14 April 2013

Antique Crystal Paperweights

An antique Clichy paperweight, courtesy of the L.H. Selman Gallery of Fine Glass Paperweights.


Today I thought I'd share a grouping of beautiful crystal millefiori paperweights with you all. Any of these would make a lovely addition to your well-appointed desk as they are both functional and as aesthetically pleasing as a bowl of candy. Crystal paperweights are certainly not  uncommon, having been continuously popular with collectors for the past hundred and seventy years or so. Still, these objects are often overlooked, despite the exquisite craftsmanship required to create them. 

A Baccarat paperweight, with the signature "B" mark and 1848 date just visible on the lower half.
From 1stDibs.com


Thankfully, many collectors have come along, not only preserving pieces, but contributing to the scholarship surrounding them. Morton D. Barker (1888-1967) was such a man.  An avid collector of antique French paperweights, over a lifetime, he amassed an impressive collection that is now part of the permanent collection at the Illinois State Museum. The text that follows was written by Morton Barker, courtesy of the Illinois State Museum. 

A Baccarat paperweight featuring a coiled snake, from the Morton D. Barker Collection.
Courtesy of the Illinois State Museum  
"In early nineteenth-century Europe, a new creative potential developed in the decorative arts. An increasingly urban population and an expanding market of goods created by the Industrial Revolution stimulated the manufacture of many new decorative novelties. In the mid-1840s, glass paperweights appeared. They were a wholly modern, functional glass form that drew upon the ancient glassmaking techniques of millefiori and lampwork and the late-eighteenth century technique of cameo incrustation. The sudden emergence and popularity of paperweights can be attributed not only to their decorative appeal but also to a growing Victorian leisure-time interest in letter writing. This fashionable upper and middle class pastime assured their profitable manufacture along with many other glass accessories related to letter writing, all of which were purchased inexpensively at stationery and novelty shops.

A Baccarat lampwork pansy paperweight, from Wiki Commons

The exact year and origin of the manufacture of the first glass paperweight is problematical, but the first documented appearance can be traced to the Exhibition of Austrian Industry held in Vienna in 1845. The paperweights of Pietro Bigaglia of Venice were displayed at this exhibition. Knowledge of their existence was reportedly soon brought to the attention of the Saint-Louis glass factory in France, which immediately began to manufacture its own weights. A paperweight from Saint Louis dated 1845 is known, as well as one from Murano, Italy. A second major French glasshouse, the Clichy factory, is also thought to have been manufacturing weights as early as 1845. A close concentric millefiori pedestal weight in the Barker collection is the earliest-dated known weight produced by the Clichy factory. 

"An extremely rare and important antique
Clichy pedestal paperweight, originally the property of King Farouk of Egypt, whose
collection was sold at Sotheby’ at the Koubbeh Palace, Cairo, Egypt, March 1954."
Courtesy: auctionpublicity.comhttp://www.auctionpublicity.com

The entry of a third leading French glasshouse, the Baccarat factory, into paperweightmaking is marked by existing weights enclosing the date 1846. Factories in Bohemia and England followed suit with the earliest-dated known weights from each locale inscribed "1848." In the decade or so following 1845, the three great French glasshouses of Saint Louis, Clichy, and Baccarat competed with one another in the manufacture of the most beautiful and the best executed weights. The results were a myriad of artistically conceived millefiori designs and lampworked motifs, near technical perfection of the glassmaker's skill, and great quantities of weights produced.

An antique Baccarat Scattered millefiori on muslin signed and with canes depicting a deer,
elephant, dog, devil, cockrel, flower, horse, dog, deer and central butterfly cane, 1848.
Courtesy, The Stone Gallery.

This period of competitive manufacture, which captures paperweightmaking at its best, had come to be termed the Classic Period of French paperweights. It ranged in date from circa 1845 to 1855, although the time span is arbitrary and may extend slightly earlier or later (possibly through 1860) than the given decade. Perhaps the most highly praised paperweights of the French Classic Period are those produced by the Clichy factory. Clichy was the only French glasshouse whose weights were displayed at the Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, and again, at the New York Crystal Palace in 1853. These public celebrations of the union of science and art in technology brought paperweights to the attention of the world. They were viewed by thousands of visitors, including a large American audience, and served to usher in the American Classic Period of paperweightmaking, which extended from 1852 through the 1870s, long after the popularity of paperweights had declined in Europe." 

