Friday, November 21, 2008

Paperweights - Rarely used for holding down paper anymore

I'm a treasure hunter. I look for unique items in out of the way stores and on eBay. They don't have to be expensive items, just items that I like and feel will add to the decor of my home. One of my recent purchases was a glass paperweight with a dandelion incased inside. I just thought it was beautiful and something that I could have sitting on my coffee table.

I am not one to start a collection of items, but in doing my research, I've realized that paperweights have quite a lengthly history as well as avid collector following.

History of the Paperweight
Europe in the mid 1800's was undergoing the Industrial Revolution, which caused major changes in the economy and society. The developing middle class provided a market for colorful and showy decorative arts. Additionally, this was the time when World Trade Fairs were held every few years in such cities as Paris, London and New York City. These fairs introduced new items and technology to the marketplace. In 1845 at the Industrial Exhibition in Vienna, the first paperweight was introduced to Europe.

Popularity in America
The greatest of the World Fairs was the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. It lasted 5 months, had 100,000 exhibits, and over six million visitors from around the world. Paperweights were exhibited there by the French Clichy glass factory, and they were awarded top honors.

Postal service had just begun so correspondence by letters to family and friends became very fashionable. Thus, a strong market developed for desk sets of writing equipment, accessories, and associated novelties. This is where paperweights made their initial entry into the marketplace.

Production peaked in Europe about 1851, and then sharply declined from 1855 to 1860. This was due to the economic surge of the Industrial Revolution and glass factories turning production toward more grandiose items such as palatial crystal and chandeliers. As well, more and more poor quality paper weights were entering the market, which contributed to their fall out of fashion.

In contrast to Europe, the 1860s in America had paperweights being commonplace. Many of the glass makers were European immigrants already skilled in the art. However, like Europe 40 years earlier, America also suffered a decline in quality made weights and they again fell out of favor.

Interest of Collectors
Paperweights were first recognized as a legitimate form of the decorative arts in 1925, when Sothebys conducted the first major auction of paperweights. That auction included 82 weights that sold for a total of $588 (an average of about $7 each). Auctions have been held periodically ever since.

Re-manufacture in the 1950-60s
The number of paperweight collectors began to increase sharply after World War II. This coincided with the re-manufacture of paperweights by the French factories. This was the result of the late Paul Jokelson (an importer and collector, 1905-2002), who encouraged them in the early 1950s to revive the art. The French glass artisans were then faced with the enormous task of re-discovering the lost techniques (no records of how to manufacturer the weights were ever kept). Shortly after, a paperweight cottage industry developed in Scotland, which quickly grew to become a major manufacturer of quality paperweights from modern factories.

It is estimated there are presently about 20,000 collectors, including diverse celebrities such as Peter Jennings, Johnny Carson, Alan Shepard, John Madden, Ann Bancroft, Henry Winkler, Robin Leach, and the late Malcolm Forbes.

So if you're looking for something to add some visual interest to a shelf, table or desk - consider an antique paperweight. Not only will you have a beautiful item, but a piece of history as well.

Millefiori Glass

Flowers inside glass dome

Glass Swirls

1 comment:


Great entry! Love love the first paper weight in the first picture.