Pretty and practical, paperweights add a delicate bit of color to a desk or side table and, over the years, have become popular collectors’ items. Today, the most highly sought paperweights are worth thousands of dollars. Whether they’re valuable antiques or colorful modern pieces, glass paperweights continue to hold collectors in their thrall.
What Is a Paperweight?
A paperweight is a small, heavy object that is placed atop papers to keep them in place. Though technically any small heavy object could do the job, traditionally paperweights are crafted from glass. The typical paperweight is made from circular, domed glass, around 3 inches in diameter, with a design encased in the glass and a flat bottom to keep it in place. They gained popularity during the era predating air conditioning, when an open window could send papers scattering throughout a room.
The first paperweights were designed in around 1845. Venetian glassmakers showed them at an exhibition in Vienna, and French glassmakers took the concept and ran with it. The early paperweights often featured colorful glass canes assembled together in millefiori designs. In the 1860s European glassmakers began to focus on larger items like crystal chandeliers and the United States became the main producer of paperweights, due in large part to European immigrants skilled in glassmaking arts. While the older, antique paperweights are most highly sought by collectors, beautiful new paperweights are produced to this day.
Types of Paperweights
A variety of techniques have been employed to create paperweights, each lending a distinctive style to the end product. Millefiori, Italian for “thousand flowers”, uses many multicolored glass canes grouped together, resembling colorful flowers. In the lampwork technique glass flowers are joined together petal by petal. A torchwork paperweight features a design painted with molten glass. A cameo inset is the hallmark of a sulfide paperweight, and abstract weights depart from the traditional floral theme with a more imaginative approach to subject and form.
While the early French designers produced some the most highly sought collectible paperweights, glassmakers in the United Kingdom and the United States also developed many top quality designs. These brands in particular are prized by antique paperweight lovers:
France – Baccarat, Clichy, St. Louis
United Kingdom – Caithness, John Deacons, Paul Ysart, Perthshire, Peter Holmes, Whitefriars
United States – Boston & Sandwich, Gillinder, Mt. Washington, New England Glass
Paperweights are found in an enormous range of styles and brands for enthusiasts to consider. It’s no wonder that their beauty, rarity and compact size continue to draw collectors to these tiny works of art.