One of the most noteworthy contributors to the development of the first paperweight was the 19th century Venetian glassmaker Pietro Bigaglia.
Bigaglia’s family owned glassmaking shops in Venice as early as 1674. He made mirrors as well as lamps and window panes decorated with filigree and aventurine glass. Filigree is an opaque white or colored glass which appears as swirling threads or spirals, and %%aventurine%% is a colored glass which is made shiny with the addition of small flakes of gold or copper.1 They are both methods of glass ornamentation that died out, were revived again by Bigaglia, and then later used in %%paperweight%% making. Bigaglia is known to have been one of the first Venetians to make paperweights. There are weights with his signature that are dated between 1845 and 1847. Bigaglia exhibited the first signed and dated millefiori paperweights at the Vienna Industrial Exposition in 1845. His work was shown again at the Murano Glass Museum in 1864 at the first big exhibit of Venetian and Muranese glassmakers. Other notable Venetian %%paperweight%% makers of the mid-19th century include Giovanni B. Franchini and Domenico Bussolin.
The Museum’s collection includes a %%paperweight%% made in 1845 by Pietro Bigaglia (^^78.3.143^^). It is made up of scattered millefiori canes, filigree rods and silhouette canes; one of which is inscribed with “POB/ 1845.” Silhouette canes are any canes which have as their cross-section a human, animal, or flower silhouette. Many paperweights, such as this one, are signed or dated with silhouette canes. Only a very few signed and dated Venetian weights from this time period are known to exist.
The Napoleonic wars, which ended in 1815, significantly strained the economies of Europe. The threatened stability of European glasshouses, including those owned by Bigaglia, during and after the wars initiated a period of severe competition, scientific development and glass innovation. The 19th century was the era of the Industrial Revolution, nationalism, free trade and progress. It was also the century of the great world fairs. The numerous national and international exhibitions held in various countries were organized partly with a desire to reverse the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution on aesthetics and design. Prince Albert of England proposed the Great Exhibition as “a great collection of works of industry and art to be held in London in 1851 for the purposes of exhibition, competition and encouragement.”2 The Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations was housed in the extraordinary %%Crystal%% Palace and lasted five months. The Great Exhibition, together with many other national and international expositions during the second half of the century, played a significant role in introducing paperweights to the world. It is believed that after seeing Bigaglia’s millefiori paperweights at The Vienna Industrial Exposition in 1845, Eugène Péligot of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, who was the delegate of the Paris Chamber of Commerce, predicted that paperweights would be profitable for the depressed French glass industry. The many glasshouses of France proved him correct.
1Paul Hollister, Jr., The Encyclopedia of Glass Paperweights, New York: C. N. Potter, 1969, p. 300.
2Ibid., p. 38.