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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Paperweights And Buttons

( Orginally published 1962 )



The seller listed it as a "yellow overlay weight." The place of the sale was London. The price the buyer paid far this "weight" was over seven thousand dollars.

This sale was made not too long ago, and to the uninformed it might seem that a weight or a scale, and probably a solid gold one, had been sold for $7,000.

Or possibly it could have been a weight of a completely different kind-but whatever the uninformed guesses, the collector knows that it was a glass paperweight.

Almost everyone in America has seen, or owned, a glass paperweight at some time or other. What they do not know is that many of these weights are worth a great deal of money.

The possessor of a rare paperweight can ask almost anything, within reason, from collectors of these glass paperweights. They are as avid in their search for rare specimens as any antique car collector, philatelist, or numismatist.

They know the rare items and they want them, and if you can find a rare and antique example which they can add to their collections they are willing to pay the price for it.

Prices for glass paperweights vary, of course, and the worth of any one particular specimen depends upon many factors. First, the weight must be a rare one. It must be one of a kind or an example of a type that is rare. A paperweight which is just exactly like thousands of other paperweights could not be of any great value. But, if you can find one that is unique, a high value for that paperweight is almost assured.

Second, condition of the paperweight is an important factor determining its value. It is obvious that a weight that is damaged or in poor condition could hardly have the same value as a similar weight in fine condition.

Third, the desire for any one particular weight on the part of the collector is another prime criterion in ascertaining value. A collector who needs a certain paperweight to round out his collection usually, more willingly, pays more for a paperweight than a collector who merely wishes for, but does not really need, a particular weight.

Prices for weights which are not too rare range from $1 to $100. Certain types of overlay glass paperweights have sold for as high as $500. Weights which are considered more unique are valued up to several thousand dollars, and certain specimens such as the yellow overlay weight mentioned above, sell for $7,000 and more.

When looking for these glass paperweights it is well to remember that there are certain particular items worth watching for and there are certain facts which the searcher should keep in mind.

Overlay glass paperweights, for example, have separate contrasting layers of colors. Other types worth watching for would be the glass paperweights made of Baccarat glass, so called because they were made in the glass works at Baccarat, France. These weights are lovely examples of the art. They are generally made of red glass and usually filled with the artificial snow that is so familiar to lovers of paperweights. Made in the middle nineteenth century, these fine weights should be on the treasure hunter's list.

There is another type of paperweight worth watching for: teardrop paperweights, the glass containing patterns of air bubbles, and the air bubbles resembling tears. These paperweights were made in Massachusetts in the latter part of the nineteenth century and, technically, they are made of Pairpoint glass. Well worth watching for.

There are also paperweights made of "glass of a thousand flowers." They are the so-called Millefiori glass paperweights, the name stemming from the type of glass they are made of. The glass resembles small flowers, because when the glass is manufactured, it is composed of many small, colored-glass rods which are heated until they blend together. After this blending, the glass is cut across, resulting in a design that is like many small colored flowers.

This, then, is the glass that was used for Millefiori paperweights, collectors' items which every treasure hunter should be on the lookout for. Remember, however, that there have been thousands of Millefiori weights made, and only the oldest and rarest are worth a great deal of money.

Although it is not a paperweight, there is yet another type of glass ball which should be on the treasure hunter's list. This is the "witch ball" which frightened and superstitious Englishmen hung in their windows during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when people still believed in witches.

It was thought that these balls would keep the witches away. Whether they did or not, they were certainly important items in the homes of superstitious Englishmen, just as today they are important to the treasure hunter.

They were pretty items, being made of hollow glass, the glass lined with gay colors. The glass of which these balls were made is called Nailsea Glass, since it was produced in Nailsea, England. Perhaps they will not keep the witches away from you, but they will bring the collectors to your door, if you happen to possess one of them.

Owning a rare and unique glass ball or paperweight will certainly attract collectors, but there are certain general facts to keep in mind when dealing with paperweights. One of these is that there are many modern weights which look like rare and antique models. Although they were made honestly for merchandising reasons, it is easy to confuse a modern weight with an old one.

Also, there are fake antique weights. Though there are not many of these fakes around, it is wise to be certain that the weight you have is authentic-and there are several ways of doing this.

One way, of course, is to ask the experts. But, possibly, it would be wise to do a certain amount of preliminary research before attempting to subject your weight to the scrutiny of an expert. Probably the best and easiest way to do this is to examine the books at your local library. Usually available are two particular books, both of them fine works on glass paperweights. One of these is French Antique Paperweights, by Paul Jokelson; another which I recommend is Old Glass Paperweights, by Mrs. Evangeline Bergstrom.Within the pages of these two books the researcher will find approximately four hundred photographs of paperweights, both the common or garden variety and the most rare and unique. Check your own paperweight against the weights shown on the pages of these books. And maybe your luck will be good, perhaps even good enough to match the value of the yellow overlay which sold for over $7,000.

