The Magical World of Paperweights

Ever sit for hours wondering what’s so great about paperweights? You’re not alone.

In order to conquer this seldom broached and seemingly under-served topic we’re going to review the history, some types of paperweights, and some famous collections and collectors. Read this and walk away with not only some amazing “did you know” statistics to impress your friends, but also with newly rekindled passion for objects that keep papers in place in breezy work environments.

So is anything heavy a paperweight?

Are you asking me if that tin of Altoids counts as a “paperweight”? Technically, in function, yes – handy desk items can do the job of keeping papers weighted down but you’re missing the point here.

Paperweights that were originally created out of necessity but have retired to kitschy decoration, never to perform their intended functionality again. Imagine working in an office building during an unusually hot summer in 1941. As the heat increases throughout the day your colleagues begin to open windows in the office and papers begin to fly. Enter the paperweight.

However, as air conditioning became more prominent in the late 50’s and computers eliminated paper shuffling needs in the early 90’s, paperweights continued their steady decline from ever-present desk art to shared storage space under an old Rolodex.

A Weighty History

Paperweights are now produced, collected, and appreciated for their form rather than function. They are made almost exclusively of glass, although sometimes other materials such as clear acrylic have been used. The first began to be produced in France, around 1850 but began a sustained revival in popularity in the early to mid twentieth century. Most paperweights are glass domes that fit easily in one hand and are intended to be viewed from various directions through the dome. The dome acts like a lens to cause the embedded paperweight design change, or magnify, in its appearance. To be considered a “classic” the paperweight would have to have been manufactured between the years 1845 and 1860 in three French factories named: Baccarat, St. Louis, and Clichy. The “classics” generally appreciate steadily in value, in fact, just recently a “classic” was sold for $258,500.

Glass Styles and Types

Collectors occasionally specialize in a single type of glass paperweight but more often than not they wind up with an eclectic mix. Here are a few popular styles of paperweights.

Lampwork: This style incorporates objects such as flowers, fruit, insects stylized and posed in a highly realistic manner. Studio artists typically use this style by shaping and working bits of colored glass with a gas burner and assembling them into attractive compositions, which are then incorporated into the dome.

Millefiori: These weights are typically made in factory setting and consist of cross-sections of cylindrical composite canes made from colored rods. Millefiori is Italian for “thousand flowers”, which is apt considering the canes resemble tiny flowers.

Victorian: This style of paperweight involves sealing an image to the underside of a rectangular glass black using a milk glass or enamel-like glaze.


If you’re planning a paperweight road trip, and who isn’t these days, and want an exciting destination to kick it all off with don’t miss the recently expanded collection from Arthur Rubloff at the Art Institute of Chicago. After you leave Chicago head up to Neenah Wisconsin to take in the Evangeline Bergstrom collection at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum. From there it’s just about a day and a half drive to Corning, New York where they’re exhibiting the Amory Hougton collection.

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