Nøstetangen Glassverk holds a very special place in the history of Norwegian glass. It was the first professional glassworks in Norway. Nøstetangen was the only producer of fine glasswares in the country at the time.
Nøstetangen glassworks was located in Hokksund near Drammen. It was established to utilise Norwegian natural resources in industrial production. The Norske Kompani (full name Det Kongelig Allernaadigst Octroyerede Nordske Compagnie) was founded in Copenhagen in 1739. "Octroyerede" indicates that the company was granted royal privileges or a right or permission which only the king could bestow. The company's mission was to establish Norwegian industries in different sectors, but most of its projects remained in the planning stage. The glassworks were an important exception.
Clear glass and green glass
As the production of glass demanded large amounts of fuel, it was established in Norway, a sparsely populated land with large tracts of forest. Nøstetangen supplied fine table glassware to all of Denmark–Norway, including to the king in Copenhagen and the Danish nobility. This type of glassware was referred to as ‘clear glass’ (‘hvittglass’) to distinguish it from the green and brown glass (‘grøntglass’) used to produce utility items such as bottles. Imports of foreign glassware were banned between 1760 and 1803, leaving the Norwegian glassworks with a monopoly on supplying Denmark–Norway with high quality glasswares. Nevertheless, we know that foreign glass was imported illegally during this period, from Germany, England and elsewhere.
Nøstetangen and European glass
Nøstetangen's monopoly reflected the economic ideas in Europe in the 18th century. This is referred to as mercantilism, and was based on protecting national industry and value creation through policies such as tariffs and privileges. This does not mean, however, that Nøstetangen's glassware did not derive inspiration from abroad. On the contrary, the Nøstetangen's designs were largely based on the styles and techniques of Venitian, English and German glass, all of which represented flourishing glassware industries. The first glass foundry at Nøstetangen was started with German expertise, and the finest glass produced resembled English lead crystal. In 1755, the Norske Kompaniet sent Morten Wærn to England to conduct industrial espionage. Wærn was imprisoned, but managed to lure the English glassblower James Keith to Nøstetangen. Keith brought with him knowledge and techniques from the English glassware industry.
In the same way, the German engraver Heinrich Gottlieb Köhler emigrated from Germany via Copenhagen to Nøstetangen. Köhler was a highly skilled engraver, and decorated many of the beautiful objects preserved from Nøstetangen. Köhler's apprentice Villas Vinter, whom we believe to be Norwegian, also worked as an engraver at Nøstetangen until around 1770. He later worked for the glassworks at Hurdal, but was not a permanent employee there.
The golden age of goblets
One product that is still strongly associated with Nøstetangen is the lidded goblet. A goblet is a large drinking vessel that passed from guest to guest when making toasts. Theyusually had lids, though these may not always have survived. At Nøstetangen the top of the lid was often designed as a hooped crown, as you can see here (link to OK-1994-0089). The goblets could be elaborately engraved with pictures and text that commemorated important events or occasions. Towards the end of the 18th century, the lidded goblet fell out of use in Norway, somewhat later than in continental Europe.
The glassworks at Nøstetangen was closed in 1777, and production was moved to Hurdal, where it continued until 1808. One of the major reasons for the move was the glassworks' need for better local access to fuel. Although the techniques, expertise and glassware models from Nøstetangen were continued at Hurdal, production here was simpler and less expensive.
Ada Buch Polak, Gammelt norsk glass. Oslo 1953.
Randi Gaustad, Skål for Norge! Nøstetangens spennende billedverden. Oslo 1998.
Norsk kunstnerleksikon, Heinrich Gottlieb Köhler and Villas Hansen Vinter.
Norsk biografisk leksikon, Heinrich Gottlieb Köhler and Villas Hansen Vinter.