Somewhere in a trunk in your attic, or in an old box in your basement, or tucked away in an old desk, might be a button which could bring you a fortune.

Old buttons become more rare with every passing day, probably because they are small and easy to lose, and many times they are simply thrown away because most people never stop to think that such a thing as a button could be worth anything.

Unfortunately for the treasure hunter, there does not seem to be any way of measuring the value of a particular button, and they are among the items which you must sell for whatever the market will bear. The value of the button depends upon many things-condition, workmanship, and, above all, it must be rare enough for it to be badly desired as a collector's item.

There are, however, general rules in watching for button treasures. By this I mean there are certain buttons worth watching for. Even before the dawn of recorded history, men used buttons made of bone. There have been buttons taken from the ancient tombs of the Egyptians. Excavations have brought up ancient Greek buttons. And where these have been found, there are more.The buttons of the Middle Ages go back to the 1200's and are considered museum pieces. By the 1300's buttons were made of silver and gold, and set with gem stones-a fortune for the man who finds one in good condition. These buttons of the 1300's are hallmarked, and it is relatively simple to verify a button's authenticity for this period. Some of these buttons were also set with miniatures and ivory carvings. Any one of them is a real find for the treasure hunter.

At the time of the Renaissance fine buttons became a necessity to the well dressed. The Italian cavaliers were noted for the feathers in their caps, and to fasten these feathers they used golden buttons. And these cavalier buttons were made by such master craftsmen as the world may never see again.

Cellini was one of them, and if you can find a button made by this man, who is still considered to be the finest goldsmith the world has ever known, your fortune is made.

Cavalier buttons were also made by the Pollaiuoli, both Antonio and his brother Pierre as well as Matteo del Pollaiuolo. Finiguerra was another craftsman who made these golden buttons, fitting ornaments for holding the feathers on the caps of the cavaliers.

The ladies of the Renaissance were also noted for their use of buttons of fine craftsmanship. They fastened their robes with these buttons, and it is important to note that brass buttons were also used by the ladies of this period.

There are many missing buttons of the pre-revolutionary days in France-an era when buttons were so popular that one of the French Kings, Francis I (1494-1547), used more than thirteen thousand buttons on one outfit! Others of the court imitated their rulers, and for several centuries buttons were objects of fantastic workmanship, so much so that at one time the cost of buttons alone became a major expenditure of the French state.

Buttons were made of precious metal and decorated with every fine gem stone known to man. Diamonds and rubies were considered fitting for these items of extravagance. Many, many of the buttons of this period are missing, and fortune awaits the person who can find any of them today.

American buttons are also collectors' items. Buttons made in America-if you can find the right ones-are of value. The number of buttons made at first was small, so small in fact that the metal buttons on the uniforms of the American revolutionary soldiers were made in France.

However, some buttons were made. Among the most famous of these, of course, are those made by Caspar Wistar, who made buttons in Philadelphia as early as 1750. These buttons were metal, and so far no marked brass buttons made by Wistar have been found. Perhaps you might be the lucky finder.Certain colonial buttons considered rarities are the odd-shaped metal buttons. Any metal button from this period which is not of the regular round shape is worth investigating.

There is a type of very rare button which is set with marcasite, a substance which looks like diamond. These buttons were very popular during the period of the 1700's, yet today an example of a marcasite-set button is considered a rarity.

Also from this period are buttons by a man whose name is familiar to every schoolboy-Paul Revere. Known as a silversmith, Revere also made buttons. And these buttons are marked, therefore easily recognizable and just waiting to be found.

There are all kinds of buttons wanted by collectors, and among these are listed the buttons made by Wedgwood: cameos set in ivory and gold, and silver.

From the 1800's date the buttons marked with the name of Williston. Though they are cloth-covered buttons, they are nevertheless collectors' items.

There are buttons marked "Hurd" which are worth watching for; also buttons made of pewter, marked "L.C.H. Lancaster" - another type worth watching for.

Charm strings of buttons-strings on which are many different kinds of buttons-are familiar items to the collectors. They, also, are very valuable. But never make the mistake of breaking the string. Take the charm string intact to an expert and let him decide upon the value of the buttons thereon, or on the value of the charm string as a whole. These charm strings, although once popular in the 1800's, are becoming rarer by the day. And as they become more rare, their value soars up, fortunately for the treasure hunter.

Even the molds in which the buttons were made are items valued by the collectors. These molds are from the 1700's mostly and can be either of metal or of wood, but by far the rarer of the two types is the wooden mold since this has not withstood the test of time as well as the metal mold.

Whatever you find, have it checked by an expert. There are buttons and buttons-and they are all worth looking for. Whether they are buttons of gold and silver, with their embellishments of diamonds and emeralds and fine gem stones, or whether they are brass buttons of the Renaissance or the golden cavalier buttons by Cellini -they mean a fortune for you if you can find them.