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19th Century French Paperweight Makers

All About Glass

Compagnie des Cristalleries de Saint-Louis

Aventurine Crown Paperweight

Compagnie des Cristalleries de Saint-Louis, which is named after the sainted King Louis IX, was founded in Lorraine, France, in 1767 and still exists today. Along with Baccarat, it nearly monopolized the French luxury glass industry for many years. In late 1845, it became the first French firm to produce signed and dated millefiori weights.

Saint-Louis paperweights can be identified by distinct characteristics which set them apart from those of their competitors. Some of Saint-Louis’s typical subjects are pansies, dahlias, chamomile, fuchsia, jasmine, plums, pears, cherries, and apples. Crown weights, such as this one (63.3.35) from Worlds Within, with alternating filigree and ribbon twists of glass that form a crown with a millefiori cane at the apex are a Saint-Louis trademark. So are marbrie weights which have an overlay of opaque white glass decorated with colored loops.

Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat

Stardust Carpet Ground Paperweight

Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat was founded in 1764 in Alsace, France, and is still in existence. It gained prestige for the lead-crystal wares it produced after 1824. Baccarat began making paperweights in late 1845 shortly after Saint-Louis. It has always specialized in close millefiori set on a ground of upset white filigree and takes pride in its meticulous and varied canes and patterns. Another Baccarat specialty is the company's garland weights. These have two intertwining trefoils made up of differently colored canes. The garlands are set in clear glass, lace, carpet, or color grounds and have large canes centered in their loops.1 These garlands are meant to imitate formal French gardens. Typical Baccarat subjects include pansies, dahlias, anemones, primroses, roses, tulips, strawberries, snakes and butterflies. Although certain paperweights from various glasshouses share the same subject matter, the techniques are always distinctly different.

The Museum’s collection includes an extraordinary triple weight that was created by Baccarat between 1845 and 1855 (66.3.48). The largest dome, which makes up the base of the three-tiered assemblage, consists of the closely packed millefiori canes which are a Baccarat specialty. The viewer can examine this design over and over and still find something new each time. The center dome contains spaced millefiori canes, including some silhouettes, on a background of white filigree. Within the smallest dome is an upright blue lampworked flower with green foliage. This object is actually three weights which were made separately with different techniques, reheated and then fused together. Due to the fact that each time a paperweight is reheated the danger of destroying it increases, this is quite a technical achievement.

Cristallerie de Clichy

Clichy rose Cristallerie de Clichy

The glass factory Cristallerie de Clichy was founded under another name at Billancourt in 1837 and moved to Clichy, then a Paris suburb, two years later. By 1847, Clichy’s paperweights were in staunch competition with Saint-Louis and Baccarat. About 80 percent of Clichy’s paperweight production was millefiori weights made with numerous patterns and color combinations. Their colors appear richer than those of Saint-Louis or Baccarat and their lampworked flowers are more unique and naturally posed.

The famous Clichy rose (78.3.112), was made with flattened pink and white rods and was one of the company’s trademarks. The firm was also known for its C-scroll weights which have several canes arranged in the shape of large “C’s” repeated around a central motif. Other Clichy subject matter included primroses, pansies, clematis, bouquets, cornucopias and garlands. No Clichy paperweights are known to have been created after 1870 when they were supposedly taken over by Sèvres.

Cristallerie de Pantin

Salamander Paperweight Cristalleries de Pantin

Cristallerie de Pantin was founded in 1850 in Pantin, which was then a suburb of Paris, and remained in existence until 1890. It did not produce as many weights as the other three factories, but those that it made were striking and finely created. Some of the nineteenth century’s most exquisite lampwork weights have been attributed to Pantin. The company’s typical subject matter included silkworms, squirrels, roses, snakes and salamanders.

The Museum’s collection contains a Pantin salamander that was created between 1870 and 1880 (55.3.79). The coiled green salamander is incredibly three-dimensional and lifelike. Its finely detailed face, scales and natural environment are extraordinary. In ancient legend, the salamander is associated with the element fire. It was thought to be able to travel to the fiery underworld and back without harming its cool skin. According to lore, salamanders dwelled in the glassworker’s furnace and took revenge on those who dared to market their skills outside their own country. Salamander weights like this one may have been inspired by that tradition or possibly by the discovery of thirty dinosaur skeletons in a Belgian coal mine during the 1870s.

1Paul Hollister, Jr., The Encyclopedia of Glass Paperweights, New York: C. N. Potter, 1969, p. 55.

Published on October 19, 2011