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Collecting Guide 7 things to know about paperweights

Collecting Guide: 7 things to know about paperweights

Advice on what to look out for among these overlooked and frequently gorgeous treasures — from dancing devils to rogue air bubbles — according to our specialist Carleigh Queenth 

  • 1
  • When did paperweights become popular?

A Clichy glass cornucopia flat bouquet paperweight, mid-19th century. 3⅛ in (7.9 cm) diameter. Estimate $4,000-6,000. Offered in The Collector Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York
A Clichy glass cornucopia flat bouquet paperweight, mid-19th century. 3⅛ in (7.9 cm) diameter. Estimate: $4,000-6,000. Offered in The Collector: Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York

Glass paperweights first gained popularity in the mid-19th century after being displayed at various expositions, most notably the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace. Marvels of artistic skill and also affordable, paperweights soon became the ultimate desk accessory, bringing flowers and other natural subjects that perished in the winter into the home — there may not have been flowers in the garden, but they could still surround you as you wrote your letters. Collectors during this period included Colette, Oscar Wilde and Empress Eugenie of France. 

365体育备用网址By the turn of the century, interest had waned, but in the 1950s artists like  and sought to rediscover the secrets to making glass weights, paving the way for hyper-realistic paperweight artists like .

  • 2
  • How are they made?

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A Baccarat dated close millefiori weight, dated 1846, initialed and dated on a single cane b 1846. 2⅞ in (7.3 cm) diameter. Sold for $2,125 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

365体育备用网址. 2⅞ in (7.3 cm) diameter. Sold for $2,125 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

Incredibly, everything inside the weight is also glass: the flowers, the salamanders, the insects — everything. Most of the weights in the , which was offered at Christie’s in 2016, were made either using millefiori canes or lampwork. Millefiori or ‘thousand flowers’ canes are produced by layering molten glass into a pattern in a fat cylindrical shape, then pulling the cylinder to create an elongated pencil-thin rod. When the rod is sliced, the pattern can be seen in the cross section. Millefiori weights consist of many patterned canes, either packed closely together or in various .

Lampwork weights are made by melting small coloured glass rods over a torch or flame and using tools to manipulate the softened glass. Examples of lampwork include and .

  • 3
  • How easy is it to identify makers?

A Baccarat dated carpet ground weight, dated 1848, initialed and dated on a single cane b 1848. 3⅛ in (8 cm) diameter. Sold for $10,000, 20 Apr 2016, Online

. 3⅛ in (8 cm) diameter. Sold for $10,000, 20 Apr 2016, Online

Nineteenth-century paperweights were made in Venice, England, Bohemia and the United States, but the real epicentre was in France. The most famous and sought-after examples came from , , and Pantin. 

Some weights have tiny canes included that help identify the maker and date. For example, the lot shown above has a small cane with the initial B and the date, 1848. Clichy has an easily identifiable rose cane that they use . The Saint Louis factory is the usual suspect if you see a ‘dancing devil’ silhouette cane in its compositions. For a novice to begin learning to identify the further subtle distinctions between makers, examining a variety of pieces in books and in person is recommended. 

  • 4
  • How important is condition?

A French glass patterned colour ground paperweight, mid-19th century, probably Saint Louis. 2⅞ in (7.2 cm) diameter. Estimate $2,000-3,000. Offered in The Collector Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York
A French glass patterned colour ground paperweight, mid-19th century, probably Saint Louis. 2⅞ in (7.2 cm) diameter. Estimate: $2,000-3,000. Offered in The Collector: Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York

When buying a weight, the condition and the size of the glass dome play a big factor for most collectors. Obviously perfect condition is preferable, but often a few scratches, minor bruises or nicks can be forgiven if there is enough glass in the dome to polish them out. Large, unintentional air-bubbles or distracting bits of kiln debris often put collectors off. Lastly, to many collectors, a well-centred design is essential.

  • 5
  • Does size matter?

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Two Clichy miniature concentric Millefiori weights, mid-19th century. 1¾ in (4.5 cm) diameter, both. Sold for $875 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

365体育备用网址. 1¾ in (4.5 cm) diameter, both. Sold for $875 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

Most weights range in size from around 2½ to 3¼ inches, but then you enter the exciting world of miniature and magnum weights. Miniature weights are defined as those measuring 2 inches or less. Magnum weights, like our , measure at least 3½ inches wide. The size of the glass dome is also a factor — the bigger the dome, the greater the magnification of the design within.   

  • 6
  • Are there many different types?

A Saint Louis glass crown paperweight, mid-19th century. 2¾ in (6.9 cm) diameter. Estimate $1,500-2,000. Offered in The Collector Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York
A Saint Louis glass crown paperweight, mid-19th century. 2¾ in (6.9 cm) diameter. Estimate: $1,500-2,000. Offered in The Collector: Property from Four American Collections on 16 October at Christie’s in New York

Other popular types of weights include: , which are composed of closely-set canes that are identical in type and colour; , a type of weight consisting of a scrambled, twisted mixture of canes or cane fragments and latticinio; , which are made by using a transparent or opaque coloured glass as the background for a weight; and 365体育备用网址, which are hollow weights that usually alternate swirling white and coloured filigree canes radiating from a central millefiori cane.  

  • 7
  • How can I learn more?

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A Clichy patterned millefiori colour-ground weight, mid-19th century. 3⅛ in (8 cm) diameter. Sold for $5,000 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

. 3⅛ in (8 cm) diameter. Sold for $5,000 on 20 Apr 2016, Online

The best way to learn more about paperweights is to look at them carefully, preferably in person. There are some fabulous collections to visit in the United States, including the collection of ; the ; and the . Paul Dunlop’s The Dictionary of Glass Paperweights, An Illustrated Primer 365体育备用网址 is also quite helpful for an aspiring paperweight enthusiast.