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What is a Paperweight?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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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.

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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.

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Discuss this Article

anon333617
Post 13

My mom bought me a Perthshire cane weight in (1970?) I now have aver 250 assorted Murano, Perthshire, Lundberg, Orient and Flume, Caithness, etc. weights, and am addicted. They are like beautiful jewels. My piece' de resistance is a Paul Stankard with plant sprites/fairies underneath the flowers. I would love to be able to afford a beautiful antique Clichy or Baccarat or St. Louis weight. Sigh!

Sinbad
Post 12

@Tomislav - Caithness paperweights are an up-scale brand of paperweights and other glass art.

They come in an array of colors, shapes, sizes, etc.

This company has been around since 1961, and was initially inspired by the colors of the Scottish landscape.

Now they are regarded as one of the most unique and innovative and glass-art company. They are highly regarded by people and museums. You can find some of their beautiful paperweight and other glass art collections in many museums around the world.

Tomislav
Post 11

I know you can purchase a paperweight and put it anywhere, but I have held off on buying one because I am waiting until I can afford a nice desk, so that I can put an elegant paper weight on it and it won't look out of place.

I have heard many colleagues suggest investing in a caithness paperweight, but I honestly do not know what these are. Does anyone know what caithness paperweights are?

cloudel
Post 10

My grandmother collects rose paperweights. They are gorgeous, and they look like intricate sculptures trapped in a frozen bubble.

She first started collecting them in the fifties when she worked in an office where everyone had to have paperweights. The boss supplied the workers with them, and the one he gave her had a lovely purple rose inside of it.

She visits antique stores and looks online to add to her collection. She has some interesting ones, like a red and yellow striped rose and a white one with a realistic dragonfly resting on top of it.

lighth0se33
Post 9

My maid of honor helped me pick out gifts for the bridesmaids, and she thought we should get diamond ring paperweights. I thought they were cute and appropriate for the event, so we bought them.

They were about three inches in diameter, and the fake diamond took up about half the ring. You could see through it, because the whole thing was made of glass.

One of my bridesmaids told me the paperweight makes for interesting office conversation. She often sees customers at her desk, and they get a kick out of the ring. It looks like a giant toy.

wavy58
Post 8

I have a taste for all things unconventional, so it was no surprise to my coworkers when I showed up with a fish-shaped paperweight. Everyone else had the spherical kind, but I was drawn to the unique look of the fish.

We do open our doors and windows in the spring and fall when the temperatures are pleasant. So, our paperweights are not just for decoration. The first time they opened the doors, I didn't have a paperweight, and I had to go chasing my papers down the street.

My fish is made of glass in the shape of a flounder. It is orange with black and white stripes and spots, and it looks very realistic. Because it isn't round, it covers more area than regular paperweights, so it holds things more securely in place.

seag47
Post 7

I have a beautiful sea anemone paperweight, but I did not know what it was when I received it. My mother bought it for me when I was young because I wanted it badly. I just thought it was so pretty.

We were in an antique store when I saw the orange and white anemone encased in a glass globe. It looked so magical, as if it had been trapped inside there by some spell.

The paperweight is quite heavy, and it hurt when I dropped it on my toe once. I kept it on my “sea shelf,” where I put seashells and all things related to the ocean.

sunshined
Post 6

My desk usually has so much clutter on it that a paperweight would probably be hidden underneath all the papers instead of on top of them.

My mom, on the other hand, has a very neat desk and I have never been able to figure out how she can get so much done and yet keep her desk so clean.

She found an old limited edition Perthshire paperweight online that she bought to put on her desk. I was surprised at how expensive this was, but must admit it looks really nice on her desk.

At least her desk is neat enough that the paperweight is always visible.

SarahSon
Post 5

I have never spent any money on buying a paperweight for my desk. I have a home office and love to work with the windows open when weather permits.

There are many times when the breeze will blow my papers around and I just look for anything close by to set on the papers so they won't blow away.

I have a friend who has a beautiful vintage Murano paperweight on her office desk. This really is a unique piece and it serves more as a conversation piece than actual paperweight.

KaBoom
Post 4

@ceilingcat - Ah, those marketers. They adapt their marketing to whatever is most popular at the time.

I've actually never given much thought to the origins of the paperweight, but I thought this article was really interesting. I've always thought of paperweights as fairly useless (I don't like a lot of clutter) but it turns out they were originally made with a use in mind! I think paperweights were a pretty good way of solving a common office problem.

ceilingcat
Post 3

It sounds like paperweights were one of the first kinds of marketing "swag." Instead of giving away magnets or mousepads with advertisements on them, companies could give away paperweights! Very interesting.

I have to say, at my office, I don't know anyone that has or uses a paperweight. The only person I know that has a paperweight is my dad. He doesn't use it to actually hold papers in place though. His was given to him by his grandfather, and he sits it on his desk for decoration. I think it has more sentimental value than anything else.

Mae82
Post 2

@MrSmirnov - It sounds like your friend's collection is pretty impressive. I would be really curious to see the custom paperweight as well. My father is a bit of a hard man to shop for, so the family is trying to find him something that he can use and that would look good in his office.

I wonder if you can have a silver paperweight made in any shape you want?

My dad loves sailing, so if we could get him a silver paperweight that looks like his own ship, I am sure he would love it. We really want to get him something substantial that he can appreciate for years to come.

MrSmirnov
Post 1

My friend has a huge collection of antique paperweights and paperweight gifts he has received over the years. I suppose his collection started out as a bit of an accident, because a few people he knew thought that a paperweight would be the easiest souvenir to bring him.

Now his collection of paperweights number in the hundreds and his prize paperweight is a crystal paperweight he purchased at auction. It is actually interesting to view his collection and see all of the shapes and sizes of the various items. I think my favorites have to be the custom paperweight we all made for him on his 50th birthday.

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