Author Topic: Cataloging a Collection  (Read 1401 times)

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Offline JP

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Cataloging a Collection
« on: June 25, 2006, 08:42:36 PM »
My partner's mother died a couple of years ago and we are finally getting around to clearing out her house. She was a paperweight collector and amassed about 250 weights over the years. She did most of her collecting pre-eBay/internet, picking up weights at antique shops, gift shops, boutiques. She visited the Perthshire and Caithness factories in 1984, and the several pieces she bought there are probably the best of her collection. Of course, once identified as a paperweight collector, family and friends gifted her with lots of weights she probably never would have bought herself, though I'm sure she treasured them just the same.

We're going to send the paperweights to all her family and friends but first we want to honor her efforts by cataloging the collection, a task I've volunteered to take on, even though I have no prior experience with paperweights. I have been photographing (how do you guys get those incredible pictures you take?!) and documenting weights for a few weeks now, learning as much as I can about paperweights (this board has been the most useful resource I've found), trying to grasp the terminology (I have some books that are on a slooow truck from Amazon coming, nothing at the local library) and just trying to get my head around the proper way to catalog a collection. And of course, I have a lot of work with identification ahead. I am getting a feel for Murano verses Chinese, and I definitely can recognize those Indian weights with the three trumpet flower shapes (I'm up to 14 of those:).  There are really only a handful of pieces that I don't have some feel for the origin at this point, which is mostly due to reading the last few months of posts on this group.

How do all you collectors document your collections? Do you keep databases of your weights? Are there standard catagories in the world of paperweight collecting by which weights are identified? Country of origin, factory, artist, style, date?

We are thinking of somehow labeling the weights on the bases with a small sticker with the catalog number, and that it's from her collection just to add to the provenance of the pieces. Is this considered sacrilege? We are boxing them all and including any documentation or provenance on the boxes as well.

I'd really love to know how all you serious collectors do this.

Funny thing about all of this is, after learning as much (which is only a little) as I have about glass weights, I think I might have gotten bit by the bug. After all of this project is over and we've distributed the weights, I'm going to have to think about starting a collection of my own. I think I have to have a Baccarat scramble :D
p at mahogany roasters dot com


Offline KevinH

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« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2006, 11:49:07 AM »
Hi JP,

Choosing an order for a catalogue really depends on its main purpose. If it is for family reference, then "Country / Maker / Type" would probably suit very well. If it is primarily for auction sales information, then perhaps "Type" may be better?

As an example of my own catalogue(s), see my web page at:
http://www.btinternet.com/~kevh.glass/pages/catalog/front.htm
This is headed "Ysart" and is sub-divided as Paul Ysart ... and Ysart Brothers. Then, for each of those, the weights are ordered by visual type, with my own naming of types being given although I have used standard "collector naming" where that fits well enough.

I have produced some catalogues for other folk and again, their generally preferred ordering has been Country, Maker, Type.

A place to check out ordering of many weights is the PCC 1999 Exhibtion pages at: http://www.kevh.clara.co.uk/exhib99/exhib99.htm
Ok, this is again my work (the photos as well as the pages) and therefore is biased toward my own preferred methods. In this case, the first ordering is by "Antique / Modern". The lower level ordering reflects closely the actual display at that exhibition, which suited the needs of the casual observer as well as those looking for detailed discussion.

Labelling the weights is a very good idea. But bear in mind that if the base can be seen through the top of the weight, then the size and position of the label can distract from the visual pleasantries of the weight. This is made so much nore relevant because of the magnifying effect of the dome. Also, if a label can be seen through the weight, take photos before putting the label on.

Boxing them is is also good. But unless weights have always been displayed in their original box, it is very easy to get them mixed up. For instance, I bought a few weights from one auction and each weight was catalogued as "boxed", but none of the boxes were right for the weights! And recently I bought off eBay a boxed weight (which I knew was a Scottish Strathearn) but which was offered as "Baccarat" because it was in a Baccarat box.

As an extra thought on general cataloguing, if you get to see a copy of the 1989 book Glass Paperweights of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum (covering 1,200 weights) you will notice that it is ordered intially by Type, with facing pages showing images followed by facing pages for text references of those images. But within the types, there is no set ordering of country or maker and the text info does not even follow the ordering of the images!

So, in my view, although "order-by-type" in that boook is very useful for locating weights for identification, the remaining detail is not at all useful for obtaining quick and easy fact finding and also does not provide an easy visual reference for one maker's style with a certain type.

Good luck with your task.
And good luck with youir collecting if you do get hooked.
KevinH


Offline wrightoutlook

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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2006, 12:40:22 PM »
This question sort of links to the "joy of paperweight collecting, message for makers" thread also in Glass Paperweights, especially the commentary on paperweight artists signing their work. I notice that KevH catalogues: Country/Maker/Type. Interpreting this, it seems that it IS important to know the maker, and it's easier to know the maker if the paperweight has some sort of signature cane or scratched signature or die-cast stamp.

