Paperweights are the perfect example of a functional object raised to the level of fine art.
Pictured right: A very rare Baccarat concentric millefiori `fireworks’ paperweight circa 1848, it was made specifically to commemorate the French Revolution of 1848. This brilliant object is one of only two examples of this type known. Image Copyright: Bonhams.
The Golden Age of antique paperweight production only lasted about 20 years – from 1845 to 1865. The finest antique paperweights are attributed to three French glass manufacturers – Baccarat, Clichy, and St. Louis. Paperweights from these companies are amongst thye most highly valued today. The current world record price for a paperweight is The Clichy Basket of Flowers. This was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1990 for $258,000
Pictured left: The Clichy Basket of Flowers sold at auction in 1990 for $258,000. Image Copyrright: Sothebys.
Paperweights can be solid colours, or hollow on the inside, but most have a pattern or an object – such as a flower or a goldfish – on the inside.
Part of the fun of collecting paperweights is trying to identify the maker. Often one can tell the country of origin by whether the bottom is flat, shiny and smooth (usually Italian); flat, dull, and a bit rough (usually
Chinese); slightly concave, smooth, and shiny (better quality production, such as Perthshire in Scotland).
Pictured right: A St. Louis concentric millefiori paperweight dated 1848.The central dog silhouette within five concentric rows of millefiori, the outer row including the signature cane SL 1848 and minute ‘dancing devils’ silhouette canes, all within a row of tubular canes, 7.8cm diam by 5.4cm high Image Copyright: Bonhams.
Also, many have a signature or date etched on the bottom, or somewhere on the piece. With over 2,000 paperweight manufacturers to consider, the collector is wise to specialize.