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100 E. Main St. Watertown, WI 53094-3747
Iridescent Art Glass Paperweight
Spiral Glass Paperweight
Price: $38.00
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Glass, a solid with properties of a liquid, has been around in service of mankind since the third millennium B.C., in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq and Syria. It can be blown, spun, molded and drawn into limitless shapes, textures and colors. By the end of the 13th Century A.D., the island of Murano, outside Venice, was the foremost producer of glass objects in the world. The first documentary reference to glass paperweights we have is from the Venetian historian, Sabellico. Describing the Murano glass industry in 1474, he wrote: “But, consider to whom did it first occur to include in a little ball all the sorts of flowers which clothe the meadows in the Spring.” He was referring to solid glass balls containing millefiori, patterned glass canes drawn out to create miniature motifs and then sliced into thin cross sections. Millefiori, meaning thousand flowers, however, did not originate in Italy but were used for decorative purposes in Egypt as early as 1500 B.C.

It appears that Italian glass millefiori were produced only intermittently until 1833 when a more sustained mllefiori revival began with production by a factory in Silesia (now Poland). During the next decade, the craft was developed simultaneously in several European countries, including back on Murano. Around 1843, Pietro Bigaglia, a Venetian, made millefiori paperweights. He exhibited some at an international fair in 1845, possibly inspiring glass industry representatives from other countries. The French, particularly, copied some of the Venetian cane types and mosaic designs, especially those by Giovanni Franchini and Domenico Bussolin. They may also have copied the paperweight format from Bohemian glassworkers, who were producing some excellent examples around this time, but it was the French who took the paperweight art to its highest level, during what is called the “classic period” from 1845-1860.

Paperweights were made in Great Britain from 1848, in Belgium from about 1850 and in the United States from about 1851. It was during the "classic period" that the finest weights were produced, mostly by three French factories – Saint Louis, Baccarat and Clichy. Besides millefiori, other techniques, notably lampwork, were developed, bringing a new and wider variety of motifs for encapsulation in glass.

For some unknown reason, European weight production ceased around 1860. Perhaps they simply outlived their vogue; for the remainder of the 19th Century paperweight production was spasmodic at best, but not without its high points. Around 1878, for example, some superb weights were made at a fourth French factory, Pantin. (One of these, a 4” magnum weight containing an earthy landscape and huge green salamander, sold at Sotheby's in April, 1998 for over $156,000 and is not the record for a French “classic period” piece.) Further recent research has uncovered the existence of a fifth French factory, St. Mande, located in a suburb of Paris, producing a smaller number of weights in the latter half of the 19th Century. And additional research might well produce evidence of a sixth important French factory in that same time period.

In the United States, paperweight making after 1851 had a more continuous history, lasting until the 20th Century. Because the industry was created by migrant glassworkers, mainly from France and England, American weights made in the 1850s and 1860s show strong European influences, although the quality does not match that of their French counterparts. In Europe paperweight production was the result of commercial enterprise on the part of major factories, while in the United States it was more likely a glassworker's hobby, during break time and after hours.

By the turn of the century European influence on U.S. paperweights had declined and a new generation of craftsmen had developed their own styles. Among the most notable companies was Whitall Tatum Co., of Millville, New Jersey, which produced a distinctive type of rose weight c. 1905. Between 1900 and 1930, paperweights again were made in Bohemia, although quite different from their 19th Century forebears. In France, circa 1930, paperweights were made by a Baccarat craftsman, a Monsieur Dupont, who copied the antique Baccarat style of millefiori and pansy weights. A trained eye is needed to distinguish between “Dupont Baccarat” and Baccarat weights from the “classic period.” In Britain, there was sporadic production from 1914 until 1951. One company, Whitefriars, founded in 1680, produced perhaps the first British weights made specifically for the collector market from the 1930s until its closure in 1980, when the Whitefriars name and emblem were sold to the Scottish company, Caithness.

Around 1932, Paul Ysart, a member of a family of Spanish immigrant glassworkers in Scotland, was the first 20th Century weight maker to rediscover the lost skills of the previous century, creating fine pieces in the French manner while retaining a personal style. He was the major force behind the emergence of a substantial Scottish paperweight industry. In the U.S., Charles Kaziun, circa 1942, began making glass buttons and paperweights and is generally recognized as the first of the quality “studio artists” capable of crimp flowers, millefiori and lampwork. But it was the American entrepreneur, Paul Jokelson, who sparked the modern day paperweight renaissance in 1952 by persuading the French factories of Baccarat and St. Louis to begin making sulfide (ceramic cameo) weights. He operated as a distributor with exclusive rights for St. Louis and Paul Ysart. In 1953, he founded the Paperweight Collectors Association (PCA), of which there are now 22 local/regional PCAs, 15 in the United States, two in the United Kingdon, and one each in Canada, Germany, France, New Zealand, and Venezuela. These local/regional associations are independent organizations, which are not legally affiliated with PCA, Inc.
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