antique of the month
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