Author Topic: The joys of paperweight collecting, and A MESSAGE FOR MAKERS  (Read 9830 times)

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Offline wrightoutlook

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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?

Silence.

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.jpg
http://i4.tinypic.com/15h29hy.jpg


Offline Lustrousstone

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The joys of paperweight collecting, and A MESSAGE FOR MAKERS
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2006, 07:51:22 PM »
Have you any idea of when these were made, because the lady looks very much like HRH Queen Elizabeth II. A royal visit souvenir?


Offline wrightoutlook

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american st. clair paperweights
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2006, 03:37:09 AM »
Paperweights stamped St. Clair, as opposed to Bob St. Clair or Joe St. Clair or Maude St. Clair, would fall into a specific year or series of years, depending on who was running the company at the time.

Because St. Clair paperweights are not considerd "high end" or single artist weights, there is not much literature about them. Thus my email to Mr. Rice, who I had hoped would be co-operative about the questions. I do believe; however, that St. Clair made sulphides during the late 1960s and 1970s, but I can't state that with total certainty. One would think that an American company, due to tax rules, social security rules, land rules, building rules, licensing rules, environmental rules, and work safety rules, et. al. would have reams of data somewhere.

I do know that the die-cast stamp on the bottom of the unknown "male" sulphide weight is undated, and simply reads St. Clair. The die cast on the "female" sulphide reads St. Clair 1972.  I also know that - depending on which St. Clair family member was running the company - the signatures were different. I recall reading somewhere that weights signed St. Clair were made by the COMPANY, but NOT by any specific St. Clair - such as Joe, Maude, or Bob, who had passed from the picture. Thus no first name. This may have been before someone other than Joe Rice took possession or possibly even while he ran the company. My fact checking here is a tad out-of-sync because it's difficult to find out answers. Thus my email to Mr. Rice, who decided he didn't want to provide any answers, which is a touch unfair.

So, no date on the guy sulphide, but 1972 on the gal.


Offline Frank

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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2006, 09:22:51 AM »
Trying to get info from descendants can be extremely difficult and can also be terribly unreliable if they do respond.

Once you dig deep enough it is not unususal to find rifts, particularly where a small private firm was involved as often the heirs did not have the skills of the founders and as the company went bust so did the families. Ysart glass still gets enquiries from 3rd/4th generations and has helped to reunite branches of the Ysart family. Others prefer to continue the feud. Pirelli Glass proved very similar. Other glassmakers with a connection have developed stories over the years that have little remaining in the way of facts and the accounts can contradict definitive research.

Small companies tend to file the minimum required amout of paperwork and have little incentive to invest in the means to store it. Invoices would potentially be the best source and are usually the first to be disposed of for space considerations. Ironically, H&S regulations make the storage of paper problematic due to fire considerations. Older firms are better than modern firms who tend to store the minimum paper for the minimum time in conformance to various regulations.

A few companies do manage to keep records, I remember getting copies of the Kügler order book pages recording sales of glass enamels to Moncrieff's that were used in Monart and PY weights. Confirming the information from Paul. This despite the problems caused by the war:
Quote from: "ysartglass.com"
In the 1930’s-40’s, the grandson of Gustav Haeubner, Mr. Klaus Küegler, took charge of the company after having studied with Prof. Springer. Until the very last days of World War II the company produced glass. An incendiary bomb destroyed part of the roof. Mr. Kügler and his smelter Mr. Herzog managed to save the building. Soon after they had to flee when Russian troups moved into this part of Germany.

After the war, Mr. Kügler started his own plant in West Germany, in Haunstaetten near Augsburg in Southern Germany. With his great expertise in glass-melting techniques, he re-produced the world famous Reichenbach colours. Glass-works the world over could continue to rely on coloured glass from Germany. He added new colours to the production and started a new branch, the Studio-Glasbewegung (Studio Glass Movement). Later he passed on his knowledge to the “Friedrich-Farbglashuette in Neugablonz”.


