/ by Lynn Greenlaw
If you have only thought of a paperweight as whatever might be handy and hard enough to hold down a stack of papers, think again. They can be objects of beauty that are made entirely of glass and date back to the mid-19th century when they were first being displayed at various expositions, most notably the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace.
Produced primarily in France by three factories, Baccarat, St. Louis, and Clichy, Queen Victoria was so enamored with them that she began collecting them and gifting them to visiting dignitaries. Other notable collectors during that time were Colette, Oscar Wilde and Empress Eugenie of France. Later collectors included Truman Capote who described them as “…rather like frozen snowflakes, dazzling patterns frozen forever.”
By the early 1900s, collecting and gifting paperweights had waned, but interest was revitalized in the 1950s when artists like Paul Ysart and Charles Kaziun rediscovered the secret to making glass paperweights. This paved the way for realistic artists like Paul Stankard who, since 1972, has created works of art that depict the beauty of nature.
Glass paperweights are made using either millefiori canes or lampwork methods. Millefiori or “thousand flowers” canes are produced by layering molten glass into a pattern in a fat cylindrical shape, then pulling the cylinder to create an elongated pencil-thin rod. When the rod is sliced, the pattern can be seen in the cross section. The canes are then placed in a closely packed pattern. Lampwork weights are made by melting small colored glass rods over a torch or flame and using tools to manipulate the softened glass. Flower and butterfly weights are typically created with the lampwork method.
The paperweight examples on these pages have been provided to us by L.H. Selman Ltd. Located in Chicago, IL, it is a gallery of fine glass objects that was established in 1969 by Lawrence Selman. They deal in antique and contemporary paperweights and offer several publications focusing on this timeless art . Visit their website at www.theglassgallery.com to learn more about them and view their collection.
It’s hard not to be mesmerized and awed by the intricate beauty and creativity that exists in these glass domes.
There are numerous videos on YouTube that display the methods used to create these beautiful paperweights. Look for How It’s Made – Millefiori Glass Paperweights and Intricate Glass Paperweights. Don’t miss videos on Paul Stankard too.
Museums that offer collections
The Author Rubloff collection at the Art Institute of Chicago
The Amory Houghton collection at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York
Bergstron-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin.
- Rare antique Pietro Bigaglia and Giovanni Franchini 1847 “IX Congresso degli scienziati in Venezia” commemorative paperweight.
- Rare antique Mount Washington strawberry magnum paperweight.
- Antique Clichy swirl paperweight.
- Antique Bacchus close packed millefiori paperweight.
- Antique Saint Louis two-color crown paperweight.
- Rare antique Baccarat, “BACCARAT 21 AVRIL 1858” commemorative paperweight.