Ah yes, the joys of paperweight collecting.
For starters, what is the fancy name for a paperweight collector? You know, like philatelists for stamp collectors; numismatists for coin collectors. Do we have a name? Paperweightaholics? Glassaholics? Anything with -aholic at the end. Fusionists? The Latticino Band? Glassologists. Glassy-eyed Obsessives. You get the picture.
There are a lot of pleasures that go along with collecting paperweights, especially when someone finds a delicious weight for a terrific bargain. Like the St. Louis noted elsewhere on the board. Or my Clichy scramble of a month or so ago. It's especially wonderful when we find something and we know exactly what it is and where it was made.
It's the season for garage sales, which I gather is the American equivalent of a British boot sale. Families lug their items from their houses or apartments into their yards, sit on lawn chairs, hope for good weather, and sell the detrious of the year - or years - gone by. The avid, eagle-eyed collector, of course, hopes to strike gold. Or at least find a little bit of a treasure. Our eyes pass over the occasional Chinese weight or less than stellar Murano weight. Hmmm, do we need another Murano? It's only 5 dollars. Hmmm. Do we need another Murano? You all know about what I'm writing.
A month or so ago, I came across a nifty bargain at a garage sale that was being held a couple of blocks from my house. It was a dark blue St. Clair paperweight with a slight ring of bubbles around the edge and a sulphide figure in the middle. The weight was die-stamped St. Clair on the bottom, and the number 342 was etched, also on the base. It was similar in form and fashion to a couple of other St. Clair sulphides I have - a JFK, a Sitting Bull, and a mystery woman. I bought the latest sulphide weight for $10.
But who is the bearded guy being depicted? Is it a U.S. President? A general? I narrowed it down to either Robert E. Lee, general of the South during the American Civil War or Ulysses S. Grant, general of the North during the Civil War and a former president. Or maybe it was an obscure president such as Rutherford B. Hayes. Or was it William Tecumseh Sherman, another general from the Civil War?
Both online and book research proved futile. And I was still wondering who the mystery woman was in the other St. Clair sulphide that I can't figure out. Is it a president's wife - Mamie Eisenhower or Bess Truman, perhaps? Is it Evangeline H. Bergstrom, fabled paperweight doyen?
So, I decided to track down the St. Clairs. Using the computer and 411 (telephone information), there was no listing for any kind of St. Clair glassworks or St. Clair Factory in Indiana, which is where I knew the family company was located. Elwood, Indiana, in fact. I checked and asked for listings for Joe, Bob, and Maude to no avail, even a junior, and was about ready to ask for Tom, Dick, or Harry. A computer link (or clink as a friend calls it - because you click on a link) for St. Clair mentioned Joe Rice, but not where to find him. So I went about trying to find Joe Rice. I knew the St. Clair company had various family owners and operational changes and at some point a nephew of the St. Clairs, Mr. Rice, became the most serious of partners.
But Joe Rice was also in hiding until I found a link to him at a tiny marble museum. Turns out Mr. Rice is quite interested in marblemaking. The marble place was in Elwood, Indiana. Eureka! So I called the museum.
The woman who answered the phone was pleasant, but was unable to help. My questions were, I thought, easy. Is it possible to speak to Joe Rice? Does he have an email address to which I can send him some questions? Is there a storehouse of St. Clair material at the little marble museum? Does your museum have a research library? Did the St. Clairs keep a list anywhere of the sulphides they made? Could the local village library have the St. Clair papers? Did the St. Clairs make a series of presidential sulphides? And finally, exhausted and sort of laughing at myself, I asked if she knew who the guy with the beard might be in a dark blue sulphide signed St. Clair.
Now, absolutely no offense to the woman, but she seemed unsure of anything about which I was talking. I might as well have been describing sea monkeys. She did say that Mr. Rice had just walked in and she would mention my call. She didn't ask if I wanted to leave a number. She didn't ask for my email address. She was just gonna mention my call. Okay, now lady, my dear, could you possibly just, you know, ask him if he'll take the call? Or get an email address to which I can send him my questions?
Finally, I snagged an email address and said goodbye. Mr. Rice didn't chat with me. I know small-town America is an odd place, but I sort of felt as if I had intruded on a seance. It was just a weird phone call. You've all had them. You know what you yourself are saying, but the person on the other end might as well be on Mars.
So, I eagerly sent my email with all of my above questions and asked if he would like me to send some photos showing the cobalt blue guy sulphide and the turquoise blue gal sulphide. Mr. Rice emailed me back, answering none of my primary questions and thanked me for my interest in the museum and his marbles. He did mention that it would be impossible to tell me who the figure in the paperweight was or how many were made, etc. I emailed him back asking of there was a registry of weights made by the St. Clairs, photos, anything?
Or rather, the email equivalent of silence. No reply. Okay, no hurt feelings. I knew that somewhere in my readings, I had read about family squabbles and ownership issues, etc. So maybe there had been ill-will. Or maybe Mr. Rice just didn't care to talk about the past. Hey, that's okay. I mean, why would he want to talk to a persistent paperweight collector, anyway? Yes, he still makes paperweights and a lot of them are sold on eBay through a couple of Indiana-based eBay sellers. Oh well, no harm, no foul.
Therefore my fellow glasspeople, below are images of the two St. Clair weights. Who is the man? Who is the woman? Is it Grant? Lee? Bergstrom?
Now for my message. It fascinates me that so many paperweights are unsigned or unmarked. Sometimes it stuns me. I always think that if I were a glass artist, I'd keep a log of my work, take a picture, and sign the darn piece. Sign it with anything. A cane, a scratched signature, something. All those thousands of Murano weights that have no identification. All those Bohemian, German, American weights from the classic period. Not to mention the unsigned French work.
I think it was a glass artist named Henry Miller of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who copyrighted a fountainesque flower design for the inside of a paperweight, which he made in the early 1900s. But do you think he could've signed the work? He copyrights the design, but doesn't sign his pieces. What gives? Just amazing. Were most glassworkers really company slaves? What historical tradition is at work here? I know that women were shunted to the back rooms, but it seems that even the men were cogs in the glass wheel. Talk about glass ceilings that need to be shattered. Thank goodness Perthshire kept records. I mean, come on, even Strathearn didn't do that. Oh sure, the standing flower design has an S cane and maybe a date cane, but that's about it.
Therefore, my message is a plea. If you're making paperweights: please keep a log, take a picture, sign them. And that includes you men and women in China. It's time to start taking more pride in your output you Muranese. How on earth, in this day and age, can Venetian glassworkers not sign their work? We collectors are grateful to the many contemporary artists who do sign their work.
Anyway, if you know who the figures in the sulphides are, even if you think they're your Uncle Fred or Aunt Fannie, please let me know.http://i5.tinypic.com/15h2akz.jpghttp://i4.tinypic.com/15h29hy.jpg