an­tique of the month

Period Living - - News -

In her col­umn cel­e­brat­ing col­lectibles, an­tiques ex­pert Judith Miller looks at the small but beau­ti­ful glass pa­per­weight

Paper­weights prob­a­bly orig­i­nated in Venice, where ex­am­ples were made from circa 1843 by the glass maker Pierro Bi­gagha. The tech­nique, lit­tle changed over the years, in­volves plac­ing tiny sliced sec­tions (set-ups) of coloured canes on a dec­o­ra­tive ground in a mould; this is then cov­ered with a dome of clear glass, which acts as a mag­ni­fy­ing lens. Some paper­weights in­cor­po­rate lamp-work in the form of fruit, flow­ers or in­sects. Most are cir­cu­lar with a high dome, but faceted weights were also pro­duced.

Paper­weights were not an im­me­di­ate suc­cess in Venice, but the tech­nique was taken by itin­er­ant glass­work­ers to France, where three glass­works – Bac­carat, Saint-louis and Clichy – were to be­come world fa­mous for their mag­nif­i­cent weights. Bac­carat, ar­guably the great­est pro­ducer, made paper­weights be­tween c.1845 and c.1849. The com­pany spe­cialised in bright ‘car­pet’ grounds, made by plac­ing set-ups of tiny canes of glass ar­ranged in an ar­row­head flo­ret de­sign in­ter­spersed with those form­ing the sil­hou­ette of a flower, or an an­i­mal. Saint-louis pro­duced paper­weights from the 1840s made of clear, heavy lead glass with high domes. Sin­gle flow­ers pro­lif­er­ated, such as pan­sies, fuch­sias and gera­ni­ums on ground of swirling white or pink lat­ticinio, more rarely on a mot­tled jasper ground. Fruit, veg­etable, an­i­mal and hu­man de­signs were also made, and faceted paper­weights were an­other spe­cial­ity. Un­like Bac­carat and Saint-louis, which used lead glass, Clichy used a glass that made the de­sign seem more de­fined. The clear, light glass weights are al­most per­fectly glob­u­lar with flat, very slightly con­cave bases with nar­row rims. In the 1850s there was a de­cline in the fash­ion for paper­weights in France, and the USA be­came the main cen­tre of pro­duc­tion. Good qual­ity weights were made, but they never ri­valled the French firms. In­ter­est in Bri­tish paper­weights is com­par­a­tively re­cent. The firm of Bac­chus (est. c.1816; later Ge­orge Bac­chus & Sons), in Birm­ing­ham, briefly pro­duced paper­weights from 1848. Some of the finest 20th-cen­tury paper­weights are those made by Paul

Ysart in Perth, which in­clude tra­di­tional mille­fiori pat­terns.

From top: A Bac­carat mille­fiori dou­ble over­lay weight, circa 1850, £3,000, File­man An­tiques; a 19th-cenu­try Saint-louis gar­land but­ter­fly pa­per­weight, £800–£900; late-19th­cen­tury Clichy pa­per­weight, set with mille­fiori canes, £1,100–£1,400; an Amer­i­can...

From top: Paul Ysart de­sign, with a pink and white but­ter­fly in­side a cane border on a stri­ated green ground, £200– £250; an early Bac­carat pansy pa­per­weight, £600–£700

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