Glass trumpet


In the European traditional instruments collection there are some trumpets which are rather special because of their material, colour, shape and origin. They are, like other instruments or accessories occurring throughout the history of music and represented in the museum, made of glass. The glass harmonica, glass harp, flute, bells, and various mouthpieces: all are made of glass. The MIM glass trumpets, more symbolic than utilitarian, were not meant to be played musically. They have only a rudimentary mouthpiece, which is either too irregular or too sharp, and poorly-proportioned air columns.  Nevertheless, they are capable of making some sound in most cases.

Music is not however, their primary point of interest, which lies rather in their existence as a social phenomenon.  In fact, the glass trumpet here is what is known as a "whimsy", an item made in the glass factories outside the normal working hours, very early in the morning or after the day's work, often from left-over material. The expression has no negative connotation and does not refer to a broken or badly made item, some whimsies being real works of art. 

The making of after-hours work - in other industries described as factory homing - developed in the glassworks during the last third of the 19th century, at a time when the creative dimension of glass work was diminishing as a result of growing mechanization.  The glassblower thereby reclaimed control of his art, in an environment dominated by performance and routine. It was also a testament to his creativity and a way for the worker-glassmaker to obtain recognition among his peers. After-hours work was tolerated by the bosses because it maintained the competence and the virtuosity of the worker as well as the transmission of know-how.

All kinds of objects could thus be created, as long as they did not compete with normal factory production: paperweights, gourds, tokens, marbles, pipes, canes, figurines, vases, ashtrays, etc., not to forget musical instruments. These little-known objects, resulting from the breath and creativity of their creators, were very often given to family and friends, and occasionally sold to round out a difficult end of the month. This poorly known folk art eventually disappeared with the complete automation of production processes in the second half of the twentieth century.

The MIM glass trumpets come from Walloon industrial basins (Charleroi and Liège), but also from Italy and the Balearic Islands, regions where traditional glasswork florished, like the famous glass manufacture in the north of France. The trumpets have various forms: straight or coiled, sometimes in the manner of a cavalry trumpet, sometimes like a hunting horn. The trumpet in blue glass, inv. 1983.003-01, was probably made in the region of Charleroi (Lodelinsart?) at the turn of the 20th century. Its flattened elbows causing narrowing of the air column indicate a purely decorative function.

Géry Dumoulin (translation: Fiona Shotter)


Stéphane Palaude, « Le bousillage. Détournements et appropriations des techniques et des outils de production chez les ouvriers verriers à la fin du XIXe siècle », Revue d'histoire du XIXe siècle, 45/2012, p. 111-126.

Les verriers de l'ombre ou le souffle populaire. Catalogue d'exposition, Musée du Verre de Charleroi, 11 septembre-7 novembre 2010, Charleroi, Échevinat de la Culture, 2010.

Anja Van Lerberghe, « Glazen trompet en glazen hoorn », Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaanderen, 2000/4, p. 26.

Glass trumpet, Wallonia, around 1900, inv. 1983.003-01. Photo © MIM
Glass trumpet
Glass trumpet
Glass trumpet
External Video
See video