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Paperweights, Inexpensive Treasure to Enjoy

I’ve always liked paperweights. The cool, smooth feel of colorful glass is as delightful to look at as to hold. Plus, paperweights are an inexpensive and practical collectible that you can use and display on your desk or hall table.

Paperweights have been around since ancient times and experts credit the Egyptians with a version of the paperweight to hold down their hieroglyphics. Today, collectors seek all kinds of paperweights including advertising examples, millefiori beauties and antique French, Scottish and English examples.

My favorite is the colorful millefiori paperweights that exhibit “many flowers” (mille fiore in Italian). Millefiori-decorated objects were first created in ancient Mesopotamia but the ones most collectors are familiar with are from the 19th century or later.

Bohemian art glass workers were first successful at reintroducing the ancient method of inserting colorful glass canes inside clear glass for a beautiful three-dimensional glass treasure in the 1830s. The method includes slicing the canes to show their inner beauty and to create a mosaic effect. This fancy style of glass remains stylish today and is used in jewelry and many home decorating items.

Venice, England and France also became known for millefiori work in the mid-1800s.

This was the same time that the Industrial Revolution changed the world and increased the desire for fancy goods. A growing urban population with letter writing habits didn’t hurt the paperweight manufacturing business either as Victorians became fond of fancy letter writing and all the accessories.

Paperweight envy also was helped along by the industrial exhibitions and world fairs of the 19th century that gave thousands of regular folks a chance to see the latest market trends. The Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations was housed in the extraordinary Crystal Palace and lasted five months. Together with other national and international expositions during the second half of the century, it played a significant role in introducing paperweights to the world, according to the Corning Museum of Glass.

According to paperweight history as detailed by the Illinois State Museum which houses a famous collection of classical paperweights, the first documented commercial paperweight appearance is traced to the Exhibition of Austrian Industry held in Vienna in 1845. The weights of Pietro Bigaglia of Venice were the star of this exhibition.

Once these beauties were unveiled, French manufacturers began to turn out their own versions. S. Louis, Clichy, Pantin and St. Mande are classic names of the French stars in the paperweight galaxy and their reign lasted till about 1860. These antique paperweights can sell for hundreds of dollars or more at auction.

American names of importance in paperweight history include Boston & Sandwich, New England Glass Company and Pairpoint. The classic American era of paperweights lasted a little longer than the European, till about 1870. Many old examples are marked with a date that helps in identification.

But there are so many factors that determine value, even of antique weights. Size, faceting, fancy cuts on the base and details that only a glass lover would notice can affect the price of even two seemingly identical weights. So, it’s best to study the subject of paperweights and discuss purchases with reliable glass dealers.

Baccarat and St. Louis both continued to produce elegant weights into the 1900s. Paperweights are really beautiful to look at and include all kinds of objects like lampwork flowers, fruit, bugs and sulphide cameos, encased inside the glass globes. Other examples include sentimental wishes scripted inside the glass.

Today antique paperweights remain a collectible of interest as antique enthusiasts shop to feed their passion. Other collectors want new examples that are priced inexpensively. That’s what’s fun about collecting paperweights, even recent examples are delightful to look at, handle and give as gifts.

The decorative value of paperweights remains strong in today’s home where paper is often replaced with digital information.

A mantle or shelf and even a computer desk, is brightened by a display of pretty glass objects d’art. I think glass has a clean modern look that perfectly complements the sleek look of technology.

The Paperweight Collectors Association, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to glass paperweights and champions the study and collecting of antique, vintage, and contemporary glass paperweights, and you can find more information at www.paperweight.org

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail,com or by writing in care of the Sunday-News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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