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Heaven can weight

Bob Miller and Ito Curata in their artsy home. Photos by BENING BATUIGAS

Some people collect stamps or coins. Others are into sports memorabilia. I went in an entirely different direction,” begins Bob Miller, a retired executive vice president who spent 30 years in the financial services industry.

“Twenty-five-plus years ago I was engaged in one of my hobbies: rummaging through an antique store. I came across a beautiful glass globe at the back of a dusty display cabinet. I did not know what it was, but a store clerk told me it was a glass paperweight. I showed it to my partner, Ito Curata; he also liked it. On that day, I began collecting paperweights — colorful objects d’art that, in addition to ensuring stacks of paper are not blown away by the wind, often serve as a beautiful testament to an artist’s creativity. I only paid $15 for one — which is very inexpensive for a weight — but, as I learned after I started studying weights, it wasn’t a very good example of a fine collectible weight. The glass quality was poor and there were many imperfections in the canes that were at its center,” says Bob, warming up to the subject.

Bob is, indeed, an authority on glass paperweights. “Although most glass aficionados credit the French and Venetians for the idea of the glass paperweight, the decorative feature that ensured its early popularity can be traced to ancient Egypt. This was the mosaic design pattern that was built up from sections of multi-colored glass rods or canes that are imbedded in a glass object.” For hundreds of years, Egyptian craftsmen made beautiful glasses, water vessels and other objects (but not paperweights) featuring these mosaic forms. By the first A.D., Roman craftsmen had perfected the art form and it took on the look of what we today refer to as millefiori — an Italian word from the Renaissance that means “a thousand flowers,” explains Bob.

But weight — there’s more. He continues: “The Italians mastered the art of millefiori in Murano, an island near Venice.” Although the glass design technique does not appear to have had many artisans in Venice, that city — perhaps because of its closeness to Venice — is generally credited as the birthplace of the paperweight. The earliest recorded millefiori weight was made by a Venetian in 1845. Next came the latticino — or glass lace — weights that contain fine threads of glass and often serve as the ground (or base) for other decorative objects imbedded in the weight. Later, glass artists would add beautiful flowers, vegetables or animals — all made from small pieces of glass. “Some historians think the first paperweights may have been made by accident,” says Bob. “One story goes that a glass artisan was cleaning up after a day of making other glass objects and decided to use” the discarded remnants.

The glass scraps were used as a decorative core to the clear glass orb — the result was a colorful, eye-catching center. Bob says the French really took paperweights into the realm of art: during the mid-1800s heyday of paperweights, there were numerous glassworks in France turning out high-quality glass objects d’art including paperweights purchased by the aristocracy for both personal use and as gifts. Among the well-known glass houses were St. Louis, Baccarat and Clichy.

Soon, glass artists in England, Scotland, Belgium and Bohemia discovered what the French companies were displaying at the first World’s Fair held in London in 1851. American fair visitors snapped up the weights and took them home for their desks and curio cabinets. The trend spread: in 1852, the New England Glass Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts began making paperweights for new American buyers and collectors.

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Although collectors during the late 1800s and early 1900s continued to purchase unique weights from glass companies in Europe and the United States, it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that the hobby really took off. Today, there are several thousand serious collectors throughout the world and they quickly snap up the several thousand limited-edition weights made each year by glass companies and individual artisans who specialize in the art form. This, despite a shift to a “paperless” society where flash drives and computers replace piles of paperwork.

Paperweights are like any collectible. The cost depends on the maker, quality, scarcity and age. The higher the quality of the glass and the greater the reputation of the artist, the higher the price. A weight made with 250 pieces per edition will be less expensive than a unique weight made by a well-known glass artist. A weight from the late 1800s or early 1900s by one of the high-end French glass houses can command a very high price.

New weights made in China go for as little as P1,500 or even less. Better quality ones go for P51,000 or as much as P205,000 each for small editions by the very top craftsmen. The most expensive weight — a French antique — sold at auction a few years ago for nearly US $300,000 (around P15.3 million). Very high-quality weights in limited editions from high-end artists/glass companies are in the P25,000 and up range. Some weights from very well-known artists or companies like Baccarat or St. Louis can sell for more than double that.

“We have over 100 paperweights in our collection,” says Bob. “Ito and I have very similar tastes, so we managed to collect only the best that we can afford.” Bob points to a tiny dot on one weight, showing when it was made and who made it.

Asked to name his favorites, Bob obliges. “Some of my favorites are a 1979 Perthshire clear weight with a yellow sunflower surrounded by a ring of green leaves and finely crafted complex canes on an orange ground; a 1987 Baccarat Oriental collection weight containing four coral-colored apple blossoms and buds on black branches over an opaque yellow ground; a 1975 Perthshire multi-colored butterfly set on a pink ribbed cushion ground surrounded by a circle of complex millefiori canes; a 1984 Baccarat weight with a graceful stem of red and white dicentra set over a delicate white latticinio ground; a 1979 Saint Louis multi-faceted clear weight with lampwork featuring pears, cherries, plums and a bed of green leaves on a latticinio ground; a 1980 Vandermark blue, gold and white iridescent ‘pulled feather’ weight; a 1982 Correia clear weight comprised of a beautiful reddish-pink orchid attached to a green stem emanating from a white cushion ground and a late 1970s Murano magnum weight comprised of numerous large blue flower blossoms amidst a closely packed millefiori floral carpet surrounded by a circle of a white flower canes.

Collecting paperweights is a niche hobby. “My guesstimate is that there are fewer than 5,000 collectors worldwide but only several collector organizations that are very active,” says Bob. “There is even an annual convention that attracts several hundred serious collectors and a group of dealers. Celebrity collectors have included writers Oscar Wilde and Truman Capote, as well as King Farouk of Egypt.”

Bob never thought paperweights could be so beautiful. His collection still bedazzles him. That’s how much weight they carry. Worth, perhaps, their weight in gold!

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Email the author at nikkicoseteng2017@gmail.com or text her at +639974337154.

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