While anything that holds down a piece of paperweight could arguably be called a paperweight, most collectors seek out only glass paperweights. Paperweights range from attractive, but inexpensive, gift shop wares, antique paperweights from the 1800s, to high quality modern paperweights. They generally contain colorful glass designs, flowers and sometimes insects or animals.
Paperweights were made popular by the Victorians, who adored having pretty little doodads and gewgaws around the house. There was a trend for letter writing at the time and a corresponding desire for desk accessories, but paperweights were valued more for their appearance than for actually holding down papers.
The earliest glass paperweights were developed using the millefiori glass technique commonly associated with Venice, Italy. The millefiori technique uses canes of glass to create colorful patterns in glass products. Paperweights made using the millefiori technique appeared in the mid 1840s in Italy, France and Bohemia and immediately became popular. While paperweights were soon made by glassworkers and artisans in different areas of Europe and the United States, it wasn’t long before the French were acknowledged as the leaders of this new art form. French paperweights from Baccarat and Clichy are particularly prized by collectors. While an estimated tens of thousands of paperweights were created between 1845 and 1860, production dropped off quickly after those years. During the 1920s dealers and collectors rediscovered paperweights and began collecting. Paperweights were still being created sporadically and in small amounts in different areas of the U.S. and Europe until the 1950s, when there was a resurgence of interest in the art form.