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Caithness Glass

From the Graham Cooley Collection

7 vases of different shapes and colours by Caithness Glass, 1960s

Range of vases by Caithness Glass, designed by Domhnall OBroin, 1960s

The museum is celebrating a new gift to the collection with an exhibition of colourful glassware by Caithness Glass.  From vases and bowls to thimbles and candlesticks, the range of goods designed and made by the company is impressive.

History of Caithness Glass

postcard showing glass blower in background with a row of vases in the foreground

Caithness Glass postcard showing a glassblower and a range of vases, 1960s.

Caithness is the most northerly county on the British mainland.  The first factory opened in Wick, the county’s Royal Burgh town, in 1961.  The aim was to provide much needed skilled employment opportunities and create a product that could be sold around the world.

The early designs by Domhnall ÓBroin show a strong Scandinavian influence, while the colours were inspired by Highland landscapes.  ÓBroin was followed by Colin Terris, and a host of other designers, who introduced more colours and patterns.

Two cylinder vases with rings designed by OBroin for Caithness Glass

Two cylinder vases with rings, designed by Domhnall OBroin c.1961

The products were popular and the company grew, establishing new factories in Oban in 1969, and Perth in 1979.  In 1988 they took over the Wedgwood Crystal factory in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

But by 2004, the company could no longer compete with cheap  imports and rising production costs.  It was bought out of receivership by Edinburgh Crystal but went back into receivership in 2006.  This time it was bought by Dartington Crystal – another glass company with very similar origins to Caithness but based at the opposite end of the mainland, in Devon.  Sadly all of the original factories have closed, but the Caithness brand is still owned by Dartington and operates from the Crieff Visitor Centre in Perthshire.

The Graham Cooley Collection

2 Tartan Twist vases by Caithness Glass

Tartan Twist vases, designed by Alastair MacIntosh, c.1996

Graham Cooley is a 20th century art collector based in England.  In 2023 Graham Cooley generously donated over 350 Caithness Glass items to Inverness Museum.  The focus of the collection is the company’s artglass and tableware, rather than the paperweights which have become synonymous with the Caithness brand.  Most of the collection will be displayed in the Foyer Gallery from 17 June to 21 October 2023.

Graham previously donated a large collection of Caithness Glass to Perth Museum & Art Gallery, following an exhibition tour in 2011 which celebrated the company’s 50th anniversary .  The exhibition venues were Broadfield House Glass Museum, near Stourbridge, Perth Museum & Art Gallery and King’s Lynn Art Centre in Norfolk.  The tour was accompanied by a new book, Caithness Glass: Loch, Heather & Peat, written by collectables expert and TV personality, Mark Hill.  The book is an invaluable resource for collectors and will be available to buy from the museum’s gift shop, along with some vintage pieces of Caithness Glass.

Further Information

3 vases from the Concerto range in pastel colours, by Caithness Glass

Concerto vases in pink, jade and blue, c.1991

Wick Heritage Museum has an extensive collection of Caithness Glass on display.  Much of this collection came from the Wick factory’s own visitor centre, after it closed.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery has a large collection of Caithness Glass.  Please note Perth Museum is currently closed as it is moving to a new site and due to open in 2024.

Caithness Glass is still made at Crieff Visitor Centre in Perthshire, where visitors can watch the glassmakers at work.

Exhibition dates:
17 June – 21 October 2023
1st Floor Foyer