Antique Glass Paperweights (Identification and Value Guide)

I was walking into my granddad’s old office, which has been off-limits to us for as long as I can remember. I took in the scene before me. It was precisely how I imagined, and yet nothing like it.

The room was filled with dusty old books, receipts dating back ten years, and art.

Yet it was not the type of art and creativity I expected; there was a collection of glass paperweights of different colors, sizes, and rarity. It intrigued me to learn more about these magnificent glasses of art my grandfather had acquired and loved. Now that I think about it, maybe this is why I was not allowed to be in his old office, as I was a clumsy kid, and one mistake would ruin the whole collection.

Although, if you, too, are interested in paperweights, I have compiled a detailed guide for you to benefit from, as this connection made me learn all about them. This information will aid you in the expansion of your paperweight collection as well, helping you to gather a diverse range of unique and rare glass pieces to set on your tables and enamor your company.

Glass Paperweights – A Brief History:

1840s: The earliest paperweight can be dated back to the mid-1840s in Europe, where Venetian Glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia created one of the first recorded paperweights and exhibited it at the Vienna Industrial Exposition in 1845. The techniques used were traditional glassmaking practices to make these weights. Paperweights were used long before this, but the method was unique for this time. 

Paperweights were also made of acrylic, marble, glass, and resin. They come in different sizes, shapes, and designs. The value of the paperweight is determined by the raw material used to make the product and the rarity of the designs and patterns.

1925: The passion for having paperweights as a displayed art began in 1925 when Sotheby’s conducted a paperweight auction. This intrigued the people and led to the collection of these art forms. 

This increased after the Second World War as the French factories started manufacturing paperweights again. This continued, and soon they were exported and imported by different merchants for business opportunities or self-pleasure.

1954: The Paperweight Collectors Association was formed in 1954 to promote paperweights as modern art and to exchange information and knowledge on the subject. It became a community of people that had a passion for paperweights.

1992: It paved the way for forming the international paperweight society in 1992, whose mission was to preserve and promote paperweights as a contemporary art form. As of now, it is believed that the world has more than 20,000 paperweight collectors.

Anyone can become a paperweight collector in today’s age and time. The information on the internet shows how easy it is to get the correct information and start a collection.

What is An Antique Glass Paperweight?

A paperweight is a small heavy object used to put on top of papers to keep the documents from blowing away. Artists also used it to paint without the form flipping over or moving out. Throughout time the job of the paperweight has significantly decreased, and it is now more commonly used as a piece of art for its sheer beauty and expression and as a decoration piece.

Unconventional ways are nowadays commonly used to display these art pieces. They can be displayed on a kitchen table, dining room, office, or even the classroom of an institution.

It is also used as a paperweight, but people refrain from buying it solely.

Antique Paperweights Identification:

An antique paperweight has more value depending upon the components used for manufacturing, the design, and the quality of the paperweight. And just like a piece of art, the older the paperweight with good quality, the higher the price varies.

Paperweights are usually from two inches to three-and-one-quarter inches in diameter. They are called miniatures if the paperweights are two inches or less in diameter. And if they are over three-and-one-quarter inches, they are presumed to be magnums.

Antique glass paperweights are intricate for rookies to determine whether it is vintage paperweights or modern glass paperweights. 

Although some antique paperweights include tiny canes that can be used to help identify the manufacturer and the date when it was made, some are arranged to say a year and the manufacturer’s initials or the company’s name. Then again, some brands like Clichy and Saint Louis have distinct features and characteristics that make them easily identifiable. 

Checking for the color and clarity of the glass are essential features when assessing the quality of a paperweight. Chinese weights show a yellowish shine to the glass manufactured in the 1930s -1940s. A rookie may not be able to assess this situation accurately. 

It is still highly recommended that when you’re in the market looking for paperweights or just scrolling around to get the best knowledge, have the paperweights specially assessed by an expert before making any decision. This will help you get the best antique paperweight with good quality and will help you not get scammed by a modern paperweight.

Most antique glass paperweights were made up of glass. They have been created in mainly three different styles millefiori, lampwork, and sulfide. The remaining styles are bohemian, crown, ribbon, and Victorian. They were produced by layering molten glass, then shaping it into a thin rod and slicing it vertically and horizontally. This was done to give it a profound shape with beautiful and unique designs that would intrigue the eyes.

