Paperweights are popular and often expensive collectibles.
The first glass paperweights probably were made for an exhibition in Vienna in 1845. Within a few years, the French Saint-Louis glass factory, Clichy glassworks and Baccarat factory were making weights. A few years later, factories in England and Bohemia were also in the business. The early French weights are still considered the best examples, and collectors pay thousands of dollars for good ones.
These early paperweights were usually made of clear glass with colored glass canes or lampwork inside. Some were clear with an outer layer of colored glass that was cut through to show the interior. In 1882 a method of putting an ad on a piece of glass and sealing the ad inside a glass weight was patented. Many other types of paperweights are made today. There are solid clear glass weights that are engraved, weights with sulphide portraits, figural weights and modern plastic snow globes. Studio weights, made by artists in small studios, are especially popular today.
Examples by Lundberg Studios, Lotton, Paul Ysart, Stankard and Orient & Flume are among the best-known. These weights are usually marked with an etched signature or paper label.
Q: We are arguing. What is a commode?
A: The problem is that there are several meanings for the word “commode.” It’s the French name for a chest with drawers or doors that’s a convenient storage piece used in a bedroom. Many have small feet and carved decorations. The same word with the same meaning was used in England. By the early 1800s, some English commodes looked like dressing tables but had storage space for the bowls and pots used at night because indoor plumbing was not yet invented. That led to the more modern use of the word “commode”to describe a toilet. You probably don’t know that the word “commode” also is used to describe a type of headdress worn by a woman in the early 1700s. Different meaning altogether — she’s not wearing a toilet on her head.
Q: I have three figurines that look like Hummels but they’re marked “Occupied Japan.” What’s the deal?
A: Anything marked “Occupied Japan” was made in Japan between about 1947 and 1952. During those years (and earlier), Allied troops occupied Japan following its defeat in World War II. Some of the most popular Occupied Japan figurines are direct or slightly altered copies of original German Hummel figurines, which were first made in 1935. While genuine Hummels sell for more than Occupied Japan copies, the copies are among the most desirable of “OJ” collectibles. Some sell for close to $50.
Q: We have an old embroidery piece that has been handed down in our family for several generations. My mother told me it’s a “mourning piece,” a sewing project done by women to commemorate the death of a loved one. Our embroidered picture shows two women mourning over two small burial vaults, apparently holding the bodies of children. There’s a willow tree in the middle of the picture and an urn on the top of each vault. Originally there was writing on the vaults, but it has faded and become illegible. Can you give us some history on this type of picture? And what would it be worth?
A: During the 19th century and even earlier, embroidered mourning pictures were often made by female family members following another family member’s death. The art form is very conventional, meaning all mourning pictures (embroideries or paintings) show one or more mourners in dark dresses bent over a burial vault, tombstone or urn. There’s always a willow tree, too. The tree’s weeping branches are a symbol of death, tears, mourning and reflection. Needlework was an important pastime for women during the Victorian era, so mourning pictures have been passed down in many families. Pictures in excellent condition sell for thousands of dollars.
Q: Recently we inherited a stoneware spittoon marked “Standish & Wright.” What can you tell me about this maker, and how old is my spittoon?
A: Alexander Standish and Franklin Wright were partners at a Taunton, Mass., pottery from about 1846 to 1855. So your spittoon is more than 150 years old. We have seen spittoons as old as yours in excellent condition sell for $200 or more.
Tip: If you buy an old chest with many drawers of the same size, check to see if the drawers slide freely. The drawers may look the same, but they may be in the wrong order. Try other positions using clues like matching veneer, hidden numbers or scratch marks.