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By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant
I began collecting glass paperweights approximately 15 years ago. I've always been fascinated with glass and colours of glass. I guess my fascination can be described by a quote from Paul Hollister in his book The Encyclopedia of Glass Paperweights: "Precisely what is it, one asks, that is inside a paperweight? And continues to ask, even though one knows, it is simply coloured glass. We are gazing into a mystery whose true dimension and physical composition our senses are unable to pinpoint, a mystery sealed away in perpetuity. You may look at it but cannot touch it."
Glass paperweight production began in the early 1840's. France quickly became the leader in production, and England and the United States were quick to follow; but just as quickly as the paperweights became popular, production ceased, sometime around 1860.
Many famous people collected these art forms, people such as King Farouk, Queen Mary, Eva Peron, Truman Capote, and the well-known French writer Colette.
What should one look for in a glass paperweight? The major factors that influence the value of a piece are design, workmanship, condition, and rarity.
Design has to do with beauty. It's in the eye of the beholder. What would like is your own personal preference. So, buying a first-rate paperweight rests mainly on your eye to evaluate a good design.
Workmanship shows up quite easily in a glass paperweight. If it's poor or faulty, the fault will show up as an imperfection. And under the magnification of the glass, the fault stands out immensely. Today, it is difficult to find a new bad paperweight mainly because they are generally destroyed before they ever hit the open market. Some things to look for in old paperweights to judge poor workmanship are:
Condition is very important when judging the quality. Look for scratches, chips or bruises on the surface. If there is enough glass, sometimes it can be ground so that these blemishes disappear. Be careful, though!
Poor grinding and polishing can distort the piece and virtually destroy all value and beauty.
For the most part, the more complicated the design, the more valuable the piece. If you are lucky to find an older one with a date or signature, you have stumbled upon an uncommon bonus. The older weights were generally not signed. Today it is almost imperative for the artist to sign his work.
Today you can find many paperweights at flea markets, and garage sales, but this is extremely rare in regards to the really old and valuable paperweights. Most are found in private sales, at auction houses, and through dealers.
Collecting glass paperweights can become quite an investment opportunity. Due to the economy, you should be able to locate many good ones at a nice price. Around 4 years ago, they had shown an increase in value; but make sure you are dealing with reputable dealers. Remember that you must always do your homework first before beginning any collection. Also, keep in mind the most important reason for collecting anything: first and foremost, collect what you like and will enjoy!