This was a very complex process and required high skill; any little mistake could ruin the entire process and, ultimately, the final product. 

1. Millefiori Paperweights:

Millefiori, also known as the “thousand flowers” canes, is produced by layering molten glass into a design in a fat cylindrical or oval shape, then by pulling the cylinder to make a thin rod. The desired design can be shown on the paperweight when the rod is intersected.

This was commonly used to make flower shapes on paperweights and is one of the oldest methods to make glass paperweights.

Millefiori Paperweights

2. Lampwork Paperweights:

Another primary method of paperweight making is called the lampwork technique, which involves transforming bits of colored glass from rods into specific shapes like circles, triangles, etc. These were then joined to form different animals, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other shapes on the paperweights.

Lampwork Paperweights

3. Sulfide Paperweights:

Sulfide Paperweights are made of ceramic raw material that has the exact nature of the outside glass. They are usually white but can also be colored or painted by individuals. It is generally white to match the shapes and figures to the outer glass. They have pictures of animals, birds, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and faces.

Sulfide Paperweights
Image Source: paperweights

4. Bohemian Paperweights:

Paperweights made from textured stone and bronze were a part of the bohemian glass paperweights. They first originated during the Victorian period and were often marked as cut spheres of ruby glass. The glass in some classic period Bohemian paperweights is also slightly yellow in color.

Bohemian Paperweights
Image Source: paperweights

5. Crown Paperweights:

The 18th century was a sappy time when people just started writing letters to one another. So, these crown paperweights began being sold in stationery shops as decoration pieces when writing letters or poetry. These paperweights were designed with twisted ribbons of color and lace, which emitted from the crown to the base.

Crown Paperweights
Image Source: collectorw8s

6. Ribbon Paperweights:

These consisted of opaque rods of up to three colors to decorate the inside of these paperweight domes. These were made as gifts to a lover or to have on your desk for their beauty in the mid-1800s.

Ribbon Paperweights
Image Source: hudson

7. Victorian Paperweights:

Victorian paperweights were first manufactured in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, using a process patented in 1882 by William H. Maxwell. The portrait paperweights contained pictures of ordinary people reproduced on a milk glass disk within clear glass.

The same was done to produce paperweights with an advertisement for a business. This was commonly used to promote a business or for the self-luxury of individuals. This practice was widespread in the Victorian era. Dome glass paperweights with advertisements or portraits inside were popular during the Victorian period.

Victorian Paperweights
Image Source: sellingantiques

Antique Paperweight Valuation Guide:

As paperweights were all handmade, there is a variety between them, which means that each paperweight differs from the others. Every single one has their unique design, shape, and style, uniquely representing their own style. Depending upon these factors, one can quickly identify what makes an antique paperweight expensive and valuable.

Material:

A paperweight is considered valuable depending upon the raw material used for its production process.

This is because a paperweight made up of good quality will last longer and have a higher value. A good quality paperweight manufactured in the 1940s will have a higher price than a paperweight made in the 1970s with bad quality.

Design:

All paperweights have their own design because of the complex production process. The value of paperweight increases if they have a well-centered, unique design with no flaws in its making.

This means that the most common design flowers are well centered and look beautiful on the outside variances.

Rarity:

It is no secret that any art piece in the world increases in value if it’s older or rarer than other pieces. Similar is the case with paperweights; if the object is made in the 1940s and is only one of ten pieces made, then it’s going to go up in value as it’s a historical piece and is only one of a few to be made in that time and design.

Shape:

A paperweight can be made in multiple shapes and sizes with different materials. Suppose the shape of the paperweight is deformed. In that case, it will lose value, and it is easy to identify that its different from its counterparts.

This is because buyers look for paperweights that are perfect in every aspect to keep or sell in the future.

Weight:

The weight of the paperweight can be used to identify the value of the paperweight. Generally, a paperweight will weigh about 20 to 150 pounds. So, the heavier the paperweight, the more valuable it will be. This is because the material used in the manufacturing process will be of higher quality and prove perfection.

Quality:

Quality is the most known identification tactic used when it comes to paperweights. This is because every single piece is dependent upon its quality. A piece made in the 1920s with bad quality will lose value as it has terrible quality.

