Some of the earliest paperweights were made in Venice in the 1840s. They were gathered together out of scraps of latticino and other types of cane, as well as chunks of aventurine quartz, which would be picked up by a ball of hot glass at the end of a pipe, covered with more clear glass, and then fashioned into a smooth cylinder. The glass was of poor quality and the collection of scrambled scraps within was a random jumble, at best.
Around the same time in Bohemia, the present-day Czech Republic, glassworkers were taking Venetian caning techniques to more inspired heights. Whereas the Venetian paperweights had used canes to create a sort of three-dimensional collage, the Bohemians used it to produce millefiori effects, in which the ends of canes were organized with their cross sections facing out so that viewers could discern patterns in the paperweight.
The Bohemians improved upon the techniques of the Venetians, and also incorporated the artistry of the French, who really brought the art of the paperweight into full flower. In fact, flowers were part of the reason why mid-19th-century French paperweights are so prized by collectors today: the flowers that seem suspended within these paperweights are like nothing else produced at the time.
Baccarat is unquestionably the most famous and renowned paperweight producer. They used two principle types of cane: millefiori, whose cross-sections revealed stars, spirals, and shamrocks, and silhouettes, which ranged from dogs to doves to devils. Baccarat codified the basic types of paperweights that glassworkers still aspire to today. The "plain" millefiori paperweights were produced in widely spaced or tight-and-close styles. Sometimes the canes were organized in concentric circles, other times their ends were interwoven like garlands.
Two other collectible Baccarat styles are mushrooms, in which a bundle of canes seem to spout like a mushroom from within the weight, and carpets, whose wall-to-wall patterns would do a Persian rug maker proud.
Three-dimensional lampworked flowers encased in glass were the chief French innovation. At Baccarat, flower choices included pansies, primroses, wheatflowers, clematis, buttercups, and, of course, roses. Fruits such as strawberries and pears were also frozen in glass, as were lizards, snakes, and other reptiles.
One of Baccarat’s toughest competitors was St. Louis, whose artisans could do pretty much everything Baccarat’s could. Plus, they had a Venetian-inspired innovation of their own:...
There were numerous other paperweight makers in 19th-century France, including the highly regarded Clichy, whose trademark cane rose appears in some 30 percent of all the paperweights produced by the company. The cross section of another popular Clichy cane resembles a pastry mold. Like its French counterparts, Clichy often inserted a cane into its paperweights whose cross section was the first letter of its name (for Clichy that would be "C," Baccarat used one with a "B," while St. Louis had a cane that spelled out two letters, "SL").
The French also excelled at sulphide or cameo paperweights. Baccarat produced odes to Joan of Arc and scenics such as a hunter accompanied by his trusty dog. St. Louis encased Napoleon III, while Clichy made sulphides bearing the likenesses of Benjamin Franklin and Marie Antoinette.
English glassmakers were not sitting still while all this innovation was taking place on the other side of the channel. A Birmingham company called Bacchus made paperweights using canes that resembled stars, ruffles, and cogs. Its concentric paperweights are especially well regarded, as are the pieces whose interiors appears to be blanketed with drifts of snow. The English made sulphides, too, often, not surprisingly, of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
In the United States, some of the new world’s first paperweights were made at the New England Glass Company in Cambridge, the forerunner of a company today known as Libbey. Its specialties were flower and fruit weights. Some of these fruit paperweights were blown to scale in the shape of apples or pears, then fused to a round or square clear base. Crosstown Boston rival Sandwich Glass Company differentiated its products by putting the flowers inside its paperweights in delicate, encased baskets.
Former New England Glass employee William Gillinder started his own firm in Philadelphia. His paperweights featured sulphide portraits of America’s founding fathers—one series of buildings in Philadelphia was created for the nation’s centennial in 1876. Millville, New Jersey was another center for paperweight making. The so-called "motto" weights ("Home Sweet Home," "Remember the Maine," "Hope") were popularized here, as were the flower and clipper paperweights, which featured a single blooming rose or delicate miniature ship entombed in crystal.
Other early American paperweights that are highly prized by contemporary collectors include those made at the Mt. Washington Glass Works, Pairpoint (which took over Mt. Washington in 1894), and the Union Glass Company of Somerville, Massachusetts.
