Paperweights were originally designed to be placed on stacks of paper to prevent them from being disturbed. However their modern purpose is more likely to be as an ornamental object, a memento or souvenir. They are often decorative in design and made from heavy materials such as glass, crystal, stone or metal.
For collectors the most popular paperweights are those made from glass and are appreciated for their aesthetic and fine craftsmanship as opposed to their utilitarian aspect.
The most ornate of these are ‘millefiori’ paperweights and ‘lampwork’ paperweights, which are considered the height of the glassmaker’s art.
There is a large community of paperweight collectors around the world, with organisations such as the Paperweight Collectors Association (PCA), and auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s hold regular auctions dedicated to the area.
The first recorded reference to glass paperweights is by the Venetian historian Sabellico.
Describing the Murano glass industry in 1474, he wrote: “But, consider to whom did it first occur to include in a little ball all the sorts of flowers which clothe the meadows in the Spring.”
These solid glass balls contained millefiori, patterned glass canes drawn out to create miniature motifs and then sliced into thin cross sections, a technique which is still used today.
The Industrial Revolution created an urban population with higher wages and heralded the emergence of the middle class. This created an expanding market for goods such as decorative novelties, a market which expanded during the early years of the 19th century.
In 1833 a glass factory in Silesia (modern Poland) began to produce millefiori in large numbers, and the process then spread to Italy.
The Venetian glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia displayed his creations at the Exhibition of Austrian Industry held in Vienna in 1845, and along with other manufacturers such as Giovanni Franchini and Domenico Bussolin he helped to inspire the French manufacturers that would soon herald the ‘classic period’ of paperweights between 1845 and 1860.
The Saint-Louis glass factory in France soon began to create its own millefiori and was quickly followed by the Clichy factory and the Baccarat factory.
Over the next 15 years the three companies were in competition with each other to produce ever-more intricate and beautiful paperweights, resulting in supremely high levels of skill and technique. Clichy became the most celebrated, displaying their creations at both the Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851 and the New York Crystal Palace in 1853.
Although the ‘classic period’ ends in around 1860, two other notable French companies were producing paperweights during the latter half of the 19th century.
Pantin and St. Mande produced many examples which were equal in style and quality to the three main manufacturers.
The European style influenced American companies, who began to produce their own paperweights in the 1850s, and continued to produce paperweights long after their popularity and manufacture had declined in Europe towards the end of the 19th century.
Their popularity in Europe rose again in the 1930s as companies began to produce examples based on the classic styles of the mid-1800s.
A former Baccarat craftsman named Dupont imitated the style to great effect and the British company Whitefriars produced paperweights for the collectors' market from the 1930s up until the 1980s.
A strong industry began in Scotland during this period, headed by glassmaker Paul Ysart, and in 1952 American entrepreneur Paul Jokelson convinced the French companies Baccarat and St Louis to begin production of ceramic cameo weights. He founded the Paperweight Collectors Association (PCA) in 1953, and helped popularise the hobby across the globe.
Types and manufacturers
Main article: List of types of paperweight
Main article: List of paperweight manufacturers
Main article: List of paperweight collecting terms
The world’s most expensive paperweight
The most expensive paperweight ever sold at auction is the Basket of Flowers weight, produced by French manufacturer Clichy.
It was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990 for a world record price of $258,000.
Other notable paperweights
Main article: List of notable paperweights
Notable paperweight collections and collectors
Main article: List of notable paperweight collections
Main article: List of notable paperweight collectors
Main article: List of paperweight dealers
Clubs and societies
Main article: List of paperweight collectors' clubs and societies
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