Quality can be measured by officials or by checking the paperweight for any flaws.

People usually buy vintage paperweights because of their manufacturing process and the attention to detail they manufactured in that era. So, let’s say that vintage paperweight value for a standard design with good quality may vary from $500 – $2000 depending on the rarity and quality.

Note: There are many factors to look for when in the market looking for paperweights. The most common aspects are the design, color, rarity, material, quality, and beauty of the paperweight.

The beauty of the paperweight is one of the essential features to look for; if it isn’t beautiful, it will not be worth a lot.

The craftsmanship must be perfect, as any minor imperfection might cause the piece’s value to decrease. An ideal paperweight will be of good material, have a unique design, rare in nature, and be a magnificent-looking eccentric piece.

One of the most common designs used on paperweights is flowers, so it is to be noted that the flowers are aligned perfectly and do not have any imperfections. These features are what make the paperweight extraordinary and what intrigues the eyes of collectors.

Colette’s Method

The most common technique used for collecting and thus valuing paperweights is Colette’s method. It is considered an easy practice because it emphasizes simplicity and only selects what attracts or intrigues the eyes. 

Don’t dwell long on minor imperfections on the pieces, and pay more attention to the beauty and simplicity each paperweight brings. 

This is one of the best-known practices for selecting paperweights. But it doesn’t work well for everyone.

Why? You might ask. Well, it depends on why one chooses to be a paperweight collector. Is it because of the passion for paperweights, or does one only choose to buy paperweights to sell them for a profit? 

Suppose one is becoming a collector for their interest and passion. In that case, Colette’s method is the best approach when looking for paperweights. One will become an expert paperweight collector with more knowledge gained throughout the years from experts, books, and auction houses.

On the other hand, if somebody wants to become a paperweight collector from a business standpoint, then Colette’s method might not be the best practice. The method emphasizes collecting beautiful pieces and ignoring small design, shape, and color flaws. 

The value of the paperweight will be less if there are design, color, and shape flaws found in pieces. It is recommended to take experts’ help when buying paperweights for a business. Any minor design flaw could be costly for the company if not sifted through. 

Proper research should be done to become an expert paperweight collector. It is recommended to read books, ask experts to visit auction houses, and stay up to date on every significant aspect of the paperweight field to have a collection as a business. 

The Most Expensive Paperweight:

The world record price for a paperweight was just over a quarter-million dollars (258,000) in a 1990 Sotheby’s auction. This antique millefiori paperweight was produced in the mid-1800s by the French Clichy factory known as the Basket of Flowers.

This proves that the antique paperweights hold a higher significance in terms of beauty and rarity in the eyes of the public.

The Most Expensive Paperweight

Buying Tips:

Even in today’s modern age, paperweights are still sold at old flea shops and old antique shops.

Most collectors buy antique paperweights from auction houses, private deals, and high-up connections. This is because all valuable paperweights are found in museums or the hands of the wealthy.

Among the old antique paperweights, Millefiori paperweights are generally the least expensive of the bunch. The glass used also provides significant value to the piece depending upon whether the glass used for manufacturing is American art glass or French cameo glass.

Good quality paperweights can also be found on online auctions or by just visiting antique shops in your area. Suppose the option for online auctions and antique shops is not available. In that case, the paperweights can always be imported from different places depending upon the location of residence.

Final Thoughts:

Glass arts are one of the most challenging forms of art to do because it requires patience, complexity, and high skills to achieve the highest form of beauty. Paperweights are the most difficult form of glass art because it requires the highest skills, and any little mistake will ruin the piece. Paperweights, in general, have been ignored by people because of the status and marketing that is behind them.

For many years, it was considered a prize possession of the wealthy. It was known to be an object that was a collection item only for the rich. Recently, it is now being promoted respectfully to share the passion and culture of paperweights. This will cause the art of paperweights to blossom again as it did in the early 19th century and revive the tradition of paperweights.

Most collectors also believe that the lack of recognition given to glass paperweights is because of the old traditions used by the people to know about paperweights and not wanting to share them with the world. These practices are now being changed, and many organizations and museums worldwide promote paperweights to the utmost level.

I hope this information has sparked a broader understanding of this extraordinary art form.

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