A sullen young man was sitting on the seat of a carriage. The horse was climbing the long hill to Kamenický Šenov, and the driver took a long drag from a pipe. “Which Palme are you?” There are several Palme in Šenov.” “My father is a baker.” For a while, there was only the sound of hooves clapping. “You say you were in Vienna and Prague. Go on and tell the story, so time passes quickly.” The young man grinned and started reluctantly to tell the story. However, he soon discovered that he felt lighter with every word of the story, so he took it from the beginning.
He talked about how he had to get up before sunrise to help his father in the bakery, how his parents had to feed ten children, how they praised him at school and how he did well. He also told the story about himself studying to become a metal worker in Česká Kamenice with master Klinger and then master Schönberg in his hometown of Kamenický Šenov. “Uh, metal worker, that is an honest craft,” muttered the driver. And he was right that metal workers were then very sought because they worked very gently with metal and produced various decorations, staples, buckles, buttons and even handles. Particularly in Northern Bohemia, they specialized in the production of lamp and chandelier parts.
Elias Palme, as was the metal worker´s name, continued with the story. He depicted how, after obtaining a vocational certificate, he travelled to Prague and then to Vienna to gain some new experience, how well he managed there and what new things he learned. When he spoke about himself getting his call-up papers for military service, he suddenly got sad. He had to leave everything behind and go to Prague. However, he didn't even think about military service. His father was anxiously awaiting him at home because any extra help was welcome and an educated metal worker would be a blessing for a family. So, he collected all the money he could borrow and paid for himself to get out of military service. He then had no other way but to return home and very quickly start looking for an occupation.
The horse snorted and started to slow down. They were on the hill and right in front of them the tower of St. John´s church started to appear. The town of Kamenický Šenov was still asleep, only the light in Palme´s bakery was shining. Elias sighed unhappily. Starting already with debts, that was not how he had imagined it to be.
In the first half of the 19th century, Kamenický Šenov was a well-known glass centre. For more than two hundred years, glassmakers had produced marvellous glass, which very much resembled natural mountain crystal. No wonder it was called Czech Crystal. Master glassmakers gradually learned to polish it and cut it in such a way, that small elements split light in quite an unprecedented way. That is the reason why they found use in more and more popular lamps and chandeliers. Local merchants were getting rich fast and started to build beautiful houses.
By the time young Elias was returning home, his hometown had already been famous for chandelier production. No wonder, because in neighbouring Prácheň in 1724 the metal worker Josef Palme had already obtained permission to manufacture chandeliers. That is how the industrial production of chandeliers started in Bohemia. His chandeliers decorated for instance Chateau Hof and magnificent celebrations were held underneath them by Prince Eugene of Savoy and Archduchess Maria Elisabeth. Czech chandeliers decorated by crystal glass soon became part of the decoration of chateaus and castles located from Scandinavia to Russia, Turkey, Spain, France and The Netherlands.
Oh dear – the metal worker from Prácheň! And Palme as well. Elias couldn´t get it out of his head for a long time. He got familiar with the production of glass and jewellery components when he was still learning. On his journeys, he was acquainted with various technological innovations. “One day... one day, I will be producing crystal chandeliers that the whole world will admire” he blurted out loud, so that the driver jumped in alarm from his seat. He nodded and thought to himself. These young blokes, they think they´ll own the world…
Many years have passed since Elias´ return. Several difficult years. Elias found a position at Mr Uhle´s metal worker workshop. Fully aware of his debts, he worked incredibly hard. He was diligent and smart, so after a while, he was able to pay all his debts off and still had some money left to start his own business. His father was very proud and supportive. He left him part of his life estate intended for his retirement, so his son could set up a workshop there. If only he could have imagined, how far his son would go.
Elias had all his eggs in one basket and followed his dream. Although it is difficult to manufacture luxurious chandeliers, Elias got down to it. If he wanted his chandeliers to be unique, he was going to have to produce the glass ornaments, supporting elements and metal parts, as well as the design. And that´s what he wanted. He registered his own company in 1849. Four years later, he was moving out of the place he got from his father to a house he bought in Kamenický Šenov. As time went by, he was modifying and rebuilding the house. At that time, his brother Fitz joined him. The company flourished, its size and importance grew as well. Very soon, its significance had outgrown the region of Northern Bohemia. The original trim chandeliers by Elias Palme started to enter the world. The company of Elias Palme began to move away from the competition, and its production became unique even in the prestige glass region of Northern Bohemia.
However, Elias wasn´t just a skilful and imaginative craftsman. He was gifted with the ability to motivate people and take great care of them. He soon introduced health insurance, which wasn’t common at the time. He demanded discipline, he led them by example, because he knew that personal example is worth more than a hundred commands. Absolute quality was the highest law of the company. “We will produce only the amount that can be personally checked and inspected,” he said. His talent for the improvement of the organization and the harmonization of the work of individual glassmakers and metal workers was uncommon. Thanks to that, orders were coming in from all over the world, some very demanding and unusual requests too. Production grew, but the quality remained at a high level. That was one of the basics of the growing success of the company. The others were the original designs and modern equipment. Elias had always been a big fan of modernization and technological progress. Every time, there was something new in the field, he wanted it. For example in 1876 he established the first steam-powered grinding and cutting workshop in Northern Bohemia.
The prestige of the company skyrocketed and soon started to get prestigious awards. The company received its first award at the World Exposition in Vienna in 1873, the other one at the World Exhibition in Barcelona fifteen years later.
