Antiques Column with Michael Dowse
Paperweights have become a very collectable field and within that field are a multitude of different weights.
Take for example the Sulphide weight. A ‘Sulphide Paperweight’ refers to a paperweight which has a shaped “cameo” made from porcelain-like material encased within the clear glass. It involved cutting a hole in the hot glass sometimes through a bubble in blown glass, sliding in the insert which had been previously moulded, fired and left to cool and then resealing the glass or allowing the bubble to close by extracting the air through the blowpipe.
The technique of cameo incrustation or the encasement of porcelain medallions in glass was first developed in France in the early 19th century and it was used in America from 1814 and the United Kingdom from 1817. In 1819, English Glassmaker Apsley Pellatt (1791 – 1863) patented the technique, calling it "crystalo ceramie" in view of its French origins. The technique was not at first used in paperweights but was seen in glass plaques, pendants, vases and other decorative glass items before paperweight manufacturers realised the design appeal.
The three major paperweight manufacturers; Baccarat, Clichy and Saint Louis, all made sulphide paperweights. The value and appeal of these paperweights can depend on other factors besides the individual cameo, including the use of techniques such as detailed and elaborate faceting or engraving and the addition of millefiori (coloured glass rods shaped into patterns).
The objects cast inside the paperweights were most commonly people or animals sometimes both and the best with landscapes included. Many examples feature famous people or capture historical events with images sometimes cast off objects such as coins and medals. Generally, the more complex the design, the more desirable the paperweight as the process of moulding the objects was difficult and creating a single cast for one feature was the job of highly skilled craftsmen.