Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka Collection
Scope and Contents
The Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka Collection represents the work of father and son glassmakers in Germany who created hundreds of botanical and marine invertebrate study models in the late 1800s and early 1900s, supplying institutions all over the world. Materials in the collection date from the mid-1800s to the 1920s. The collection is arranged in three series: Series I. Drawings, Series II. Business and Series III. Personal.
This collection includes over 900 working drawings and presentation sketches of marine invertebrates and botanicals in watercolor, pen, ink and crayon on heavy paper. The collection also includes a few personal sketchbooks that belonged to the Blaschkas.
Business related items include order and account books, drawings of finished models, reports on models, business cards and correspondence, and hundreds of typed labels with the scientific names of marine invertebrates.
The personal papers in the collection include birth and death certificates, sympathy cards, articles and clippings, and correspondence, as well as family photographs and three photograph albums. Additionally, there are published travel guides, souvenir books and dictionaries in various languages, used by the Blaschkas.
The materials in the collection are comprehensive, demonstrating a large body of the Blaschkas’ work over many years. Business-related materials show the details of the Blaschka business, and where and how they marketed the models. Blaschka family history is also well-represented by personal papers and photographs.
Both botanical and marine invertebrate drawings are available digitally and on microfilm.
- Circa 1850-1940
Language of Materials
Collection materials are in German and English.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for public research. Researchers must make an appointment to view this collection.
Conditions Governing Use
The Copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement. The user agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rakow Research Library against all claims, demands, costs and expenses incurred by copyright infringement or any other legal or regulatory cause of action arising from the use of Library materials.
Biographical / Historical
Leopold (1822 – 1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857 – 1939), father and son glassmakers from Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, are known for their highly-accurate, three-dimensional marine invertebrate and botanical glass models created for study in institutions worldwide. Other craftsmen were fabricating educational study models in the mid-19th century out of materials such as such as wax, papier–mâché and wire, but the Blaschkas were the first to create models in glass.
Leopold was born in Aicha, now Český Dub, and the third generation in a family of glassworkers. As a young man, he worked for a short time as an apprentice goldsmith and gem-cutter before beginning work in the family’s metal and glass business making flame-worked costume jewelry and luxury goods for their growing export trade. The company moved to Dresden in 1863; in the 1870s Leopold’s son Rudolf joined the studio.
In the early 1860s, Leopold began creating glass models of tropical flowers based upon botanical drawings out of a personal interest in natural history. Prince Camille de Rohan (1800 – 1892) of Prague discovered his work and became a patron, commissioning 100 models of exotic flowers for his private collection, and supporting Leopold’s further botanical study. The Prince introduced Leopold to Ludwig Reichenbach (1793 – 1879), director of The Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden in Dresden; in 1863, Reichenbach arranged an exhibition of Leopold’s glass flowers. Soon Leopold began working almost exclusively in glass, and by the 1870s the studio was focusing production on human and animal eyes, models and dishes. Order records in the collection reflect several commissions from this decade for glass animals; in particular, orders for artificial glass sea anemones for aquariums.
In the mid-19th century, the study of natural history, or the natural sciences, based on observation and empirical evidence in describing and understanding the physical world, flourished, well-positioning the Blaschkas’ model-making to grow into a business. Glass models were ideal, as they held their color and shape, unlike dried plant specimens, or marine invertebrates preserved in alcohol or formaldehyde. Additionally, an interest in aquariums, popularized by British naturalist Philip Henry Gosse (1810 – 1888), undoubtedly spurred the market for marine models.
Gosse’s drawings inspired the Blaschkas’ early sea invertebrate models. They reproduced the marine animal drawings in Gosse’s book Actinologia Britannica: A History of the British Anemones and Corals, in three-dimensional detail depicted in their natural habitats. A later influence on the Blaschkas’ work were the scientific descriptions and interpretations of Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919). Haeckel, an artist and zoologist, described thousands of new invertebrate species, producing several monographs in his career. Correspondence indicates that the Blaschkas and Haeckel shared books, and most likely visited one another. Eventually, the Blaschkas worked from an aquarium of their own, populating it with live specimens shipped to them in wet seaweed.
By the 1880s, glass models were the chief product of the Blaschka studio. Their models held a certain prestige, and they supplied universities, museums and schools around the world, including Ireland, India, Japan and the United States. In 1886, George Lincoln Goodale, professor of botany at Harvard University who had seen Leopold’s and Rudolf’s work at the Boston Society of Natural History Museum, visited the Blaschkas in their home in Dresden to contract them to make models for Harvard’s Botanical Museum. This visit was the beginning of a long relationship between the Blaschka studio and the university. By 1890, the Blaschkas were creating glass botanical models exclusively for Harvard, funded by Mary Lee and Elizabeth Ware. They continued to supply the university until 1938; the Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants contains 4,400 Blaschka works. Cornell University employed the Blaschkas as well, beginning in 1885, and has 400 marine invertebrate models among its holdings. Other Blaschka model collections, both of marine invertebrates and botanicals, exist in numerous institutions around the world.
Reiling, H., (1998). The Blaschkas’ Glass Animal Models: Origins of Design. Journal of Glass Studies, vol. #40, 104 – 126.
Whitehouse, D., (1991). The Blaschka Animals. Glass, no. 44, 36 – 41.
Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka Collection, Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY 14830.
43.2 Linear Feet (13 Hollinger boxes, 1 half Hollinger box, 2 records cartons, 7 card file boxes, and 26 flat boxes)
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Some materials in the collection received conservation assessment and treatment in 2021.
The collection came in several shipments over a period of years from 1979 – 1993. The current arrangement is by series.
- Animal models Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Glass artists -- Czech Republic Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Glass flowers Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Marine invertebrates -- Anatomy Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka Collection, Circa 1850-1940
- A Guide to the Collection
- Mary Anne Hamblen
- February 2016
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description