Beauty in the Glass
by Bob Brooke
have always loved paperweights. I don’t mean the kind with
advertising on them but the ones with floral designs that seem
embedded in them. I started buying them here and there, but I
want to give some direction to my collection. How and when did
these beauties originate? And can you give me some suggestions
on building a collection?
the beginning, people treated paperweights like works of art and not
just as something to hold down paper. Early collectors included Queen
Victoria, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Eva Peron and King Farouk of
Egypt. Today, there are over 20,000 paperweight collectors worldwide.
But not all of them are famous celebrities. Some of them are ordinary
people like you.
So what got them into collecting paperweights? People purchase
paperweights for several reasons. Some just enjoy their beauty and may
buy several as accent pieces for their home. Others purchase them
because they remind them of one that a loved one had when they were a
child. And still others buy them to collect as an object of beauty and
value. And though collectors today still purchase paperweights in
antique shops and at auctions, many more use the Internet as their
begin with, the Paperweight Collectors Association divides paperweights
into several periods: Classic, from 1840 to 1880, Folk Art and
Advertising, from the 1880s to World War II, and Contemporary, after
World War II.
While several hundred glass factories operated in France during the
Classic period, the factories of Baccarat, Clichy, and St. Louis
produced the highest quality paperweights. In the latter half of the
19th century, British glassmakers George Bacchus and Sons, Walsh-Walsh
and Islington Glass Works also made paperweights. Although they’re
considered to be of lesser quality, the factories in Belgium, Bohemia,
Germany and Venice all made paperweights during this time.
glassblowers on the island of Murano made some of the earliest
paperweights in the 1840s. They gathered scraps of leftover glass, as
well as chunks of aventurine quartz, which they picked up from the floor
with a ball of hot glass at the end of their blowpipe. They then covered
this with an additional layer of clear glass and fashioned the mass into
a smooth cylinder. The glass was of poor quality and the scraps it
contained looked like a jumble.
Around the same time in Bohemia, in today’s Czech Republic, glassworkers
improved on the Venetians’ techniques. Instead of a jumble, the
Bohemians used the scraps to produce millefiori (multiple floral)
effects, in which they organized the ends of the pieces of scrap glass
with their cross sections facing out so that viewers could see patterns
in the paperweight.
To this, the Bohemians added the artistry of the French, who really
brought the art of the paperweight into full flower—no pun intended. In
fact, it was these floral paperweights from the mid 19th-century that
began to attract collectors. The flowers seem to be suspended within
these paperweights and were like nothing else produced at the time.
the most famous paperweight maker, also used millefiori, whose
cross-sections revealed stars, spirals, and shamrocks. The company
produced both "plain" millefiori paperweights and those organized in
concentric circles, with their ends interwoven like garlands.
The firm also produced mushrooms, in which a bundle of glass canes seems
to sprout like a mushroom from within the weight, and carpets, whose
wall-to-wall patterns look like those in antique Persian rugs.
French added three-dimensional flowers encased in glass. At Baccarat,
flower choices included pansies, primroses, wheatflowers, clematis,
buttercups, and, of course, roses. The artisans also froze fruits, such
as strawberries and pears, in glass.
Numerous other paperweight makers, such as Clichy, whose trademark rose
appears in some 30 percent of all the paperweights produced by the
company, and St. Louis, whose crown paperweights were its trademark,
existed in France during the 19th century.
England, the George Bacchus & Sons Glass Company, located in Birmingham,
made paperweights with interiors that resembled stars and ruffles.
Collectors hold its concentric paperweights in high regard, as well as
those whose interiors appear to be blanketed with drifts of snow.
The New England Glass Company, the forerunner of the Libbey Glass
Company, produced the first American paperweight for the Great
Exhibition in London. This pictorial weight, dated 1851, featured
Victoria and Albert. Both the New England Glass Company and the Boston
and Sandwich Glass Works were key paperweight producers from the 1860s
until they closed in 1888.
1920s saw a boom in paperweight technologies in the Czech Republic,
where faceted, flower-filled paperweights had become popular. Baccarat
revived its millefiori output shortly after World War II.
Today, the tradition continues. Because the techniques used in creating
paperweights have been unaffected by technology, collectors are drawn to
them today more than ever.
Building a paperweight collection is all a matter of personal taste. Buy
what you like, old or newer. Some people collect only milleflori designs
while others collect only paperweights made by one company or within a
certain time period. One thing is for certain, paperweights make a great
collectible for people who live in apartments or condos as they don’t
take up much room.
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