Paperweight collectibles. If there ever was a collectible that hollered “Art for Art’s sake!” it was this one. Glass paperweights, with their colorful and complex designs, were always more aesthetic ornaments than functional objects to actually hold down paper or double as inkwells or toothpick holders.
So it’s kind of curious that it took until 1925—long after the golden era of paperweight manufacturing 1845-1860 and despite the championship of royal collectors like Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, Empress Eugenie (Napoleon III’s wife) and Empress Carlotta (Mexican Emperor Maximilian’s wife)—for paperweights to be recognized as a legitimate, collectible art form.
The turning point came when Sotheby’s, in 1925, held the first-ever auction of paperweights and sold 82 for a grand total of $588! Compare that to the collector Paul Jokelson’s Pantin “Silkworms” paperweight going for $143,000 in 1984 and his “Bird in the Nest” paperweight selling for $182,600 at an L.H. Selman auction in 1990. And to the unique Clichy “Basket of Flowers” that fetched $258,000 at Sotheby’s in 1990, the highest price ever paid for a paperweight.
Rarity and demand have ensured a steady appreciation in price, making antique paperweights a good investment. So also paperweights by modern masters like Paul Ysart and Paul Stankard. But, remember, fashions change and what is valuable today may not always remain so. That said, if you’re going to start a paperweight collection, go for quality over quantity, and buy the best within your budget.
Some paperweight collecting tips:
Join paperweight collectors associations such as the Paperweight Collectors Association (formed by Paul Jokelson in 1954), Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas (formed on 28 June 1986), International Paperweight Society (formed in 1992) and Caithness Glass Paperweight Collectors Society (founded in 1976 by Colin Terris, the company’s master paperweight artist). Subscribe to their newsletters, and attend seminars and lectures on paperweight collecting.
Visit museums with paperweight collections—the Smithsonian Institution, Corning Museum of Glass, Art Institute of Chicago, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neehan Wis., Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, N.H., Forsyth Center Galleries at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
Read books on paperweight collecting, paperweight manufacturing, paperweight artists and glass studios.
Learn about past and present paperweight manufacturers. To name a few—Clichy, Baccarat, Pantin and St. Louis from France, Bacchus of the UK and the New England Glass Co. of the USA. Some late 20th-century glass studios include Lundberg Studios, Orient & Flume, Correia Art Glass, Lotton & Parabelle Glass, and Royal Doulton with the Caithness brand. Well-known individual glass makers include Michael Kane, Rick Ayotte, Lewis Dean Woodruff and Charles Kaziun.
Learn to judge quality and rarity of a variety of paperweights. Paperweights come in different shapes—dome top with a flat or concave base and faceted or etched interiors, high domed, tall paperweights, egg shaped, pedestaled paperweights—and different types—Millefiori, Lampwork, Sulfide, Swirl, California style, Victorian portrait and Advertising paperweights and Silk Glass.
Attend the regular auctions conducted by L.H. Selman Ltd., Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Boisgirard and check past auction results to get an idea about value and pricing.
What paperweight collectors should know
• All handmade paperweights have variations or flaws in them. The more perfect the specimen, the higher its value.
• Discarded designs are in higher demand; limited editions not necessarily so.
• Provenance is necessary if the paperweight came from a famous or historic collection like that of Arthur Rubuloff, Evangeline Bergstrom and Robert Guggenheim.
• Grinding and polishing old paperweights to remove scratches or blemishes reduces their value.
• You can get paperweights at flea markets, antique shops and at online sites such as eBay, but very seldom the rare valuable ones. For those, contact a dealer specializing in paperweights. Some are Leo Kaplan Ltd, Pat McCauley and Alan Tillman.
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