Budgerigars in glass

A rare group of budgerigars of unsurpassed quality sold recently to a buyer in southern England for £3600 (approximately 6000 US dollars). These were rare birds of unsurpassed quality, and dated back to a time when these cheerful parakeets were regarded as the height of fashion.

The vase on which they were portrayed was created by René Lalique (1860-1945), the great French glassmaker, and the price that it fetched at auction was actually quite cheap!

The spectacular Ceylan style of vase, (as portrayed left and below, by www.mikeweedonantiques.com) dating back to 1924, is just one of a number of items featuring budgerigar designs that were made by Lalique - a trend that continues in the company's products through to the present day.

Highly desired

Even more expensive nowadays are Lalique's stunning Perruches ( = budgerigar) vases produced slightly earlier in 1919, just after the end of the First World War. They sell for huge amounts of money, being available in a range of colours including deep amber, blue and green.

Prices for these vases can regularly climb to a massive £30,000 ($50,000) or more. The current record was set in 2013, when one sold for around £52,000 ($88,500) at Christie's, the famous London auction house. These beautiful objects undoubtedly rank as the most expensive representations of budgerigars that have ever been created.

Rene Lalique in 1903Lalique (seen left) capitalised on the widespread fascination with these parakeets that had grown up by the early 1920s. Demand for budgerigars was at its peak at that stage, as they were regarded as the ultimate parlour pet.

Budgerigars were being bred in their tens of thousands on special breeding farms in France, from where they were shipped all over Europe.

The well-known budgerigar enthusiast Cyril Rogers told me how he and his friends would go to France on occasions back then, and also regularly checked new consignments of birds being brought across to the UK, to see what new colour forms might be present amongst them.

It was a very exciting time to be involved in the budgerigar hobby, just as the exhibition side was starting to develop in the UK. Yet nowadays, it's often forgotten that many of the varieties that we now enjoy trace their origins back to that period in France. They include olives, dark greens, mauves, violets and greywings.

Care over copies

But just as when buying birds themselves, you need to be cautious with purchasing Lalique. His vases were highly sought-after, at a stage when people were falling under the budgerigar's spell. Unsurprisingly therefore, cheaper rivals looked to capitalise on the demand for his work.

Operating in the US state of Pennsylvania, the Consolidated Glass Company created a very similar range of items to those of Lalique, but of course, they weren't Lalique's! They were marketed under the Martele brand, with the earliest examples emerging after the 1925 Paris exhibition, and they continued in production in various forms right up until the 1960s.

While most of these items, such as their Bird of Paradise Vase, were clearly very similar to those of Lalique, there was one that was considered to be a direct copy, although it was styled by the Consolidated Glass Company as their Lovebirds Vase. It was of course a version of Lalique's Perruches vase. These are actually very good representations of the original, and people have been fooled, being left seriously out of pocket as a result. 

The only distinguishing feature between the two types of glassware is that the rim of the Consolidated Glass Company's version is slightly more prominent. Unfortunately though, it has proved possible for unscrupulous vendors to polish the glass in such a way as to make it inseparable from a genuine Lalique example, such as this blue vase which was offered for sale through Heritage Auctions . Then you have to rely on experience, such as the weight and feel of the glass, to tell one from another.

Bohemian representations

A well-known centre for glass-making through the centuries has been the area of Europe that used to be known as Bohemia, and now forms part of the Czech Republic. It therefore comes as no surprise that representations very similar to Lalique's Perruches vase have been created there too in more recent years.

Copies today are obviously very much more readily available than the originals. This means, of course, that even if you are not in the fortunate position of being able to buy an original, you could still acquire a vase that will fool all but the most devoted Lalique follower at a fraction of the cost, particularly if you are patient. Given the length of time over which the Consolidated LoveBirds Vase was produced, there are still many of these around, and they can represent good value when they crop up on auction sites on the web and elsewhere, selling for as little as £60 ($100) or so.

Why budgerigars?

Apparently, Lalique chose the budgerigar as a symbol to represent fidelity, duty and devotion. Clearly, he was not a bird keeper himself, because he would soon have realised that his belief in the fidelity of these birds was definitely misplaced! The only way to guarantee the ancestry of budgerigar chicks is to house pairs on their own, rather than allowing them to breed communally.

Other works featuring these parakeets by Lalique include a Perruches bowl decorated with budgerigars, which he created in 1931. Today, the company that he founded is still utilising representations of budgerigars in its designs. The latest offering of this type, presently available in a limited edition of just 49, has been manufactured in clear crystal and weighs in at more than 5.5kg (12lb), in spite of being just 23cm (9in) high. The price? A cool 38,000 Euros - over £30,000 or $50,000!