I think we have covered the issue of artists proofs well between us. But there are still some things that I think need to be said about SECONDS. So here goes.
There are some glass artists, mostly in the US, who sell their paperweights for thousands of dollars. Debbie Tarsitano, Paul Stankard, Chris Buzzini, Victor Trabucco, and Rick Ayotte come to mind. There are several more. Their reputations and the market for their work allows them to make relatively few paperweights to make a good living.
There are other paperweight artists who can and do produce paperweights to a similar high standard, but they do not have the market to sell any of their work for thousands of dollars. Their best paperweights can be bought for less than a thousand dollars, yet they have the same costs of operating a glass studio. Most of the glass artists in New Zealand and in Scotland come into this category.
There is a strong tradition in Scotland to make and sell paperweights for a range of different markets. To my knowledge, this goes back as far as Paul Ysart. John Deacons in his post to the Glass Message Board, said that he makes 15 “Top of the market” paperweights a week. John works with a small team, including his son, as many other artists do. And the way they work is to produce some of their work for other markets. On average, he wrote, they make 18 middle market paperweights per week and 30 millefiori.
I buy from John every time I visit Scotland (every year) and I know that the price he charges for his best paperweights is some 20 times the price of his cheapest paperweights. This reflects the time spent making the paperweights as well as the skill and artistry involved. His cheaper paperweights are just different. They are not seconds in any way. They are obviously not going to be the same quality as something costing 20 times as much, on which more time has been spent.
I have discussed paperweights with many many glass artists in their studios, and I have often been shown something the artist regarded as an unsatisfactory paperweight. Please take my word for it, that what one person regards as a flaw, somebody else would find quite attractive. And what some artists think is a perfect paperweight leaves a lot to be desired. And I am not talking about John Deacons in this context.
So how did all this aggravation on the Glass Message Board come about?
Clearly some people thought that all of an artist’s work should be of the same standard. But many glass artists do not intended all their work to be the same standard, and this is an accepted tradition in many parts of the industry.
Some people regarded some features as flaws that others would accept as a feature of hand-made artistry. To complain that a signature cane is not up to standard strikes me as very unfair. The purpose of a signature cane is to identify an artists's work. Like handwriting, the artist can surely make it how he or she likes.
Tiny bubbles and tiny stones are not unusual in glass paperweights, especially those from Europe and the same is true of New Zealand. I don’t doubt that if you pay US$5000 for a paperweight you can demand perfection. But is it a necessary feature of a beautiful paperweight? If you look at a portrait from a 17th century Dutch artist the details may be perfect. So would you say a painting from the later Impressionist school was therefore a “second” because the details were less perfect? Most people would not say this.
As one of the contributors to this thread said, sometimes the imperfections are part of the appeal of a paperweight. And provided the seller is willing to accept the return of a paperweight the buyer is always in the position of choosing to buy what they like.
This brings me to eBay, which is a very imperfect market. A dealer can put a paperweight on eBay with a reserve of $40 and find that it sells for $500. This is unlike the normal transaction between a collector and a dealer. If a dealer says to you the price for this paperweight is $500 and he has only paid $25 for it and the price from the artist is normally only $25, then he is cheating you and the artist. But if he puts it on eBay with a reserve of $40 and you bid up to $500 then he is not cheating you. It may be that there is a reason for you to bid so highly. Maybe there are no more of these to be found. Maybe you need this one to make up a set. But it is not the dealer’s fault the price went so high.
This is the difficulty with buying and selling on eBay. In general, serious dealers will put a reserve price on a paperweight which is the price below which they would not sell, and the price at which they would be OK about selling. You can take it that the value is not a great deal higher than their reserve price, unless you know something the seller didn’t know about the item he is selling. Scarcity can push a price way above the reserve price; and so can beauty. An especially beautiful paperweight might demand a much higher price than an equivalent quality paperweight from the same artist.
Having said that there are some dealers who don’t put a reserve price on their glass. This may be because they start the auction at the price they are willing to accept, or it may be for some other reason. So you cannot take my suggestion of the reserve price as a hard and fast rule. Just a guide, especially with dealers who do use reserve prices.
I hope my comments help some collectors to take a different view of the concept of perfection in paperweights. But at the end of the day, it is each collector's personal choice.