They sparkle like precious jewels. Their colors rival any summer garden. And they are heavyweights when it comes to the world of collectibles.
Delicate glass treasures pursued by thousands of collectors, paperweights are small works of art that have continued to increase in value over the past three decades.
Some sell for astounding prices. In 1990, a French paperweight sold for a record $258,000.
Among the stars of the paperweight world are the Great Lizard, also called Great Salamander, weights.
“There are enough salamanders around — say 12, 15, or 20 — that a person could conceivably have the opportunity to buy one. They’re not one-of-a-kind,” paperweight expert Larry Selman recently told Antique Trader magazine.
They may not be one-of-a-kind, but they aren’t cheap. When Selman’s company, L.H. Selman Ltd., auctioned a Great Lizard in 2000, it brought $154,000.
The Great Lizard weights were produced by Pantin, a little known factory in France during the mid-nineteenth century. The factory produced the reptilian wonders as well as a small number of floral weights. The realistic three-dimensional portrayals found in these paperweights are a challenge for even modern day glass artists to produce.
Although the better paperweights do command premium prices, this is still a hobby where knowledgeable collectors can get started for under $100. Many nice pieces can be found in the $300 to $600 range.
Most in demand by today’s collectors are paperweights made between 1845 and 1860 by Baccarat, Clichy and Saint Louis, the three most prominent French glass factories of the time.
These factories’ skilled artisans produced paperweights depicting delicate flowers, exotic birds, and dazzling butterflies encased in clear crystal. Some of the paperweights were comprised of millefiori, which literally means “a thousand flowers.” These are made using tiny glass canes whose cross sections reveal patterns resembling snowflakes or tiny flower buds.
The fine art of the paperweight was not exclusive to the French. Becoming increasingly collectible are antique paperweights from American glassworks, primarily New England Glass Co. and Mount Washington Glass Co.
Until a few years ago, it was uncommon for American-made examples to sell for over $1,000. Today, the best can command thousands of dollars and are starting to rival their French counterparts.
As with any collectible, it is best to select a specialty for a collection. Some collectors focus on a theme such as birds, flowers or fish. Other collectors pursue a specific artist, company or size. Miniature weights (those under two inches in diameter) are generally more modest in price.
Paperweight values depend on design, maker, craftsmanship, condition and rarity.
Look for clarity of the glass. Does it have a yellow tinge or is it crystal clear?
Such imperfections as cracks, bruises or scratches will reduce value.
Colors should be bright and vibrant. Most modern glassmakers are still unable to replicate many of the colors seen in antique paperweights.
The best investment potential will be found in weights produced by the “big three” French firms previously mentioned.
Though the majority of antique paperweights are bought and sold at quality antiques shows or through specialized dealers such as L.H. Selman Ltd., an occasional treasure does pop up at a flea market or rural antique shop.
A few years ago, a woman completing a day of antiquing in rural Virginia made a last stop at a roadside antiques shop. She left the shop with a one-dollar paperweight.
When she researched her purchase, she discovered it was a 19th-century Saint Louis paperweight. At auction a few months later, the one-dollar weight brought $29,900.
Copyright 2002 by Krause Publications. For a free catalog of Krause Publications books or periodicals on collectibles, write Public Relations, Dept. IC, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, or visit www.collect.com on the worldwide web, or e-mail [email protected]

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