If you'd like to see a Baccarat crystal paperweight being made, I've included this short but fascinating video. Enjoy!





14 comments:

  1. Hello Erika, These weights are magnificent. It is impossible to pick out a favorite. Naturally, I like the snake one; perfect for Snake Year. (He does look like he could use a meal, though.) I also like the ones with the "muslin" effect; I can't imagine how difficult it is to make those. The first Clichy weight is perfection in millefiori--it makes you realize the effect that most modern millefiori pieces are only aiming at.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello Jim,
      Thank you for your message-- I'm so pleased that you enjoyed seeing these. A glass paperweight can seem so mundane, but when one examines the craft involved, it becomes obvious why they're such a popular item to collect. The snake is wonderful, isn't he?
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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  2. Dear Erika,

    My father was a collector of paperweights, and I have several of his now. My favorite is a blue aand white millefiori, and I've looked at it a hundred times wondering how it was made. Now I know! Thanks for including the great video.

    While I don't collect paperweights, I do collect their little cousins, hand-blown marbles. You've inspired me to do a future posting on them!

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    1. Dear Mark,
      Once again, I'm green with envy at your inherited collections!!! it must be so wonderful to be surrounded by such meaningful pieces. I'm so glad you liked the video-- it really is a magical process to watch. I'll bet the procedure for fancy marbles (beautiful gems!) is very similar... Can't wait to see your post on the subject!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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  3. Dear Erika - Occasionally on the Antique Roadshow someone appears with a beautiful crystal millefiori paperweight made by Baccarat, and normally they do not have a clue that they have a valuable possession in their hands. The expert often describes how they are made, but to see the process actually taking place on this video brings it to life so much better.
    Being a lover of glass, I often wish I had started a collection when younger. The ones I do have are mainly Scottish by Caithness glass - not in the same league but attractive.

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  4. Dear Rosemary,
    Thank you for your message! I remember an episode of Antiques Roadshow where a young woman came along with a well used and chipped Baccarat paperweight that she'd inherited, with no idea of what she had... It was such fun to see her reaction! I'm so glad that your enjoyed seeing that video-- watching artists work is one of my favorite things to do, and, thankfully, YouTube has made it possible to find amazing videos quite easily. This process in particular is so mysterious, even after having seen the work involved... I envy your "in-progess" collection of Scottish paperweights-- they sound beautiful! Perhaps they'll be the subject of a future posting?

    Warm regards,
    Erika

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  5. Dear Erika,
    AGA collects these millefiori paperweights and has done so for a while. He inherited some from (I think) his mother and grandmother. He loves them. I wonder if any of them are baccarat? Hmmm I shall have to surreptitiously check when we are next in Melbourne!
    Talking of baccarat; when we went to Istanbul we visited a palace that had the largest baccarat chandelier in the world. Amazing!
    I did enjoy watching that video too. What skill is involved in making as simple as a paperweight.
    Bye for now
    Kirk

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  6. Dear Kirk,
    Thank you for your message! AGA is so lucky to have inherited such a beautiful collection-- Baccarat or not, the workmanship involved in creating millefiori paperweights is surely worthy of our admiration. I'm glad you enjoyed the little video-- a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, isn't it?!

    Your visit to the palace in Istanbul sounds fascinating. For someone to own the largest Baccarat chandelier in the world is quite a mark of distinction-- and so perfectly suited to a palace in one of the most richly ornamented cities on the planet. I'm trying to imagine the decor that must accompany such a piece!!! How wonderfully exuberant.
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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  7. Dear Erika,
    I could see one or two of these beauties on my desk. A miniature year round garden! Thanks for sharing, as you always do, a bit of history.
    Very best,
    Loi
    PS - Some really do look like a bowl of candy!

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  8. Dear Loi,
    Thank you for your message! I agree with you-- there's always room on one's desk for one(or ten)Baccarat paperweights! ;)
    I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing these.
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Can you imagine a collection of 10 on top of a desk or bureau? Divine! I came back to admire again!! :)

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    2. Loi, thanks so much for visiting again-- you are always most welcome!

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  9. My mother has a special paperweight, similar, not sure faberge...came from napolean need a market....brizzyabcd@aol.com very very unique with a history..or call me 980-428-0339

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