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Antique paperweights can be worth their weight in gold

By Christopher Proudlove ©


Clichy

by Christopher Proudlove©
The paperweight sitting on my desk is something of an excuse for one. It’s a cheap Victorian novelty job with a picture of an elephant stuck on the bottom, the distinctly odd-looking creature with its trunk wrapped around a zoo keeper. But its appeal lies in its oddness. Clearly the man who drew the elephant had never been to a zoo in his life.

Quality 19th century glass paperweights, on the other hand, usually sell for around £300, but the one illustrated here is something entirely different. It sold for a staggering £10,000, underlining the fervour with which collectors chase the rarities by the three French leading makers: La Compagnie de Cristalleries Baccarat, at Baccarat and the Cristallerie de St. Louis, at Louis-les-Bitche, both in the Lorraine area of France and makers of the weight illustrated – the Cristalleries de Clichy, just outside Paris.

Key to their success lay in the term millefiori, literally “a thousand flowers” and the adaptation of the process by one Pietro Bigaglia. A member of an old Venetian family of glass artists, he is generally credited with the manufacture of the first glass paperweight in 1845.

The Venetians had been making millefiori glass since the 15th century. Briefly, and in its simplest form, this involved fusing together rods of different coloured glass which were then reheated and stretched. The resulting long, thin stick was then chopped into dozens of short sticks or canes, numerous colour combinations of which were possible.

To make a paperweight, Pietro placed a selection of the canes in a mould in the desired pattern and fused them within a globule of clear molten glass held by a steel rod called a pontil. The dome was formed by shaping the molten glass to cover the exposed canes, the magnification effect being enhanced by the shaping and subsequent polishing achieved by rolling the dome over a wet, wooden block. Once cut from the pontil rod, the area around it was similarly smoothed and polished to form the flat base of the weight.

It sounds simple but, in truth, it was a highly skilled and time-consuming process. Recognition came when a quick-thinking representative of the then ailing French glass industry saw Pietro’s efforts at a Viennese exhibition. Here was a product to put some commercial sparkle back into the business. The St Louis glassworks was the first to adopt the idea, although Clichy and Baccarat were quick to follow. Soon, French genius and artistry had overtaken the comparatively simple Bigaglia weights.

Numerous strikingly beautiful patterns were devised with complicated and highly colourful canes being employed to produce many expensive weights. Some rare examples even include dates and initials, often hidden in the intricate designs. Earliest dated weight was made in 1846, while one I’ve was dated 1853.

Baccarat weights sometimes include a letter B, while Clichy used a particular rose-shaped cane as a trademark, occasionally set with the letters C L. St Louis weights can be found bearing the initials S L. Bear in mind, however, that dated and marked weights are rarities. The authenticity of those in which such features appear to be too good to be true should be questioned with an expert before hard-earned cash is exchanged for one.

The expert would also be best able to point out the distinct characteristics of colouring and design employed by the three glass companies. St Louis, for example, specialised in a coloured overlay technique that covered the clear glass weight with blue, pink or green glass. The layer was then cut with windows, or “printies” to give them their technical term, through which the pattern or glass flowers in the centre of the weight could be seen.

Attractive swirl designs

Crossed garlands of millefiore and canes arranged in a way that look like mushrooms were other hallmarks of St Louis weights, while tightly packed canes covering the base, known as “close millefiore” was popular with Baccarat, as were butterflies. Clichy, on the other hand, excelled at flowers, particularly their rose trademark, attractive swirl designs and an easily identifiable moss green ground often studded with canes arranged in concentric circles.

Arguably the finest makers, Clichy were the only French glasshouse to be invited to exhibit their paperweights at the Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, and again, at the New York Crystal Palace in 1853. As a result, a great many were purchased as souvenirs by Victorian tourists and they continue to turn up in the salerooms. The key to success is being able to recognise them.

Another rarity you might care to search out features a green snake with red markings coiled around the weight. The creature sits on canes arranged to represent rocks or latticino, a lace-like cane arrangement either in a corkscrew swirl or as broken pieces known as “upset muslin.” Even rarer versions have not a snake but a salamander.

If early French paperweights are out of your reach, versions produced in Bohemia, America and this country can come cheaper. Talented Englishman William T Gillander founded the New England Glass Co in America in 1853 and Frederick Carder founded the Steuben Glassworks at Corning, New York, in 1903. Both made paperweights in the UK and US but don’t expect the same quality as the French. Failing that, you could buy new ones – one day they’ll be collectors’ items just like their great-grandfathers.

Pictures show, top: A fine Clichy paperweight sold recently for £10,000

Below: Six of the best: left to right, top: a St Louis weight, the bouquet centred by an African violet with a background of white latticino; a miniature Clichy weight decorated with stylised flowers.