However, Elias was no slave to the company. He got married two years after the foundation of the company to a daughter of a glass painter and businessman. Gradually they parented eight children. Elias mostly relied on his sons, as was customary. And time showed that rightly so.
The first son to join his father´s company was Reinhold in 1874 when he was twenty years old. He graduated from the Technical University in Mittweida and learned metal worker craft in Berlin, England and also from his father. Therefore, he took over the management of the metal workshops. Franz Friedrich, a younger brother, started to work in his father´s company one year later when he was only seventeen. Elias quickly found out that Franz was a gifted businessman and allowed his son to travel around the whole of Europe. Franz Friedrich gained much experience, and as he was his father´s son, so he got excited by many technological innovations. After his return, he immediately started to discuss these with his father. Many of the innovations were subsequently implemented into production. His initiative was to set up a photographic laboratory, where they later created sample catalogues.
Only ten years before the end of the ground-breaking 19th century the company was the biggest chandelier company in the whole of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with hundreds of employees. The sixty-three-year-old Elias knew however, that the company had the potential to grow even more. His sons became shareholders, and the family team was joined by twenty-four-year-old Gustaf Adolf, who started to work as the chief clerk. When Elias got sick three years later, he knew that the name Palme would remain at the top and that his chandeliers would continue to conquer the world. He felt that death was coming and he started to look back on his life. He was well satisfied. He had built one of the most prestigious companies in Europe, introduced many technological and artistic innovations to the field, provided wealth for his family and significantly contributed to the development of Kamenický Šenov, where he also served as Councillor for more than thirty years. His love for his hometown was most visible after the devastating fire in the summer of 1868. Elias not only rebuilt his burned factory, but started to reconstruct the whole city. He initiated and paid for the construction of villas for employees. Buy the way, he had the houses built, so that you could see the factory from all of them.
It was snowing on New Year´s Eve 1893. The children were excited and were running outside with wooden sledges. The sweepers were busy from early morning, and the old year was slowly coming to its end. Elias Palme was also getting closer to the end of his life. He was looking through the window. The snowflakes falling from the sky were like crystal trimmings, which he had used during his life in the production of the most beautiful chandeliers in the world. He closed his eyes and set out towards The Light. After all, where else could he go?
If a person´s life is meaningful, his life’s work never vanishes. The next generation of Elias Palme´s clan of chandelier makers continued their father´s work and, as Elias had hoped, the prestige of the company grew even further. The company was now run by three shareholders, Elias’ sons Reinhold, Franz Friedrich and Gustav Adolf. Within two years, a branch of the company was established in Berlin. The old factory was no longer suitable, and therefore they decided to build a new modern beautiful factory. The surrounding cities started to compete with each other by offering free land, but the name Palme was and still is connected to the town of Kamenický Šenov. Thus, instead of in Česká Kamenice or Nový Bor, the new factory grew in a place called Na Skřivánku at the southwest edge of Kamenický Šenov.
The new factory was so beautiful that locals started to call it Chateau of Eliaška, which is the name that we still use today. Behind the beautiful Art Noveau façade of the house, there were hidden glass workshops, a cutting shop, a grinding shop, a foundry, a lathe workshop, a metal worker workshop, a paint shop, and even a galvanic laboratory, as well as offices and an exhibition hall. The construction took only six months, and on 1st November 1905, everything was ready for production to start.
The company was steadily growing. On the threshold of the new republic in 1919, there was a new branch factory established in Smržovka in the Jizera Mountains with a crystal glass cutting shop and glass refinery. At that time, Elias Palme & Co. had five hundred employees. Also, the prestige of the company continued to grow. In 1928, the largest chandelier in the world at that time was transported from Kamenický Šenov to the King´s Opera in Rome. The diameter of the chandelier was ten meters. For the next ten years, the company was flooded by exclusive commissions – the Palme company produced chandeliers for the La Scala opera in Milano, and the Hotel Waldorf Astoria in New York. They produced an 11m high and 6 m wide crystal chandelier for the Sydney Opera House, supplied lighting for the palace of the Turkish Sultan, for the Albee Theatre in New York and The Palace of Freemasons in Copenhagen. In the mid-thirties the world lay at the company´s feet. And it all started on the seat of a carriage when a young metal worker named Elias was returning to his hometown. Back then, it was only a dream. Ninety years later, the dream had been surpassed. The name Palme shone as brightly as the chandeliers that no one else on the whole planet could produce in the same way as the glassmakers in Kamenický Šenov.
Epilogue. The last private owner of the chandelier company in Kamenický Šenov was Heinrich Palme, called Harry. He was a son of Reinhold Palme and a grandson of Elias. After World War Two, nationalization came as well as the expulsion of the majority of the Sudeten population. Harry, as an important glass expert, was allowed to stay. His wife however, had to move to Saxony. Harry was assigned an apartment in Chřibská so he could train new Czech employees in the local glassworks. And he did a great job. His wife was even allowed to return to Bohemia. After he finished his assignment in Chřibská, he moved with his wife to Prácheň, and there they lived a poor life. In 1955, when he was dying, Harry knew that the tradition was going to survive despite war and political obstacles. He knew that the skills and crafts of glassmakers from Kamenický Šenov was not going to disappear, and his grandfather´s dream would live on. And it still lives on today. Even today, crystal and other kinds of chandeliers or light fixtures from Kamenický Šenov get sent all around the world. The difference is that shipping crates carry the logo Preciosa Lighting, not Elias Palme & Co.