HIS is a tale of two auctions. One in the closing days of last year, the other last September. Both featured glass paperweights. The former included the dispersal of a substantial collection of the things, none of which was old, all of which sold for modest prices. The latter just one single weight, which turned out to be an unexpected and pricey gem.
That’s the trouble with paperweights. Are they antique or modern?
Nevertheless, you buy one and you’re hooked. Buy a handful and it becomes an obsession.
Stumble on a rare and early 19th century French example like the one illustrated here and with sufficient knowledge to identify it, the miniature masterpiece could be yours.
Spot it in an auction, though, where the international reach of the internet alerts collectors worldwide, and your bank balance might never recover.
So it was at Cardiff auctioneers Rogers Jones Co, where even the auctioneer, Ben Rogers Jones, was left amazed.
Estimated at £800-1,200 the 4½in (11cm) diameter, 3lb dated Baccarat close-packed millefiori paperweight had been found in a house clearance in nearby Dinas Powys.
It was spotted in the sale by a private buyer from Somerset bidding on the telephone against an online underbidder from the US. Somerset won, securing it for £12,000.
It was a classic saleroom bidding battle: two wealthy bidders each absolutely determined to fill a gap in their respective collections, driving the price ever upwards. Never is the collector so vulnerable to making a mistake, because at that level, the ability and knowledge to recognise original from modern is vital.
In this case, the clues were all there. Dated 1847 on one of the multi-coloured canes to the interior and with the initial B on another, the bright design also featured animals and birds, including a horse and cockerel. You just needed educated eyes to see.
Collectors refer to three periods of Baccarat paperweight production, with 1846-60 regarded as the classic period, so 1847 was a desirable early date. Save for a couple of small chips and a few surface scratches, it was also largely in excellent shape.
La Compagnie de Cristalleries Baccarat was one of three leading French makers, but a later competitor was the Cristallerie de St. Louis, at Louis-les-Bitche, also in the Lorraine area of France and the Cristalleries de Clichy, just outside Paris.
Key to their success lay in the term millefiori, literally “a thousand flowers” and the adaptation of the process by one Pietro Bigaglia. A member of an old Venetian family of glass artists, he is generally credited with the manufacture of the first glass paperweight in 1845. The Baccarat millefiori paperweight which sold at Cardiff auctioneers Rogers Jones Co for £12,000 This group of ‘dumps’, made from unused molten glass, sold for £200 This Baccarat Pansy paperweight, dated 1853, was sold for £200