In 1845, a new style of glass art known as the paperweight was first exhibited at the Austrian Industrial Fair. This product, created by Italian and French glassblowers, combined established glassworking techniques dating back to the ancient Egyptians. Paperweights were produced by encasing various combinations of millefiori cane, flowers and figures inside a glass dome.
Sold by stationery stores, paperweights became very popular in the mid-1800s as decorative items. In America, the New England Glass Company and the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company began to produce paperweights in 1852. Although these early weights copied European styles, it wasn’t long before a uniquely American type of paperweight emerged.
By the start of the 20th century, an upright flower, eventually known as the “Millville Rose,” was produced in Millville, N.J. This weight was unlike anything previously created in Europe or America and is considered the first truly American-style paperweight. Other Millville designs, including tulips, lilies and umbrella or fountain weights also were made by glassblowers employed in local glass factories during their lunch break. These weights were not commercial products but were made as gifts for family members and friends.
In the early 1930s, there was a lull in paperweight making which lasted almost 20 years before production was resumed. Today, many glass companies and individual artists are rediscovering forgotten techniques and expanding the field with new forms and combinations of glass.