Paperweights: Understated gems
A forgotten pearl from the industrial era, decorative paperweights are beautiful, intricate pieces of glass art much deserving of appreciation. They have sat (as they will do) under the decor radar since we closed our office windows, keeping summer winds away from flyaway documents. But in spite of our window-opening amnesia and stay-put piles of paper, paperweights have prevailed.
Individual artists and studios across the world continue to make these hand-sized gems for glass art enthusiasts and paperweight collectors across the globe.
Dr. Ed Sheldon, regional director of the Paperweight Collector's Association Inc., says collectors admire all forms of paperweights -- from rare antiques to more inexpensive productions. "Seldom used for their nominal purpose, paperweights most often find their place as eye-catching objects alone or in a group on a table or desk. The more serious collectors typically display them in illuminated cases where they are secure but can be shared and viewed easily," he says.
Types of paperweights
Paperweights are divided into categories according to means of production (although very old pieces are distinguished by age).
One of the most popular categories is the hand-creation of flowers or other intricate biological things by melting assorted small glass rods -- sometimes referred to as lamp-work.
Dr. Sheldon explains the artist manipulates the molten glass into petals or other shapes, then assembles the elements into flowers, birds, etc. in a tiny flame. "The completed artwork is then encased in hot, molten crystal and finally shaped to the desired form," he said.
Another classic form is millefiori -- or "thousand flowers". "Millefiori weights are another highly prized type, and these are created with the use of canes, bundled glass rods, which form geometric patterns that can be very complex," says Dr. Sheldon. He explains the bundles are composed of shapes like tubes, cogs and stars which are heated to fuse and then stretched into rods. The rods are snipped to create designs later encased in molten crystal.
A third popular type is a design of colourful swirls, bubbles and free-form figures. Dr. Sheldon says these are created from tanks of molten glass and are usually the least expensive type of design.
Contemporary glass artists are producing stunning paperweight creations. Paul Stankard makes gorgeous botanical creations and Peter Raos crafts floral and marine designs. Find gorgeous pieces from studios such as Caithness Glass or the great Baccarat from France.
Paperweights from any category can be bought and sold on e-bay, or check out your local art studio for some truly unique, home-grown designs.
A myriad of books on paperweights are available, such as Millner's Paperweights of the 19th and 20th Centuries by Anne Metcalfe.
Budding collectors should also look into the Paperweight Collectors Association Inc. at paperweight.org. They are an international, non-profit organization who provide educational opportunities, contact information about artists and dealers, and social and sharing opportunities for collectors.