In the early part of the 20th-century, Tiffany used the paperweight to anchor some of his vases, as well as to create more traditional paperweights that offered viewers glimpses of underwater scenes. Steuben relegated paperweight-making to a unpaid pursuit best left to enterprising workers during their lunch hour.
The 1920s saw a boom in paperweight technologies in the Czech Republic, where faceted, flower-filled paperweights were the rage. Baccarat revived its millefiori output shortly after World War II, and in 1953 created a sulphide paperweight to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. St. Louis also built upon its 19th-century paperweight traditions in the 1950s, particularly with its upright bouquets, which it produced throughout the 1960s.
In recent years, one of the most vibrant regions for vintage paperweights has been Scotland. According to collector Richard More, the Ysart family and the companies they spawned came to prominence shortly after World War II. Ysart’s patterned millefiori paperweights are at once traditional and fresh, with rich coloration and lush interiors. Whether it’s an Ysart Brothers piece from 1946 to 1955, a Vasart from 1956 to 1964, or a Strathearn from 1965 to 1980, these paperweights remind us why the form has captivated art-glass lovers for more than 150 years
Key terms for Antique and Vintage Art Glass Paperweights:
Cane: A glass rod made by stretching molten glass from both ends.
Lampworking: The practice of using an open flame, usually from a gas torch, to melt and form pieces of glass into a desired shape.
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Recent News: Art Glass Paperweights
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1967 Schwinn bike sells for $575 at auctionLancasterOnline, August 17th
$460; a partial set of sterling flatware, $425; two folk art eagles, $250 and $210; a decorated cane, $260; a jack-in-the-box, $700; two large signed paperweights, $200 each; four carvings, $350; six art glass marbles, $750; four lots of five art...Read more
Art gallery listings for Aug. 17, 2014Enterprise-Record, August 16th
SATAVA ART GLASS: 819 Wall St. 345-7985, www.satava.com. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Producers of an array of hand-blown and solid forms in glass, specializing in paperweights, vases, bowls and jellyfish sculptures. STANSBURY HOME: ...Read more
Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival: 'A play date for crafters'Tribune-Review, August 13th
“I love working with my hands. I find it very soothing,” she said. Gambassi works in stained, fused and beveled glass and will sell sun catchers, jewelry, wall vases and paperweights at the show. While this festival is new, Grossman and her sister, Ann...Read more
Mould maker to speak at Mt. Pleasant Glass MuseumTribune-Review, August 13th
In addition to those factories, Island Mould produced moulds for Bryce Brothers and Lenox, and it has produced the items for others, including: Imperial Glass Co. in Bellaire, Ohio; Fenton Art Glass Co. in Williamstown, W.Va.; The Anchor Hocking...Read more
Family affair: Hollens bring award-winning wines home for Stem & SteinWaterloo Cedar Falls Courier, August 10th
“Thanks to a great partnership with Hy-Vee and support from the community, Stem & Stein continues to grow and is an exciting fundraiser for the Friends of the Waterloo Center for the Arts. This year, we have relocated the event to the RiverLoop Expo...Read more
Wheaton Arts salutes NJ's birthday, glass-making pastVineland Daily Journal, August 3rd
With use of a special crimping device, he combined art and craft to fashion a partially opened blossom in colored glass under clear glass. On view at Wheaton are historic paperweights and several contemporary ones by Paul Stankard, an internationally ...Read more
WheatonArts salutes N.J.'s birthday, glass-making pastCherry Hill Courier Post, August 1st
Around 1905, Ralph Barber, a glass blower at a Millville factory, created the Millville Rose, "one of the first American style paperweights," on his off hours. With use of a special crimping device, he combined art and craft to fashion a partially...Read more
Thomas Webb & Sons Art Glass Vase Brings $260000Maine Antique Digest, July 28th
A rare Tiffany Favrile red paperweight vase, 4" high and signed, bulbous in shape and identical to an example featured in Art Glass Nouveau by the Grovers, sold for $36,000, and a 14¼" high signed Tiffany Favrile paperweight art glass vase with a clear ...Read more