Discover Vintage America - FEBRUARY 2016
Glass paperweights are small luxuries
This month I decided to deviate from my normal question and answer column and honor my mom by presenting a few of her beautiful paperweights. She literally has hundreds of them so I picked a few of my favorites to share with you. We lost my mom six years ago in January; she too was an antique dealer and collector. She collected a myraid of items but the paperweights were her favorites.
Mom would move them about the house and place them in windows where they would catch the light and she could truly admire their beauty. Her collection includes paperweights by Waterford, Clichy, Tiffany, Baccarat, Pantin, Wedgwood and many more. She has figural paperweights, graphite weights and vintage home crafted paperweights. Over the years I have packed most of them away to keep them safe from small hands and also, to lessen the time it takes to dust them. She loved and appreciated each and every one of them, I hope that you do too.
Paperweights first appeared in Europe around the 1840s. Venetian glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia created and exhibited the first signed and dated weights at the Vienna Industrial Exposition in 1845.
In 1851 Prince Albert held the "Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations" in London paperweights were part of the exhibition. The world and glassmakers took notice and it was not long before glasshouses all over the world were creating these little gems.
Paperweights were seen as items of luxury but they also satisfied the 19th century need for ornamentation. Letter writing was very popular during this period and paperweights served a practical purpose by holding loose pages in place as well as served as small objet d' art. They were inexpensive for glasshouses to manufacture and the public loved them.
The perfect paperweight has clear, flawless glass which helps to magnify the beautiful encased design. If the outer glass is cloudy or you can see defects such as bubbles that are not part of the inner design this will impact the value and overall enjoyment of the paperweight; it is also an indication that the weight is a second or made by a less than stellar glassblower. You should be able to look at the paperweight from any angle and see something spectacular.
Paperweights from the island of Murano, in Venice, Italy, are still being produced today. They are beautiful and range from very simple designs to extremely complex designs using a variety of blown glass techniques*. A lot of millefiori (thousand flowers) weights are made in Murano but you also see them coming out of China. Murano weights often just have paper or foil labels on them, which fall off quite easily.
Few paperweights are marked so it is very important to do your research before spending a lot of money on a paperweight. A millefiori weight from Murano will be packed tightly with murrine canes and the bottom will be uncovered so that you can see the underside of the canes. Whereas a paperweight made in China will have sparse canes throughout and the quality of the work is generally poor.
Prices vary on paperweights. Those that are signed or marked by the glassblower or glasshouse bring higher prices. Complex designs and older weights bring good money. Paperweights from China or mass produced in Murano sell for less than $30.
The paperweights I am sharing with you are priceless simply because my mother's hands have touched each one of them.
Thank you for indulging me this month and keep those wonderful questions with pictures coming. Most of the paperweights shown are from Murano with one Monte Dunlavy.
* A great website to see the caneworking crafted in Murano - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caneworking
Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.
Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.