Rev. 2004-04-05, -07-15, 2008-10-12
PWC - Paperweights for Collectors, Selman
Images not otherwise credited come from this book, used under Fair Use aspects of copyright law.
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Making a paperweight
|Glossary of Paperweight Terms, with Links|
|Tall Sculptural Paperweights|
|Rose Paperweights and Crimps|
|Paperweights are made by several significant companies, such as Caithness and Pershire, that have a following of collectors, by artists who specialize in pushing the limits of paperweight design, by glassblowers who make simpler designs for a lower cost retail item as part of their overall line, and by factories in China that make okay looking cheap weights that usually show easily visible flaws, such as broken flowers and bubbles.|
If a weight has a figure inside, animal or plant, it is almost certainly the result of lampworking where the figure is built up then encased in clear glass. Flower blossoms can be made at the furnace, especially roses and lilies. Millefiori weights are made at the furnace, the cane first then encased (below), although some canes have details best made at the torch. Furnace weights are most often built up of abstract color, twisted or pushed, perhaps with bubbles. Josh Simpson's world weights and Devil's Fire weights are the best known examples.
This paperweight is a classic millefiori (thousand flowers) weight with murrini images, including a camel in the center and a year cane near the top. The uniform spaces between canes are created by a clear glass outer layer on the cane that merges with the cover glass. Depending on the thickness of that layer, the cane will look more or less solid. The layer of cane does not cover the full diameter of the weight as it appears in this top view, which enlarges the decorations due to the lens effect of the classic domed weight.
This kind of weight is made by building the cane first, cutting the millefiori slices from the cane, and aligning them in a holder, upside down. After heating, a gather of molten glass is brought to the back to pickup all the millefiori and then further glass is gathered over. See below.
This crown style weight is made by preparing latticino cane (white threads around a clear core) and twisted candy cane (a flat ribbon with red on one side and green on the other and white along the edges, cased in clear and twisted) these being softened and laid around a clear core (or made into a long rod which is then pinched off for the section in this weight.) A small millefiori cane accents the middle and hides the junction.
The flower is lampworked detail, being made up at a torch. The petals were made from white and red striped cane, pulled to a taper. After the flower was made, the leaves were probably made separately and both laid for pickup. In a modern shop, a vacuum cup would insure the glass encased the flower without bubbles. The spiral lines are a latticino cane (or could be engraved lines on the clear bottom.)
Lampworked detail can be very great, building complete plants and/or animals. Paul Stankard (next) is the best at this, telling small stories in the creatures that occupy the roots and stems of the botanicals he creates.
Paul Stankard produces stunning paperweights, many of which are rectangular, made by grinding and polishing the glass after it is cold. Many are assembled (glued) with other materials acting as separators. Paul is primarily a lampworker, making the innards and then encasing them. His small weights, like the one at right sell in the thousands; his rectangular ones in the 10's of thousands. To see some of each, click here or on the image.
This is a modern weight from Lundberg Studios. A Google search returns over 1100 hits on Lundberg most of which have at least one very good image of a weight, often with side view, here is one and another. This weight has lampworked hearts, what are probably small sulphide stars and a ground with a drawn decoration. Lundberg pioneered the modern lampworked weight and related vessels encasing detailed lampworked pieces in the glass.
This modern weight illustrates three techniques not shown in previous examples. The image of the Kennedy's is a sulphide which is basically made of a mixture of glass ingredients plus clay or silica that is molded and fired. Tiny bubbles formed during encasement give the surface a silvery white sheen. This weight was also cased with transparent green which was cut away to form the round windows. Further, the base and spaces between the windows were cut (engraved) in a star pattern to form the background. The amount of hand coldworking in this weight is very high.
These are foreign made paperweights sold at Elliott's Hardware for the prices shown in the last picture. At first glance they seem very nice. The glass is clear and free of bubbles. The red one is perhaps the best. Closer examination reveals the speed with which they were made and the flaws. For example, the yellow flower in the picture to the right is missing a petal.
While the red flower is rather good, a look at the tadpole piece shows that some are missing their tails and at least one tail is a fragment free in the piece.
These prices are astounding to me. Cut this price about in half to get the wholesale cost, subtract shipping expenses and these things are being put out for a factory price of $5-6.
This weight (my own) is an example of a twisted core weight, without a smooth surface in this case. To make this weight, color fragments were picked up on a hot punty and after heating were twisted to form a miscellaneous shape using jacks. The shape was pierced so that bubbles were formed when a further gather of clear glass was taken. This weight was "air marvered" that is, it was turned on the punty, controlling the drip flow, until set. This results in unusual shapes that often produce brilliantly clear weights. Many of my weights are made to sit at an angle for viewing on a table rather than sitting the traditional flat position.
Making a Weight
This is a setup for a millefiori weight. Inside a steel ring on a heat proof base, the prepared cane pieces are set in place. The is the back of the base we are looking at. After heating with a torch (here) or on a hot plate (with a metal base), a gather of glass is brought to be placed in the middle. Some workers use a pipe to bring the gather and provide a bigger working head. The longer canes will form the sides of the base. After pickup and initial smoothing and shaping, the clear dome will be gathered on the other side (bottom in this picture) and final dome shaping takes place. Drew Ebelhare makes a paperweight
The weight to the left on this post card advertising a show at Carlyn Galerie, Dallas, is a crusted shell on the outside so that the inside cannot be seen except that one side has been ground flat and polished. Inside we see images of sea life against a reef-like background. I am sorry, but at this writing, I don't know the creator. Similar results have shown a cave-like image from Fire Island in Austin.
Contact Mike Firth