The history of the glass paperweight seems to begin in the 1840s when three great French firms developed, in a very short space of time, the techniques required to produce these amazing miniature works of art. It was a time when letter writing was very popular among the middle classes and all sorts of accessories for the desk were being produced. Far from being merely something to hold down your paper, these must have been regarded primarily as ornaments.
Many of the most beautiful paperweights include 'millefiori', a technique whereby glass canes are pulled out while hot and then assembled to make miniature flower-like patterns; hence the name. This technique was known in ancient times and later used by the Romans, only to disappear from history until the end of the 15th century when a Venetian writer, Sabellico, wrote a famous sentence that can be found in most paperweight books: ' 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.' These were then actual balls of glass rather than the paperweight as we know it now: that had to wait until the early 1840s when a Venetian glassmaker exhibited some at an international fair. Was this what inspired British, Belgian, American and most noticeably, the French glass companies to start making paperweights?
The three great manufactures of paperweights in France were St. Louis, Baccarat and Clichy.
The first two survive to this day but Clichy went out of existence in 1885, which makes it all the more amazing that so many wonderful Clichy paperweights are around. A fourth company, Pantin, also started to produce paperweights from around 1878.
In Britain, several companies were producing their own paperweights. Among them were factories like Bacchus in Birmgham, H.G.Richardson in Stourbridge, Arculus in Birmingham, Walsh-Walsh in Birmingham and Stevens and Williams in Stourbridge.
Other items were made using the same techniques including doorknobs, bowls, goblets and inkwells.
Whitefriars were thought to have produced paperweights in the 19th century but it is now believed that those weights were made by Arculus or Walsh-Walsh in the 20th century.
Whitefriars itself probably started making paperweights in the 1920s and continued, apart from the war years, until the company closed in 1981. This example is from 1975 and has the Whitefriars cane in the fourth row from the centre.
Caithness bought the Whitefriars name, logo and much of the paperweight making equipment.
Paperweight making in the 20th century was very healthy in many countries and we have examples from the 19th century through to the 21st. Some of these can be seen on our Etsy site and more will be following on this site.