Early American paperweights had a distinctly European flavour (or should that be ‘flavor’ ?). This is unsurprising when you consider that the trade over there was started almost exclusively by emigrant European craftsmen, who took their working knowledge with them. This exodus included such luminaries as William Gillinder who had been front and centre at the esteemed Bacchus works in Birmingham, and many equally capable French ex-patriots. As a result, an analysis of the mid-century outturn of concerns such as the New England Glass Company makes the bold claim that it was ‘comparable with the products of Clichy, Baccarat and Saint-Louis’ – high praise indeed !
From this sort of auspicious start there is no surprise that American paperweight production went on to flourish. The standards were set by Gillinder and contemporaries such as Nicholas Lutz at the Mount Washington Glass Company and Francois Pierre, who had come from Baccarat. Sustained by the Boston & Sandwich company, and then by Millville with their signature ‘full blown rose’ weights and innovate ‘intaglio’ image transfer process, with powdered glass replacing ink as the medium, the trade eventually became something of a commodity production line with the proliferation of advertising paperweights in the years preceding World War 2.
From the 1950’s the trade broadly returned to its original principles with the production of weights intended to be appreciated from a more artistic perspective. Small scale studio-glass businesses came to the fore such as Abelman, Correia, Lundberg and Parabelle. Once this tranche of producers had established a thriving ‘art paperweight’ market which required servicing, individual artists and family concerns began to make their mark. The names of Rick Ayotte, Jim Donfrio, the Banfords, Robert Eikholt, Randy Grubb and the Hansen, Kontes and Trabucco brothers have been established as the leading lights of this wave of paperweight production.
Meanwhile, back in 20th century Europe production remained rather more steady. Whitefriars, the Ysart family and others detailed on our English Paperweights page carried the banner in the UK. In France the Dupont period of production at the Baccarat Crystal company ensured they remained pre-eminent during the 1920’s and 30’s, with post-war production at the same company being impelled by Georges Broccard, before being rivalled by Cristal d’Albret, a subsidiary of Verrerie de Vianne in Acquitaine.
Somewhat surprisingly given their immense history of intricate glassworking, the Italians were latecomers to the production of paperweights on a significant, commercial scale, although all of the ‘usual suspects’ turned their hand to manufacture at one time or another around the mid twentieth century – Fratelli Toso, Seguso, Cenedese and their compatriots. More recently, Galliano Ferro at Fornasa de Muran (A L’insegna Del Moreto) has been at the forefront of the Muranese trade – although in more recent years the company has been fronted by Giorgio, son of the founding father.