Glass paperweights – in antique crystal or their more recently-made equivalents - are an intriguing subject for anyone with an interest in handmade glass craftsmanship. These small, domed works of art – quite literally - encapsulate skills developed over several hundreds of years in a manner which can be easily appreciated today.
They were initially made by extant glass manufactories, predominantly in France, as demonstrations of their craftsmanship. The inspiration behind these skills is generally accepted to have been the Venetian glassmakers of Murano, who were working with composite fine glass canes - the basis for millefiori - as early as the 16th century. Interest mushroomed in the 1840’s as examples were presented at the many expositions and fairs which were so popular at the time. The Clichy manufactory, for instance, was required to recruit hundreds of additional workers to keep up with demand driven by the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace.
Although somewhat generic by necessity, different companies sought to produce their own style pf paperweight to generate a niche in the market place which was suddenly flooded with alternatives for potential buyers. Manufacturers would also 'build in' distinctive features to identify their work - rose canes, small graphic canes known as gridles complete with miniature silhouettes, and dated or initialed signature canes
For the most part these 19th century examples featured representations of nature – floral millefiori pieces and lampwork sculptures of animals being to the fore. The leading exponents of the art were the French houses of Baccarat, Clichy, St Louis and Monot’s Cristallerie de Pantin near Paris, along with the lesser lights such as Grenelle and St Mandé.
Elsewhere across Europe other producers in traditional glassmaking areas tried to corner their own slice of the market, but they were unable to match the ‘mass production’ of the French powerhouses and were somewhat overwhelmed. This does mean, however, that contemporary examples from Richardson’s and Bacchus in the UK, Bussolin at Murano (reviving the centuries-old tradition) and Riedel, Harrach, Schreiberhau’s Josephinehütte, Carlsthal and others in central Europe are comparatively scarce and eminently collectable.
Demand for paperweights waned somewhat around the ‘fin de siecle’, but – as new examples became increasingly scarce, the interest of potential collectors was piqued by the publication of books and pamphlets illustrating original examples. The Baccarat works, and St Louis a little later, both re-animated their production facilities to cater for this reinvigorated market, to the point that they produced not only reproductions of their original wares but also ‘limited editions’ in order to fabricate increased demand – and higher prices – for their work.
In the UK it was the Whitefriars Glassworks who took the lead, reintroducing their own 19th century millefiori pieces in the 1950’s on the back of the French-lead renaissance. This in itself prompted the establishment of several manufactories in Scotland – Perthshire, Selkirk, Strathearn and Ysart all setting the standards, before Whitefriars themselves devolved in to part of the Caithness Glass Company in the 1980’s.
These more modern paperweights still featured the time-honoured skills of millefiori canes and lampwork, but naturally they also reflected the development of wider tastes, with far more abstract pieces coming to market and, notably during the 1960’s, a number of pieces based on space exploration and astronomy being developed. Overall shapes also became more variable with facetted pieces growing in popularity alongside traditional domed paperweights.
So, with everything from intricate flowers to planets represented, by way of tropical fish, snakes, butterflies, salamanders and any number of ‘special editions’, there’s sure to be a range of paperweights which appeals to everyone. Take a look through our extensive range using the menu on the left to find something which you can covet...