The Museum houses one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of paperweights. It contains more than a thousand paperweights—from the earliest examples, made in the mid-19th century, to a monumental modern weight.
In the mid-1800s, letter writing became increasingly popular and led to the creation of new desk accessories, including glass pen holders, inkwells, and paperweights. Thousands of weights were made in Europe from 1845 to the 1890s, and the French glasshouses of Baccarat and Saint-Louis became unparalleled market leaders in this genre.
The techniques used to make glass paperweights were not new. They often included the caneworking technique known as mosaic glass, the earliest form of which had been developed over 3,000 years earlier [Baccarat paperweight, 54.3.158]. Lampworking and encasing methods became popular during the 18th century, and they allowed 19th-century glassmakers to form delicate flowers and animals in glass that could be protected within a sphere of thick colorless or multicolored glass [The Houghton Salamander paperweight, 55.3.79].
A few American firms produced paperweights in the style of the French examples. Craftsmen at the New England Glass Company, the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, and Gillinder & Sons in Philadelphia made floral and mosaic glass weights in many styles [fruit paperweight, 2001.4.24]. The New England Glass Company also made blown fruit weights, and a few New Jersey craftsmen are credited with making floral weights.
Modern paperweights reflect the mastery of earlier techniques. Glass artists continue to search for new expression within this form [Megaplanet, 2006.4.154].