Who made my glass paperweight?
Besides keeping papers tidy, glass paperweights are fascinating, beautiful, and highly collectable objects which showcase a glass artists’ creativity and technical virtuosity. A paperweight can be a piece of art, a miniature world, or a mesmerising kaleidoscope, as well as serving a practical purpose. Many beautiful paperweights can be bought cheaply and easily, but truly fine examples of craftsmanship can command very high prices and names such as Caithness, Baccarat, Calle, and Clichy are always sought after, alongside individual and local glassworkers.
Most glass makers specialise in specific techniques, such as millefiori (‘thousand flowers’), controlled placement of bubbles, constructing submersed forms such as flowers, and creating elegant abstract designs. While it isn’t always possible to identify a specific artisan, and glass tends not to show its age, there are some tips to help you discover more about your paperweight’s maker.
The first - and most obvious - sign to look for is an original label applied by the factory, studio or individual glass artist. However, such labels are a recent development of the twentieth century, and paper or plastic labels can still be removed or rubbed away leaving no clue to their origins.
Some pieces, such as antique millefiori paperweights, often use a different kind of label, one that is embedded deep within the glass. Millefiori paperweights are made by assembling pieces of coloured molten glass into a design, then pulling it out into a long thin ‘cane’. Once it has been drawn out and cut into short pieces, the cross-section of the cane still holds the design. Samples of these pieces are then melded together and surrounded by a globe of clear glass. Look closely at the discs that have been used to create an antique millefiori paperweight, and the initials of the maker or the artist might be embedded within the pattern itself! Some companies still continue this tradition, such as the ‘CG’ in the cane at centre of this vintage Caithness Glass ‘Reflections’ paperweight.
Some paperweights containing flowers and animals are made using lampwork. Lampwork used coloured glass rod that are melted using a flame, and the softened glass used to sculpt the elements, which are then embedded in molten clear glass. Many makers develop particular designs and colour palettes, which can be used to help attribute a paperweight at a later date. For example, the beautiful design of pink and white flowers in another of the paperweights is characteristic of the distinctive work of Fratelli Toso of Murano. This isn’t conclusive, as designs can be adopted by other studios, but the secrets of technically difficult designs are closely guarded and take time to develop.
Finally, take a look at the underside of the glass. The finish of the base of the glass and the way it is formed might give you an idea to the quality or the techniques used by the artist, and many handmade pieces feature. Weights made by hand in an artisan studio may have a small dimple at the bottom, caused by removing the finished weight from the metal rod on which it has been formed. As glass weights have become popular sculptural objects, individual contemporary glass artists and studios also etch or inscribe a signature or logo on the base. For example, the signature of contemporary glass artist Stephen Morris can be used to identif
y the maker of this cobalt blue weight.
As with most art objects, the best way to learn is to handle pieces in real life, talk to fellow collectors, and establish your own collection.
The Auction Barn regularly places paperweights up for sale in both our Weekly Antiques and General Auctions, along with other stunning examples of art glass by individual artisans, studios, factories and workshops. To delve deeper into the world of paperweights, see Christie’s Collector’s Guide to Glass Paperweights, or have a look through our previous auction ‘Paperweights Galore: A Private Collection’.