Group

Middle: a pretty St Louis bouquet weight, the flowers encircled by an unusual border of pink and white spiral twist latticino; a St Louis weight with a tiny bouquet in the centre which is magnified when viewed through any of the six facetted windows.
Bottom: a stylish Baccarat weight with star-cut base, the dome decorated with a Marguerite in bloom flanked by two buds; a Baccarat Clematis weight, also with a star-cut base

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Tags: Glass · Paperweights

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 DAN M. // Nov 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Hi ,I RECENTLY AQUIRED A VERY VERY LARGE PAPERWEIGHT THAT I WOULD CALL A SCRAMBLE WEIGHT . iT IS ABOUT 7INCHES ACROSS AND 5-6 INCHES TALL . i T LOOKS JUST LIKE AN EVERY DAY PAPERWEIGHT WITH FLAT BOTTM AND CONCAVED WITH A GROUND PONTIL Greenish colored glass. Im sure its very old . Do you know what company would have made these very large paperweights ? I call them door stops . Very pretty but very very large . Any val;ue to these huge weights ? Thanks . DAN

  • 2 Christopher Proudlove // Nov 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Dan
    Thanks for your comment. Your “paperweight” goes by the somewhat unflattering name as a “dump”. This term possibly came in to describe the objects used to describe so-called end-of-day glass – products made using raw materials that would otherwise have been dumped. Folklore has it that glassworkers were allowed to make objects from this waste material to sell to enhance their meagre wages, although this may be apocryphal. Values range from £80-120, depending on condition etc.

    This extract from the Glass Encyclopedia puts things succinctly:

    Glass Dumps are usually seen as either paperweights if they are tall and good quality, or “door stops” if they are squat, poor quality, and/or bruised/damaged by years of abuse. They are large sized, ovoid like the one on the left or round with a flattened base, and usually made of green bottle glass. They often have internal decorations made from metal foil like the one on the left, or air bubble patterns, or a design of flowers picked out in a very fine white powder, like the lower section of the example shown left. Some rare examples have an item such as a clay figure or a plaster/talc bust or badge.

    The metal foil inside many Victorian dumps is not silver; it was tested by William Drew Gaskill and found to be very thin tinfoil, similar to the tinfoil used to line tea chests. And the patterns in fine powder usually look like patterns made from minute air bubbles, because of the action of the molten glass on the powder.

    Glass Dumps were first made in the early 19th century by various bottle and window glass factories in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the North East of England. There are no known catalogues or advertisements showing these items from the time they were first made, but there are good reasons to believe they were part of the production of many factories.

    There were standard designs which were made in their thousands. The glass they were made from was a valuable commodity to the glassworks, on which they had already been taxed and unless it was made into a product and sold, would represent a significant loss. The name “dump” probably arose because they were made from glass which otherwise might have been dumped at the end of a shift. The Excise Act of 1745 taxed the glassworks for the next hundred years on all the glass they made, not the amount they used and sold, and indeed, taxed them again if they returned unused glass to the furnace with the next batch. So they were understandably reluctant to dump any glass, and these glass dumps were a useful way of using up all the glass.

    It was during the early 19th century that world demand for glass bottles grew enormously, and Yorkshire became the main centre for bottle works. Glass Dumps were a bi-product of this production. There were at least two bottle works in this area which stamped their company name on the bottom of the dumps in much the same way as they marked the bottom of their bottles, namely John Kilner of Wakefield and Redfearn Brothers of Barnsley. There may have been a third, J. Tower (referred to in Pat Reilly’s book) but we have never seen an example.

    Glass Dumps were made until the early part of the 20th century in bottle factories that were not fully automated. In the 1990s Hartley Wood & Co of Sunderland, in the North East of England, began making green glass dumps similar in design to the old 19th century pieces. They can easily be distinguished from the originals because of their good quality glass and their ground flat bases. Old glass dumps had either a rough pontil mark or an impressed makers name on the base.

  • 3 Jennifer // Mar 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Hi I bought my mum a paperwieght about 20 yrs ago, can not rememer where from, it has a flat bottom and a pretty bee hovering over a flower.
    Any idea about it ?
    Jen.

  • 4 Christopher Proudlove // Mar 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Jen Thanks for the question, but I’ll need an image of the paperweight before I can help.
    Chris

  • 5 dan // Apr 11, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    hi i have an old paperweight and have looked at similar ones on the net. i beleive its a Nailsea green soda glass paperweight with flowers could you give me any idea of what it may be worth thanks.

  • 6 roseann // May 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    hi i have had this paperweight for over 15 yr ,how can i tell if it may be valuable, looking down on it it is round it has a cluster of canes some with flower like paterns ,the colours are red,white,blue & yellow .thanks.

  • 7 Christopher Proudlove // May 13, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Roseann, thanks for your question, but I’ll need an image of the weight to be able to help.
    Chris

  • 8 AudreyM // Jun 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I just found this paperweight in my grandmother’s things she gave me (in the 50’s) and wonder if it has any value. I have a picture I can send to an email address, but don’t know how to insert it here. It is an egg shaped clear paperweight with 3 different hued flowers and green stalks arising from crushed marble. She gave this to me in the 50’s. I can see no identifying mark as to who made it. It is not chipped or cracked.