As for the Glass Paperweights Of The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum book, I have always found it a frustrating experience to page through. Even years after owning it, I still go to the wrong Description And Explanation page time and time again. Are the paragraphs describing the preceding page or the following page? And as noted, sometimes on the Description and Explanation pages (which describe the paperweights that are displayed in a grid pattern), the depicted flow of the weights isn't even followed). It's a badly designed book.

As for cataloging, I have a simple 3 x 5 card that states Country and Maker and then a longer description of the kind or style of paperweight (uniqueness of design, dominant form within the weight (butterfly etc., scramble, close-pack, etc). Most, but not all, of my cards have where and when I got the weight. I have yet to photograph every weight because I know which weight is which. I have no numbered stickers on the bottom of any weights as yet; again, because I know what weight is which. Of course, this isn't going to help anybody else, so some day I'm going to have to connect the card information with a paperweight photograph.

I do know that there are a lot of people who keep no record of any kind about their collection and simply display their paperweights. Naturally, this helps collectors when they go to garage sales or flea markets or country auctions because nobody knew this or that paperweight was a Baccarat or a Clichy. But then who HASN'T been to a garage sale or a flea market where almost every Made-In-China or Made-In-India paperweight is described as being either Murano or French.

And JP, as for how do we take those photographs, here's my answer. I have a very good, very easy-to-use Kodak EasyShare CX7330, 3.1 megapixels. Quality-made, good battery life. Sports, night, landscape settings, too. Even has a few minutes of video capability on it. You can get a newer Kodak model, a CX7337 (or maybe a different number) at Walgreens for $109.99. It has a higher megapixel, but how many 24 by 24s are you ever going to make? Probably none, probably never.

I photograph on a white background - you can use a sheet of paper or buy a white piece of posterboard, which I use. Usually I shoot in daylight, near a window and even turn on some indoor lights. I go to the camera's "Tulip" icon for close-ups, hold the camera over the weight about a foot, and snap away. The key is to take a number of photos at different heights and telephoto positions and then simply go through them on the camera. For some goofy reason, the earliest image or images taken always seem to be the best.


Offline JP

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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2006, 10:10:17 PM »
Thanks for the very thoughtful and informative posts! KevH, your cataloguing is exactly what I'm hoping to achieve. Country / Maker / Type is, I think, the best approach. I am fairly confident that I will be able to at least divide the pieces accurately by country, with some makers known as well. Your subcategories by type were extremely helpful and a good basis for me to work from. Having such a broad-based set of weights, I think I may have a few types that fall outside of your Ysart categories.

I will be taking care to keep any stickers I add as discreet as possible. Most of them still have any stickers or documentation that were there when they were purchased, and she noted the price, place of purchase and date of purchase of most of them. She also noted all the family pieces that started her collection. I plan to try and capture all of this.

The whole topic of signing pieces, or at least disagreement over that topic, totally baffles me. But I am also surprised by collectors who don't document their ownership of a piece. The more documentation of provenance for any piece of art or fine craftmanship, the more interesting the piece becomes, in my opinion.

Thanks for the photo tips, and I may have to look into your specific camera--I was fairly convinced you were all using very high-end cameras!. I have been using a 3.2 MP Canon Cybershot on a tripod, with mixed results. I have been using a white background, and I have esperimented with a variety of lighting. So far I am getting the best photos in full sunlight. I will try adding some artificial light to indoor natural light and see if that helps. I just wish I could control shutter speed on my camera.

Thanks again for all the help! I certainly didn't realize what I was getting into when I took on this project, but I am thoroughly enjoying the education!
p at mahogany roasters dot com


Offline KevinH

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« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2006, 12:51:31 AM »
:D  JP said:
Quote
... I am also surprised by collectors who don't document their ownership of a piece ...
Ah, yes, indeed ... well, I actually do not have all of my collection(s) catalogued nor even documented. When I first got into collecting glass I did make regular notes on purchase history and whatever provenance I could determine. But then I got lazy. I still retain invoices and receipts where applicable, but the full documentation is not really up-to-date.

-------------------------

As for photographing weights, I touched on this in a another message elsewhere. But here's some of my personal "secret" points ...

I have tried using expensive equipment, including digital SLR camera with interchangeable lenses and all sorts of camera controls, and professional-style light box with powerful lamps (almost daylight rated). But I always seem to revert to the simpler method of less complex camera and flash.

Ok, my "less complicated" camera is a Nikon Coolpix 4500 (max resolution of 4 megapixels), which as discussed elsewhere, can now be bought reasonably cheaply, but was quite expensive when first issued.

