The small glass paperweight holding down your papers could be worth a large sum of money. Complex designs produced in France during the mid-19th century are generally worth the most, but more recent designs by british – and particularly Scottish – makers can sell for hundreds of pounds.
The first paperweight were made in 1843 on the Venetian island of Murano. Many featured patterns made of tiny sections of glass canes known as millefiori (Italian for ‘thousand flowers’), a decorative technique that epitomises paperweight design. Italian paperweight can be worth great sums. One of the most notable makers, Pietro Bigaglia, signed many of his weights with a ‘signature cane’ containing a ‘PB’ monogram, making them easier to identify. Large and complex examples of his work can be worth over £5,000.
The ‘golden age’ of the paperweight, from late 1845 until the mid-1850s, was inspired by French designers.They created elaborate millefiori designs and introdced weights containing lampworked flowers or fruit. Paperweights from this period are often the most valuable, especially those by one of the three major French factories: Baccarat (est.1764), Clichy (1837-1885) and St Louis (est. 1767). Some weights include ‘signature cane’ – Baccarat used the letter ‘B’ and Clichy used a ‘C’ or a trademark cane called the ‘Clichy rose’. if a weight is not marked, and many are not, the maker can still be identified from the shape, colours or patterns used.
Generally, the more complex a paperweight is, the more it will be worth. Well-structured patterns took skilled glass-workers a long time to make and are highly valued. ‘Scramble’ weights, with a random selection of different canes melted together in an unstructred pattern, are less desirable. The type of cane used can also affect value. Baccarat is known for its technically demanding silhouette canes, featuring animal profiles, made up of thin rods compacted together. These canes (known as ‘Gridel’ canes) can increase a weight’s value.
The mid-20th century onwards saw a second ‘golden age’. Values are usually less than £500, unless a design is rare. Notable Scottish firms include Monart (particlarly work bu Paul Ysart) and Caithness. Collectable English makers include Wedgwood and Isle of Wight Studio Glass. Most 20th century makers signed their work on the base or include a ‘signature cane’ in the design. As with 19th century examples, more complex weights are worth more but value is also driven by other factors. Limited editions, such as Whitefriars’ Royal Jubilee designs, are highly desirable.