  • 9 Christopher Proudlove // Jun 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    AudreyM I have E-mailed you directly.

  • 10 Glenda Hart // Jul 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Hi, I have a collection of paperweights one is a maltese phoenican paperweight – one is a vintage murano large aquarium paperweight also I have a selection of apple paperweights – do these have any value ?

  • 11 suvro // Jul 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    hiii, i have got a pair of broze paperweights depicting probably the augustus..eacs one weighed 280 gms approximately…any idea about its worth? Best regards,,

  • 12 Carol B. // Aug 18, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I have a small pink glass paperweight with a resting lamb inside. I have been told by my Dad that is came on a boat from England when his ancestors came to America. How would I get more information on this. No interest in selling, just would like history of item.

  • 13 laura // Aug 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    i have a wedgwood paperweight of tom the piper in the betley window,how much is it worth ?

  • 14 matt // Nov 2, 2010 at 7:41 am

    I have a old green “brick paperweight with a persons name on the bottom,, gold lettering that has worn,, edges are beveled.. it looks like a doorstop but perhaps for letters. Have you seen this brick green glass and for what puposes?

  • 15 pat // Dec 7, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    I had a lady friend several years ago who has
    passed away. I have her collection of dumps (20).Some have flower design. Some have what you say is foil that looks like rockets inside and one has a mushroom in side. 2 are large and I suspect are door stops. She had them appraised by southerby’s and they had (some still have) gold stickers showing over 100 yrs old. That was done over 30 years ago.(would be my guess). She said they came from a factory in Liverpool England. I also have 2 tall wig holders clear with several beautiful colors of glass. 3 pin holders. One has the rough bottom with the inside flower design protruding out. 2 with a ribbon like design. In my “old” notes from her
    she mentions , blue seen one time.
    Ming Dynsity and Sam Ping Ming.
    Those may be for the wig holders or pin holders.
    Can you give me any information. ?On her notes it also says 2 chineese pore people ? Also words
    nailsea and bristolc paperweng ?
    Any help will be appreciated. I am considering ,
    depending what this is all worth selling all or part.Thank you for any information.
    Pat Hastings

  • 16 pat // Dec 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    I just sent you info. I just found inside the pin holder what has the design preturding out the
    bottom a note that says ITALIAN 1920 TO 1930
    MILL FIORE.

  • 17 Shannan // Dec 26, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Hello, I have a paperweight collection that I have been collecting for the last 25 years. I purchase these from auctions, flea markets, garage sales, etc. How can I find out if any of them are of any value? I have quite a few that are millefiori.

  • 18 Deb // Jan 22, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Hello! I just bought a paperweight that has the print of Robert Burns with Highland Mary. It looks like the back of the paperweight is made of leather. Any idea of how old this might be (looks very old!), or what the value might be? Can’t seem to find anything like it anywhere on the internet!

  • 19 Jolanta // Feb 11, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Hello..
    I woild like to ask you a question about my collection of paperweights and in particular about two of them. I understand that you would like to see some photos. How can I send them to you? Can I have your email address please
    kind regards from snowy Canada
    Jolanta

  • 20 allan stanley // Jun 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    hi could you possible tell me how much a 1953 coronation paperweight is worth please.

  • 21 Christopher Proudlove // Jun 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Allan, your paperweight has only a small value as a collectable. Many were made and many have survived. It is something your great grandchildren might profit from.

  • 22 Sandra Sokol // Sep 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    In my collection of eclectic paperweights and roundish objects, is a painted ostrich egg with a date of 1729. How do I determine if this is a pretty facsimile or the real thing–and then, of course the value of such an antique?

  • 23 Catherine // Nov 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Where can I sell my antique paper weight to get it’s weight in gold?

  • 24 Catherine // Nov 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    How can I tell if my paper weight is the original or reproduction if it doesn’t have anything on the bottom? It’s 50+ years old and if it’s original how much would it be worth?

  • 25 Vicki // Dec 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Hello and Happy New Year,

    I have a Clichy paperweight (though it does seem rather large) that does not have the floral designs typically seen with Clichy. It does have bubbles of various sizes. It is clear, as are the bubbles.

    The signature is also the full Clichy (not just the C).

    Any idea if this is more valuable than a standard Clichy paperweight?

    Thank you,
    Vicki

  • 26 Matthew Provost // Apr 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    The exact paperweight seen above (top) just turned up on the Antiques Roadshow (UK) from York (Season 34, episode 19, aired March 11, 2012). Exactly the same! Valued at 23,000 pounds. Owner had NO idea.

  • 27 Sarah // Nov 29, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Hi I have this paper weight could u please tell me a little more as I have looked and struggling. It’s a flat back clear with pierrot Pamela with a whit dress on and a blue butterfly .Thank you.

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