Weights are a glass act

Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News - - In Business -

The Vene­tians had been mak­ing mille­fiori glass since the 15th cen­tury. Briefly, and in its sim­plest form, this in­volved fus­ing to­gether rods of dif­fer­ent coloured glass, which were then re­heated and stretched. The re­sult­ing long, thin stick was then chopped into dozens of short sticks or canes, nu­mer­ous colour com­bi­na­tions of which were pos­si­ble.

To make a pa­per­weight, Pi­etro placed a se­lec­tion of the canes in a mould in the de­sired pat­tern and fused them within a glob­ule of clear molten glass held by a steel rod called a pon­til.

The dome was formed by shap­ing the molten glass to cover the ex­posed canes, the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ef­fect be­ing en­hanced by shap­ing and sub­se­quent pol­ish­ing the dome achieved by rolling it over a wet, wooden block. Once cut from the pon­til rod, the area around it was sim­i­larly smoothed and pol­ished to form the flat base of the weight. It sounds sim­ple but, in truth, it was a highly skilled and time-con­sum­ing process. The ex­act year and ori­gin of the man­u­fac­ture of the first glass pa­per­weight is not known but the first doc­u­mented ap­pear­ance of Pi­etro’s hand­i­work can be traced to the Ex­hi­bi­tion of Aus­trian In­dus­try held in Vi­enna in 1845. Here was a prod­uct to put some com­mer­cial sparkle back into the busi­ness and bosses at the St Louis glass­works were the first to adopt the idea. Clichy was quick to fol­low, both pro­duc­ing weights in the same year. Bac­carat’s en­try is marked by weights dated 1846. All three pro­duced nu­mer­ous strik­ingly beau­ti­ful pat­terns with A John Ditch­field iri­des­cent pa­per­weight which sold for £220 com­pli­cated and highly colour­ful canes be­ing em­ployed to pro­duce many ex­pen­sive weights. In ad­di­tion to Bac­carat’s B, Clichy used a par­tic­u­lar rose-shaped cane as a trade­mark, oc­ca­sion­ally set with the let­ters C L.

St Louis weights can be found bear­ing the ini­tials S L. Bear in mind, how­ever, that dated and marked weights are rar­i­ties. The au­then­tic­ity of those in which such fea­tures ap­pear to be too good to be true should be ques­tioned be­fore hard-earned cash changes hands.

The ex­pert would also be best able to point out the dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics of colour­ing and de­sign em­ployed by the three glass com­pa­nies. St Louis, for ex­am­ple, spe­cialised in a coloured over­lay tech­nique that cov­ered the clear glass weight with blue, pink or green glass.

The layer was then cut with win­dows, or “print­ies” to give them their tech­ni­cal term, through which the pat­tern or glass flow­ers in the cen­tre of the weight could be seen.

Crossed gar­lands of mille­fiore and canes ar­ranged in a way that looks like mush­rooms were other St Louis hall­marks, while tightly packed canes cov­er­ing the base, known as “close mille­fiore” was pop­u­lar with Bac­carat, as were but­ter­flies.

Clichy, on the other hand, ex­celled at flow­ers, par­tic­u­larly those fea­tur­ing its rose trade­mark, at­trac­tive swirl de­signs and an eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able moss green ground of­ten stud­ded with canes ar­ranged in con­cen­tric cir­cles.

Ar­guably the finest mak­ers, Clichy was the only French glasshouse to be in­vited to ex­hibit its pa­per­weights at the Great Ex­po­si­tion at the Crys­tal Palace in Lon­don in 1851, and again at the New York Crys­tal Palace in 1853. As a re­sult, Vic­to­rian tourists pur­chased a great many as sou­venirs and they con­tinue to turn up in the sale­rooms. The key to suc­cess is be­ing able to recog­nise them.

Col­lec­tors of mod­ern pa­per­weights are drawn to those unique or lim­ited ex­am­ples pro­duced by Caith­ness Glass, the Scot­tish com­pany es­tab­lished in 1961 by the late Robin Sin­clair, 2nd Vis­count Thurso and John Ditch­field from Black­pool, one of this coun­try’s top glass artists.

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