The first collectors of paperweights didn't seriously pursue them until shortly after the production ceased in Europe in 1860. The early collectors were the nobility, and included Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, Napoleon IIIs wife Empress Eugenie, and Mexican Emperor Maximilians wife Empress Carlotta. Oscar Wilde was also an early collector. From 1920 until World War II, interest in collecting paperweights was restricted to a small, but active group. Collectors at this time included King Farouk, Eva Peron, and Truman Capote, and several lesser-known individuals who amassed great collections.
Paperweights were recognized as a legitimate form of the decorative arts in 1925, when Sothebys conducted the first major auction of paperweights. That auction included 82 weights that sold for a total of $588 (an average of about $7 each). Auctions have been held periodically ever since.
The number of paperweight collectors began to increase sharply after World War II. This coincided with the re-manufacture of paperweights by the French factories. This was the result of Paul Jokelson, (an importer and collector) who encouraged them in the early 1950s to revive the art. The French glass artisans were then faced with the enormous task of re-discovering the lost techniques. Shortly after, a paperweight cottage industry developed in Scotland, which quickly grew to become a major manufacturer of quality paperweights from modern factories.
The Paperweight Collectors Association was formed by Mr. Jokelson in 1954 with 75 members. They have been instrumental in providing a forum for collectors to learn more about their hobby. Their membership is now over 1800. The International Paperweight Society, who underwrote the preparation and writing of this talk, was formed in 1992 with the goal of promoting the awareness and enjoyment of paperweights.
It is estimated there are presently about 20,000 collectors, including diverse celebrities such as Peter Jennings, Johnny Carson, Alan Shepard, John Madden, Ann Bancroft, Henry Winkler, Robin Leach, and the late Malcolm Forbes.
Today, we are in the midst of a paperweight renaissance. Contemporary glass artists are producing the most technically challenging and innovative paperweights in history. They bring contemporary vitality to the art and have challenged the traditions of the French masters.
Paperweights by Paul Ysart
It must be acknowledged that the renaissance began in a small way before the French factories started up production in the 1950s. In Scotland, a transplanted Spanish glassmaker named Paul Ysart started experimenting in the late 1920s during his spare time, and he produced quality weights in the late 1930s. The majority of his weights were made between 1955 and 1979. He died in 1991.
Paperweights by Charles Kaziun
In Massachusetts, Charles Kaziun, began working in 1939 to rediscover the lost techniques of the French masters. Shortly after the war, he began producing high-quality weights that were much in demand by collectors. He made weights until he died in 1992.
These two artists spawned the contemporary movement that now has 30-40 makers of quality paperweights. Modern weights are nearly flawless because of cleaner materials and better equipment. Its not unusual for quality contemporary weights to sell for $500-1000, with the premier makers bringing double, or more. However, very fine examples by lesser-known artists, and those produced in volume by factories will frequently sell for $150-300.