Paperweights are an outgrowth of buildings that housed many offices, long before air-conditioning was available, and also long before some of the larger skyscrapers began to have windows that didn’t open. If you wanted to cool your office down, whether on the ground floor or several floors up, you opened a window. This could mean that strong drafts could blow papers away, or at least onto the floor. To counter the action of such drafts, in the mid-19th century, several companies began to produce the paperweight: a heavy, frequently semi-spherical, glass object that would prevent papers from flying away when exposed to drafts.
Early companies making paperweight types were located in France. The US and the UK soon followed suit with creating other companies to make the perfect paperweight. These early representations, especially when they are without flaws are frequently highly valuable. Some of the earliest paperweights may sell for several hundred thousand US Dollars (USD), and there are many collectors of the various styles.
There are several distinct paperweight styles. These are:
- Lampwork: Paperweights built around central objects, like flowers, animals, or fruit.
- Millefiori: A glasswork technique that produces different patterns on glass, often looking like tiny flowers
- Portrait or Advertising: The paperweight is built around someone’s picture, or around an advertisement for a company
- Commemorative: Weights are built around a plaque commemorating some event or some achievement
- California: Weights may be painted with different paints, and paints may be decorated with tools to show off different styles.
Though most of the paperweights collected today are glass, you can find ones made of hard materials, like marble, and there are many that are made out of plastic. These usually have less value, unless they are one of a kind and made by artisans. In modern times, some of these artisans have elevated the form of making paperweights to fine art. In particular, Paul Joseph Stankard’s lampwork paperweights are so incredibly realistic that many believed anything encased in the weights was real. Stankard’s weights are part of collections in many of the world’s most renowned museums.
If you’re not a collector, and if you do have air-conditioning, the principle reason for buying a paperweight today is because it appeals. There are many to choose from, especially of the lampwork style or the commemorative style. They are definitely neat to look at, even if their function is largely unnecessary now. Many feel a desk wouldn’t be official without the requisite attractive paperweight.