Heroism in glassmaking!
Frank A.
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Offline wrightoutlook

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i guess
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2006, 12:16:20 PM »
I guess we - meaning paperweight collectors - are thinking too logically. We know what we would do if we were making paperweights or were part of a family of paperweight makers. We would keep records, at least a list in a ledger. And we would sign the weight and have some sort of dating system either on the paperweight or in a notebook.

But, alas, we are not making paperweights.


Offline Frank

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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2006, 01:41:54 PM »
Glssmakers do keep notes sometimes but they are not always understandable, example from Moncrieff's:

http://www.ysartglass.com/Moncrieff/Recipes/MoncrieffRecipe.htm
Frank A.
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Offline Lustrousstone

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The joys of paperweight collecting, and A MESSAGE FOR MAKERS
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2006, 04:49:47 PM »
If the lady is dated 1972, we can rule out QE II, as there was no state visit to the US in 72


Offline JP

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The joys of paperweight collecting, and A MESSAGE FOR MAKERS
« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2006, 07:32:13 PM »
Do you know if St. Clair is the only weight maker in Elwood, Indiana? I have a weight with Elwood, In. impressed in the bottom, but it doesn't say St. Clare.

Thanks for your post, lots of interesting points. I am new to paperweights and I am trying to catalogue my partner's mom's collection before it's broken up. I am amazed at how many beautiful pieces are completely unmarked. Is this a difference between weight makers who think of themselves as craftsmen as opposed to artists? Other industires certainly do seem to have more of a tradition of documentaion. I have a (very) modest collection of Delft porcelain, and I know the maker of almost every piece. Even  Delft pieces dating back to the 17th century are usually identifiable to a factory and maker.
p at mahogany roasters dot com


Offline Frank

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« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2006, 08:17:16 PM »
See this discussion on the subject of signatures including feedback from glassmakers, historians, dealers and collectors.

http://www.glassmessages.com/index.php/topic,5904.0.html
Frank A.
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Offline wrightoutlook

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sigs
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2006, 01:30:32 AM »
Frank: I just took a look at just a few of the comments in that thread in Glass. Since my original post is here in the Glass Paperweights forum, I'll comment here about paperweights, which is what I collect.

Glass paperweights should be signed and/or dated in some fashion and records should be kept. This is because I believe that making and/or owning a paperweight is not just a personal thing. It ultimately becomes a public act. Why make a paperweight - why be a glass artist - if your goal isn't to distribute the art you make? An owner of a quality paperweight - or even a lesser weight that has potential in the future due to circumstances that don't exist in the present - is the guardian of the weight until the weight passes his or her ownership.

The owner of the weight needs to take care of that weight and plan on some sort of future for it. Decisions about paperweight collections need to be made. Should one sell off a collection or donate it to a museum? Identification of a paperweight is important for resale. Identification of a paperweight is important for exhibition in museums as well as for simply lecturing on paperweights. Knowing the maker of the weight also helps heirs to a collection.

I'm in the camp that believes paperweights should be signed. It truly is better to know the maker - and perhaps the year or decade made - than it is to not know. Suppose you find a style you like. Let's say it's Trabucco or Kaziun or Tarsitano or Salazar. You can become a collector of just one person's output. Yes, it would be nice to be able to tell who made a weight without a signature, but as we all know full well, that is too often impossible.

Thus an attribution mark is a good thing. Signature canes - a entire book has been written about them - are important. So are hallmarks and scratch signatures. I'm not as obsessive about number of weights in a series, but I'd prefer to know the maker.

To answer the question about other weight makers in Elwood, Indiana; aside from the St. Clair family, I'd have to assume Joe Rice is another, but I know very little about his output, except that he is a St. Clair family member and is not eager to share information.

And please remember the original purpose of this thread. Who is the bearded guy and who is the lady in pearls in the two St. Clair sulphide paperweights?

And thanks Lustrousstone for your fact-checking re: The Queen.

 

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