Paperweight prices continue to rise

January 14, 1994|By Andrew Lecky | Andrew Lecky,Tribune Media Services

Today's hottest collectible gets no respect.

Paperweights, whose values have continued to climb in a period in which the value of other items has stagnated, somehow don't seem worthy.

The very concept of the paperweight is ridiculed by comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his best-selling book "SeinLanguage" (Bantam Books, New York, 1993):

"And where are these people working that the papers are just blowing right off their desks anyway? Is their office screwed to the back of a flatbed truck going down the highway? Are they typing up in the crow's nest of a clipper ship? What do you need a paperweight for? Where's the wind coming from?"

What might wipe the smirk off your face, however, is the fact a record $258,500 was paid at auction for a rare Clichy magnum basket weight. Its estimated value had previously been $80,000 to $100,000.

These are dramatic, beautifully crafted paperweights of colored glass within crystal. Collector paperweights were first produced in the 1840s, and floral designs remain most popular.

The most coveted antique paperweights are from the Baccarat, Clichy or Saint Louis factories in France. Most popular contemporary choices are those of the Banford or Trabucco families, or of artists Paul Stankard or Debbie Tarsitano.

Examples of price appreciation come in a wide range:

* A Nailsea potted plant bottle paperweight with each of its five flowers composed of hundreds of closely spaced bubbles (3 1/4 inches high with a diameter of 3 1/4 inches) sold for $40 five years ago. It recently fetched $88.

* A flower-shaped Baccarat honeycomb design paperweight in salmon, blue and white (diameter 2 7/8 inches) was valued at $6,000 five years ago. It recently sold at auction for $13,200.

* A New England Glass Co. snowflake-patterned millefiori (a term meaning "one thousand flowers") paperweight (diameter of 2 5/8 inches) was worth $400 five years ago. It recently brought $1,045.

A woman who purchased an antique paperweight for $1 in a Virginia roadside shop in 1993 later found out it was a rare Saint Louis upright basket weight. It recently sold at a Sotheby's auction for $29,900.

"The market is strong, with the motivation being the artistry, craftsmanship and colors, much the same as collecting paintings," explained Lauren Tarshis, director of the paperweight department of Sotheby's in New York.

There's no rating system for quality, which is determined by the eye of the expert or collector. Condition, clarity of glass, profile and vividness of colors are taken into account.

"Paperweights can be bought at dealers who specialize in glass, antique stores and auctions, but do some careful research to find the best source in your area," counseled Larry Selman, president of the L. H. Selman Ltd. paperweight collector store in Santa Cruz, Calif., and president of the 500-member International Paperweight Society. "Because there's no true rating system, be as knowledgeable as possible before buying."

To obtain membership in the International Paperweight Society for $50 annually, contact L. H. Selman Ltd., 761 Chestnut St., Santa Cruz, Calif. 95060. With membership comes a glossy quarterly magazine, credit for one of the books published by the group, regular mailings and a paperweight stand. There's also a paperweight festival.

Available for $30 apiece from the same address are Selman's collector books: "The Art of Paperweight Challenging Tradition" and "All About Paperweights."

"If you buy prominent top artists, paperweights can be investments, but there's also the art of finding new young people whose work will later become more recognized," explained Warren Nelson, owner of Naples Art Gallery in Naples, Fla., which recently began dealing in paperweights.

When displaying collections, light placed in different ways can be used to significantly vary the look of paperweights, advised collector Ellen Goldsmith of Wilmette, Ill., who owns 60 pieces.

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