What do, Colette, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, the Empress Eugenie and King Farouk of Egypt have in common? They were all avid paperweight collectors.
Looking at this little lot I am sorely tempted to start my own collection – careful though, it seems like these little domes of glass can become a bit of an obsession.
Of course by paperweights, I mean small glass objects containing colourful canes in complex designs, or graceful flowers, bouquets, or even animals that are encased in crystal. In theory they are made to hold down sheets of paper which may be accumulating on your desk and stop them flying about in a passing draught. The reality is they are gorgeous little objects which are the perfect vehicles for glass artists to show off their skill and ingenuity.
It all seems to have started when Venetian glass makers at an Industrial Exhibition in Vienna first showed paperweights in 1845. The one below is by Pietro Bigaglia who used cane work – ‘canes’ of coloured glass set within a glass dome.
The French and Bohemian glass industry were so quick yo follow that it is likely they were experimenting with similar products but just needed a push to get them on the market. The troubles in Europe of the 1848 revolutions may have boosted sales as people couldn’t afford huge, costly pieces of art in uncertain times. French makers such as Baccarat, St. Louis, and Clichy made exquisite pieces like the baccarat example below.
In Britain, amid the decorative excess of Victorian times, paperweights provided a respite of fine craftsmanship and conservative artistry.
They became a popular as gifts for family or loved ones and were sold in stationery stores, and fine glass shops throughout Europe and Great Britain, and eventually in America. George Bacchus and Sons (see above), and Islington Glass Works in Birmingham were also making quality weights at this time in Britain.
Many unnamed makers in Bohemia also created impressive paperweights too. Production peaked in Europe about 1851, and then sharply declined from 1855 to 1860. The 15 years between 1845-1860 are known to collectors as the Classic Period. Some rare examples can fetch big money, even, like the one below they have a bit of damage.
The world record price for a paperweight was set at just over a quarter-million dollars in a 1990 Sotheby’s auction. This antique millefiori weight, produced in the mid 1800s by the French Clichy factory, is known as the Basket of Flowers, (the handle was broken off).
The possibilities are endless – a great subject for a collection and if you have been left one from a great-aunt, don’t dismiss it, give it to me!
Subscribe to our blog