FOR MOST COLLECTORS, glass paperweights can mean only French paperweights: specifically, the products of the factories of Baccarat, Clichy and St. Louis in the 1830s and 1840s. The output was spectacular in both quantity and quality and has never been surpassed.
The techniques involved, however, go back to earliest times. The creation of the paperweight from tiny pieces of glass canes, rods and beads assembled into patterns and mosaics was known to Egyptian craftsmen as early as 1600 BC. Layers of glass of different colors, or threads of colored glass, were twisted and drawn out to form rods and canes, and these multicolored canes provided the basic material of what is called millefiori decoration. The technique was revived by Venetian glass blowers in the 13th Century.
Baccarat, in the Vosges region of Alsace, produced a fine range of flower weights--a small millefiori cane usually served as the center--and the same leaf pattern was used for all flowers, regardless of species. The company was famous for representations of mushrooms, snakes and butterflies. The classic paperweights of St. Louis, in Lorraine, were somewhat larger and made of clear, heavy lead glass. The glass house was known for its fruit designs set into latticinio baskets. Latticinio is a technique, again dating back to the Egyptians, in which threads of opaque glass were woven in a trellis pattern and embedded in the clear glass surround. The third French glass house to specialize in paperweights, founded in 1837, was at Clichy-la-Garenne on the outskirts of Paris. The famous rose appears in about a third of all Clichy paperweights; another popular design is the swirl, composed of fine concentric circles.
These elegant artifacts arrived in the United States during the 1850s at a time when they were already out of fashion in Europe. They were enormously popular here, however, and Americans began to make them with enthusiasm and continue to make them to the present day. Among many producers were the New England Glass Co., the Sandwich Glass Co., Louis Comfort Tiffany and, in modern times, Steuben.
There is variety waiting for the collector--anything from a Baccarat weight with a light-green snake on a latticinio ground to a Clichy rose on a swirl pattern with contrasting bands of opaque white and purple strips. A rare hypnotic quality is attached to these elaborate designs that calls to mind nothing so much as dancing firelight.
Antique paperweights can be found at Beaded Bird in Venice, the Victorian Rose in Burbank, Cranberry Cottage Antique Mall and Jay’s Antiques in Pasadena, Mission Gallery in San Diego, Panache Unlimited in Fullerton, Castle Antiques and Antique Emporium in Costa Mesa, Roberta Gauthey in Laguna Beach, and Collector’s Thrift Shop in Santa Ana.