One reason I like this camera so much for paperweight photography is that the flash output, at a distance of around 24 inches, is not overpowering for most glass paperweights. Most of my online images were produced this way and they have just a single small flash-spot somewhere near the centre.

By using flash, it also eliminates quite a bit of the unwanted reflections that can occur in a glass dome. Also, I get a much better look to the clear glass parts than if I try it with just daylight (or what passes for that in the UK most days). Using room lighting on its own is just a hassle as it needs to be colour-adjusted either in the camera (not always easy, even if possible) or later through editing software (never easy). And with room lighting and I have not yet been able to produce good tones in the clear glass even after much editing.

My "studio" for this "less complex" way of doing things is:
a) daylight from one window only (close all other curtains and check for and elminate any other source of main light reflections)
b) camera always on a tripod
c) sheet of A4 plain white paper with clear plastic stand (inverted "U-shape, 3 inch height) placed on the paper and paperweight placed on the stand
d) two sheets of A4 plain white paper taped together

I set the camera to either its "Normal" or "Fine" quality mode depending on my intended output. Fine mode seems to be best for placing directly onto CD for full-size displays on other people's pc screens or for "large" printed images. But "Normal mode" is easily good enough for general web usage, particularly since I always further reduce the quality through optimisation. [But I also use a good bespoke optimiser which produces excellent Kb size reductions with remarkably little loss in visual quality - and it's all precisely controllable in percentage degrees.]

By settting the weight on the clear stand over the white paper, I avoid most of the flash-bounce that so often occurs when a weight is photographed directly on a white (or near-white background). Even if the weight has a coloured or filled-in ground, there can still be flash-bounce up through the sides of the glass dome!

When I have lined up the weight in the camera's LCD screen (at 24 inches, using the viewfinder is not so good for this), and zoomed in to fill most of the screen, I then press the shutter half-way to pre-focus the image. (For anyone considering a digital camera, pre-focus is a must-have, in my opinion [but I forgot to tell Max that in the Cafe Forum].)

Next, with the camera shutter still held in its pre-focus position, I take my taped-together A4 sheets in my other hand (held around the top of the join of the sheets) and position them to eliminate the main reflection from the window. By using two sheets taped together I can easily control whether the sheets are flat or curved and I can do this by thumb-movement alone. Simple with a bit of practice.

One thing to check, though, is that the white of the "reflection shield" does not itself get reflected too strongly in the weight. If it does, I move the "shield" away until it loses its intensity in the glass dome - and this is so much easier with a hand-held setup like this. Why not use a dark "shield"? Ah, well, that often makes the final image look bad because of a dark patch in the dome that is not sufficiently removed by the flash! With white paper, the flash balances things out.

I take two shots minimum - one in close-focus mode (using the "little flower icon") and one in standard focus mode. I have found that at around 24 inches, sometimes the image does not focus precisely in one of those modes. And there's nothing worse than getting the images to the pc later only to find that the great-looking image in the LCD display was actually blurred around the edges! That can quite easily happen in weights that have a central image part that is physically higher than the outer parts (as in, for example, a central Butterfly surrounded by an outer-edge ring of millefiori, all set on a slightly domed internal ground).

Yes, out-of-focus images may also be a result of not selecting the right focus control for the canera (where this is an option), and yes, it could be overcome by changing the camera-to-object distance. But in my experience it's the variable shapes and sizes of weights that is the main factor and by keeping to the 24 inch distance I get easier LCD viewing and I don't have to keep resetting the tripod and camera or zoom in or out too far .

Oh - one other thing about equipment. Tripod legs. I wish I had bought a tripod with BLACK legs. Nice shiny "chrome" legs look great ... but they always appear in a paperweight photo ... even though they weren't visible through the LCD screen. So, I simply wrap them up in black cloth and masking tape - it works a treat.

How about photo-editing? Is it needed after taking a zoomed-in shot with flash and with the camera producing a good-sized image at several megapixels? Yes, for most medium-priced digital cameras, I think it is.

In fact, if the image is used straight from the camera without size adjustment, then maybe no further tweaking is required. But I have found that as soon as a camera image is opened in an editing package, its quality seems to be "averaged out" to suit the software, not the eventual usage. So, for my images from the Coolpix 4500, taken in Normal mode, and then reduced in size to around 400 pixels max width / height, I find that manual sharpening is needed and also a touch of extra brightness and / or contrast on some images. But this is something that needs to be assessed according to each person's needs and preferences.

Above all, I find it's essential to have fun, and when it gets frustrating, which is quite often ... have a break.

