Glass Paperweights

Glass Paperweights

Since the mid 19th century collectors have been buying glass paperweights - not to keep down their piles of bills and bank statements, but for their own aesthetic interest. It's not definite when the first glass paperweight was produced, but it is widely believed to have been in Venice in the mid 19th century. Now of course, these early classic weights are out of reach of most of us, with prices ranging from a few hundred to several thousand pounds.

 And how many of us can afford the world record price so far of just over $250,000 held by auction house Sotheby's for a rare Clichy moss-ground basket pedestal weight? However, as with  any area of collecting, there is a vast range of more affordable weights, both antique and modern.  

Glass Paperweights
Paperweight collecting isn't a recent phenomenon, Glass Paperweights have been popular since the war, with the most commercial at auction being the French mid 19th century examples of Clichy, Baccarat and St. Louis." To the non-specialist, however, it might be difficult to tell these weights apart from other replica and more modern examples. Usually these weights were not signed or marked.

 There are plenty of books on paperweights, but to the beginner it is crucial to understand first of all, that there are two basic types: the 'millefiori' technique of production, and the 'lampwork' technique  The millefiori technique uses rods of glass with a design running through them, similar to sticks of rock, these rods are sliced up thinly and set in intricate patterns.

The Lampwork production technique creates flowers and animal shapes and sometimes both of these two techniques are combined. Having sussed the production side out, the collector then has to try to put an age on a piece, and find out its producer.

Glass Paperweights

Some of the manufacturers incorporated the date into one of the individual canes used in their millefiori designs, and/or their company name or initials. But to the practised eye the varying characteristics of the rods themselves will be the crucial pointer towards which company is responsible for the weight if no signature is apparent.

Lots of people ask me how to tell an antique paperweight from a modern or forgery, but there simply is no easy way. You can use pointers such as the fact that antique French paperweights tend to have a slightly concave base, plus you can also look for the ring of wear on the base - but there are no guarantees. The only way to be sure is to get a book and learn the canes - there are no short cuts."    

Glass Paperweights

Paperweights very in price from $5 to $5,000, reflecting the huge variety on the market. The $5 $10 price range tends to be slightly damaged Indian or Chinese examples, these aren't collectors items, they  will be bought by children, or by somebody simply wishing to take home a little souvenir for someone they know likes weights.

There is no doubt that what people are buying now will be worth a lot of money in 20-30 years time. Modern St. Louis and Baccarat paperweights can be overpriced, try limited editions from Caithness, Stratheam, Perthshire Paperweights, or Selkirk. John Deacons who is an ex Perthshire worker, now makes his own weights and these are the best value of alt now, selling extremely well, while American paperweights are superb

  Nowadays companies such as Caithness are bringing on a whole new generation of collectors with their limited edition novelty paperweights. The detail inside some of these weights is amazing, with little figures and animals blown inside, and carving on the outside.

Glass Paperweights
 Artists have become increasingly creative through the years and now materials and techniques are being used which would not have been thought possible a hundred years ago. Although not cheap at $300 to $900 for the low limited editions, with just 25,50 or even 100 in the world, these types of weights are sure to be gracing auction rooms in coming years.

And don't write off other manufacturers in Europe, the technique of millefiori cane manufacture had in fact been well established in Italy and elsewhere since Roman times and earlier. Anne Metcalfe thinks that Murano glass paperweights are a good bet, "Murano paperweights are hardly collected. Some are real rubbish, but not all. They are underpriced at the moment."

Glass Paperweights
One last point to be careful of, as with most areas of collecting, is restoration. If a weight has been chipped, most people will argue for its re-polishing, ie the taking off of a layer of glass to get rid of the damage; however some people prefer the glass to be kept as intact as possible  While with older items damage is going to be inevitable in some cases, this will obviously affect value, so inspect an item carefully before you hand over large amounts of cash, and always try to buy from a reputable dealer or auction house.

The popularity of paperweights doesn't seem to fade even as fashions, tastes and generations move on. There were many large collections of French  glass paperweights sold off during the 196o's and many of these due to their high value went to public and private museum collections. As values of the antique varieties continue to rise with their rarity, they will push ordinary collectors further away and more and more people will turn to the likes of Paul Ysart and Caithness for their collections.

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