Paperweights - a Buyer's and Collectors Guide

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Last update: 26 June 2012

Do be careful when buying paperweights.  Attributions - whether on an Internet site or in an auction house - and especially to classic manufacturers such as Baccarat, St. Louis, and Clichy, are sometimes wrong. This is not because of any intent to deceive, but because sellers are not experts on identification.  We have been collecting glass paperweights for many years, and have written this short guide to help both new and experienced collectors find useful information and links.

It is easy to start a good collection through eBay if you buy wisely.  There are bargains to be had, despite the numbers of ebayers looking: many thousands of paperweights appear on ebay at any one time, and it is not easy to review every item.  So you may end up lucky, if you can identify the special item hiding behind the bland title.  Over the years we have won three miniature Clichy weights for under £20 each (the word Clichy was not in the title!), and many other high quality weights for much less than we would have paid a dealer.  Remember that people make typing errors, and sometimes even fail to put ‘paperweight’ in the title.  So search for mis-spellings, and search categories too.  But the key is being able to identify weights from images – often poor, blurred images, if you are to find bargains.

What we have found very helpful in learning about paperweights is talking to other collectors, attending specialist meetings, reading good reference books, visiting paperweight dealers, and viewing museum collections.  There are two main collectors groups in the UK: the Paperweight Collectors Circle (PCC), and the Northern Paperweight Society (NPS). The main international group is the Paperweight Collectors Association Inc. in the USA (PCA).  All have Newsletters, regular meetings, and special events. You can find links to these organizations, resources to help with identification - such as our website, recommended books and dealers if you visit my About Me page.

Some of the commonest questions we are asked are 'Who made this weight?', 'How old is it?', and - most often - 'What is it worth?'  If only there were an easy way to give simple answers to these simple questions!  Hundreds if not thousands of companies and small studios have produced at least a few paperweights over the past 150 years, and many are still in circulation.  But there are some important clues and techniques to help narrow down the possibilities, and maybe identify the precise age and maker.  Experience helps, and the more you read, the more you talk to other collectors about paperweights, the less difficult it generally becomes.  That said, some paperweights stump everybody!

Most of the paperweights you will find on eBay or elsewhere (car boot sales, petrol stations, antique shops) were relatively cheap originally.  They tend to come from a relatively small number of sources, so it is worth considering these sources first.  But there are many small studio glass makers that make a few paperweights from time to time, so some of the abstract swirls and bubbles weights you come across may have originated in that way.  Most of the cheaper weights originate from either China, Italy (Murano), Bohemia, or Scotland (Caithness in particular, Strathearn, Perthshire, John Deacons, Peter McDougall, Peter Holmes, Willie Manson and others) - though all these produce or have produced expensive high quality weights as well.  And Chinese made weights turn up with stickers from Murano and other places – don’t assume the sticker is always correct!

More expensive paperweights are often French weights (maybe from Clichy, Baccarat, St Louis, Pantin or St Mandé), American paperweights (NEGC, Boston & Sandwich, or modern lampwork of the highest skill), old English weights (Bacchus, Richardsons, Walsh Walsh, or Arculus), or certain Bohemian and Venetian paperweights.

Identification and Valuation. Our website (there is a link on my About Me page) has a number of pages dedicated to the identification of paperweights, and we are happy to help with identification and valuation at no charge.

As for what one is worth, the simple answer is ‘What it will sell for!’ - and that can mean anything from 50p to £100,000.  And prices change with time, as collecting fashions change, and external factors come into play.  For example, since Perthshire Paperweights closed their prices have increased steadily.  And from time to time investors enter the market to buy antique paperweights, and given that they are limited in number, that tends to drive prices higher. We have not seen many paperweights on eBay go for more than £2000, whereas many go for less than £10.00.  Of course, many of the cheaper weights for sale are still warm from the kiln in China, with all kinds of descriptions and attributions, and all kinds of starting prices.  Our website has images of a range of some of these modern Chinese weights.  They actually cost between 50p and £2.00 each if you buy them by the crate of 300 pieces...but they are still good value for money if you like them.  And that is an important point in any form of collecting: buy what you like!

Enjoy your collecting,

Helen and Alan

We often have a range of paperweights for sale on eBay : Our items for sale

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