The Rich History of Paperweights

Written by
Kyle Sherman
Published on
February 11, 2022 8:00:00 AM PST February 11, 2022 8:00:00 AM PSTth, February 11, 2022 8:00:00 AM PST

A paperweight is a decorative weighted object made to hold down sheets of paper on a desk or table.

According to the Glass Paperweight Foundation however, (yes, there is such a thing), paperweights are one of the world’s best-kept secrets.


Why?

Since paperweights are rarely used in modern office environments now, people have not had the chance to gaze upon them, learn of their history and become fascinated with them – as collectors of paperweights are. We’ll let you in on all the hoopla.


It All Starts in Venice

Paperweights begin to appear in Europe at the Vienna Industrial Exposition in 1845. Venetian glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia revives ancient glass working techniques to create and exhibit the first signed and dated weights. This Exposition, along with the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, which is sponsored by Prince Albert of England in 1851, helps to introduce these artistic innovations to the world. Although many countries produce paperweights, the French designs are the most admired and prized.


19th Century French Paperweights

To help revive a depressed glass industry in France, prominent glasshouses such as Compagnie des Cristalleries de Saint Louis, Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat, Cristallerie de Clichy and Cristallerie de Pantin create exquisite weights as items of luxury to satisfy the public’s fascination with ornamentation. This is when a paperweight’s purpose is fully embraced. With the popularity of letter writing at the time, these beautiful objects keep papers organized in drafty rooms and become fashionable additions to home décor.


During the hayday of paperweights from 1845 to 1860, the French glasshouses introduce the millefiori technique and flameworked flora and fauna, while glasshouses in Bohemia, Silesia, Italy, Belgium and England (including George Bacchus and Sons, and Islington Glass Works) also begin to make the popular and inexpensive objects. All of these glassmakers bring their knowledge of paperweight making to the United States.


America’s Paperweights

From the 1860’s, American-made paperweights are produced until 1890 and develop a unique style apart from European sensibilities. For instance, Louis Comfort Tiffany creates paperweight vases rather than traditional paperweights. Much later in 1962 during the Studio Glass movement, glassmaking moves from the factories to the studio for artistic, rather than functional, reasons. Contemporary paperweight artists such as Paul Stankard and Josh Simpson make weighted objects like orbs, marbles, vessels and small-scale sculptures. Inspired by early paperweight makers, these artists create miniature worlds inside the paperweight using flameworking and furnace-working techniques.


Today’s Paperweights

The Glass Paperweight Foundation estimates only about 20,000 of history’s glass paperweights have survived. Only 6,000 of those are considered “quality pieces” and are found in private collections and museums. Their quality, beauty and rarity make them very collectible.


Today’s paperweights are still made from glass as well as crystal, acrylic, granite and marble. They are shaped into stars, cubes, discs, faceted rectangles and custom shapes such as cut-out letters or little statues. And they continue to function as objets d’art.


Personalized Paperweights at PlaqueMaker

Personalized custom engraved paperweights are beloved by our customers for their beauty and ease of display. Each custom paperweight is individually packaged in a white box for elegant gift giving