their young successors continue to live in Samobor.
One of the first glass factories in the area of present Croatia was opened in Samobor, on the estate of the baroness Vilhelmina Kulmer in Osredek on 12 March 1839. The baroness used to visit the Czech town of Karlovy Vary every year for a medical treatment and there she noticed that the visitors often bought local glass souvenirs. Considering she was the owner of vast forest areas that could quickly provide the raw material for heating glass-making furnaces, she recruited the Czech masters and started the production.
In the beginning, the production was very enthusiastic. The factory produced glass products intended mainly for daily household usage, and especially appreciated were the glasses for a welcoming drink of various shapes and sizes, richly decorated with colours and sanding, often in a shape of a gun, a boot, a jug, a barrel or a cup. Especially famous were the mugs with the inscription: “Sanoborci piju vino z lonci“ – In Samobor, we drink from pots.
Unfortunately, in 1847, the owner was forced to sell the factory to the Maribor’s tradesman Franjo Paan because of high debts and he was forced to do the same to a Vienna glass maker Ignac Hafenbradl in 1850. In the year 1869, the new owners were Maksimilijan Gamilšek and Lavoslav Dinghofer, who expanded the production and alongside the store on the Jelačić Square they opened new stores in Rijeka, Sisak, and Karlovac. On 6 October 1872 on the deposits of coal in the village of Grdanjci a new subsidiary of the factory was opened called “Karolina“, named after Gamilšek’s daughter. The factory had 10 masters of glass-blowing, 4 sanders and 150 workers and the business was very successful – on a big exhibition in Trieste in 1882 they received a gold medal for excellent sanding and white glass, while the owner, Maksimilijan Gamilšek received a Golden Cross for his credits by the emperor Franz Joseph I.
In those years, the factory became an attractive tourist spot visited by both local and foreign visitors keen to buy exclusive glass products, giving worthy awards to the masters who created various glass souvenirs in front of the guests.
However, soon the raw material for the production of glass became scarce, the forests of the Samobor hill range and Žumberak had been cut, and the wood from further away was costly. The wooden coal used in the “Karolina” factory was not good because the factory could not sustain the competition by Czech and Viennese glass making, so in 1904 the production was stopped entirely, and the majority of professionals moved to a new glass factory in Hrastnik near Trbovlje.
Today, in the cultural and historical collection of the Samobor museum, there are over 300 pieces of glass products produced in the Osredek factor. The area of the “Karolina” factory and the valley of the Bregana stream is today a tourist location visited by hikers, hunters, fishermen, and motorists who look for entertainment, relaxation, and recreation on fresh air and in thick forests. On the spot of factory facilities there are now green meadows with barely visible remains of factory walls, whose stone was sold out to the people in the area.
The similar story could be told for the Kristal factory, opened in 1951. In the beginning, it started with a modest range of products, but after a few decades, the factory became a synonym for high-quality products. Famous artists were invited to take part in the design making and the Samobor crystal was exported even to the USA. However, due to unfavourable economic circumstances and unprofitable production, that story also ended.
However, a part of the glass making tradition is still alive in Samobor. Busy manufacture owned by the Tuk family, “Kristal Samobor”, continues to wow with their high-skilled hand-sanded glass. Various shapes and patterns are the results of the creative work of artisans and all those who, in the production cycle, add to the final shape and shine of the products following the famous Samobor’s love towards glass making.