 :D  :D
KevinH

Offline Derek

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Cataloging a Collection
« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2006, 08:26:52 PM »
Hi all

Couple of points - The Bergstrom-Maher book has been mentioned and I heartily agree - its the most difficult book to use I have come across. However I have heard that someone produced a cross index of the book to make finding things easier. Does anyone know who did this and whether the index is still available ????

Second on photography - I do most of mine using daylight and a Kodak 3 mpixel camera - I overcome the reflections from windows by using a non-coloured translucent wastepaper basket - the one I have is 10" deep 10" across the mouth and 7" at the base - and cost all of £1.50 !!! Cut a hole in the bottom  to take the lens and you not only have a diffuser but a ready made support for the camera.

For head on pictures - I have a U shaped perspex stand on which I sit a disk of plywood covered in material - velvet works well. The disk has a hole cut in the centre.

I stand the weight on a further circular perspex stand so that its about 3/4" above the material. This significantly improves results. If I want light coming in from underneath the weight then I just prop a pocket mirror at 45 degrees under the U shaped perspex stand.

If I want side views or other angles I use a small piece of Blue Tac to stabilise the weight.

Just put the lens through the hole and allow the camera to sit on the plastic base - focus and snap away.

Takes longer to write about than to do !!! There is a little bit of tweaking required with the colour balance of the photo due to the effect of the diffuser but this is easily handled by a basic graphics package - I use Paint Shop Pro.

Regards

Derek

Offline dreamticket2

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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2006, 09:02:49 AM »
Another tip I had for flash photgraphing- to avoid glare- must have been on this board because there is so much help given-thank you people!- carefully postion a piece of thin white tissue paper over the flash.

Good luck with the PWT cataloguing.
jean

Offline JP

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Cataloging a Collection
« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2006, 01:36:36 PM »
Thanks for all the good tips on photography. I've been putting together a plan for the next photo sessions, based on all your excellent suggestions. We're going to have nice sunny weather for a few days, and I'm hoping to finish most of it, though the count on the weights keeps climbing. I had originally estimated 250, but now it's looking more like 400 - 500. They just keep turning up!

KevH wrote
Quote
Ah, yes, indeed ... well, I actually do not have all of my collection(s) catalogued nor even documented. When I first got into collecting glass I did make regular notes on purchase history and whatever provenance I could determine. But then I got lazy. I still retain invoices and receipts where applicable, but the full documentation is not really up-to-date.

Sorry if I sounded a bit pompous with the comment about collectors cataloguing. I certainly have many possessions that I have not properly documented. But I'm just becoming more aware of how the opportunity to do such things can pass. We found a "To Do" list of Paul's Mom's yesterday, which included cleaning the spare bedroom and cataloguing paperweights. I think she probably got around to everything on the list except the paperweights:(

I sometimes try and create art myself (though I doubt many people would put the tag of "art" on it other than myself). I put about two weeks into a project recently, and had just installed it in my garden when the paperweight project began. I was outside on the deck photographing paperweights when a huge limb from a pine tree crashed down before my eyes, not 4 feet from the table with about a hundred wieghts. Fortunately the weights were spared, but my  new sculpture was completely destroyed. I never even got a photo, in my enthusiasm to get the weights photographed. You just never know when the opportunity will be gone. As I become more and more aware of how important your collections are, it seems so much would be lost to the world if a catastrophe or theft were to happen.

I just received Paul Hollister's Encyclopedia of Glass Paperweights. It certainly has a lot of useful information, but I am finding it much less useful an identification tool than I had expected. Still, fascinationg reading, and my awareness of this artform is still expanding.

We have more boxes coming today. KevH, these are not original paperweight boxes, just generic white jewelry-type boxes, which we're using primarily to have a means of storing them, and eventually distributing them. There was only one mention of the paperweights in her notes on what to do with her personal possessions after her death--"Paperweights - Divide." We're finding that easier said than done!

Well, enough rambling. I have weights to photograph! Thanks again, everyone. As the occasional person here in the US South is prone to say, "Y'all are good people!"
p at mahogany roasters dot com

Offline KevinH

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« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2006, 10:41:12 PM »
JP said:
Quote
Sorry if I sounded a bit pompous ...
I don't think you sounded pompous at all.  You made a good and valid point about taking opportunities ... One of mu many "problems" is that I have too many good intentions but take too few opportunities. :D

I can understand your view about the Hollister book not helping with ID as much as you might have hoped. Although it's a great book (and one which I am currently re-reading for info on a talk I am preparing) it is limited in its coverage on the more general types of weights. And of course, since it was published in 1969, there is no mention of anythimng made after that date.

That's a good idea with the generic boxes and my concerns about incorrect boxing are now wiped away. :D

Sorry to hear about the accident with your sculpture. But perhaps if you had not had the paperweights project to focus on, you may have been closer to the sculpture ... and then ...? Hopefully you can create another sculpture soon.
KevinH

 

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