1992 Thousands of Flowers: American Millefiori Glass

The term “millefiori” literally means a thousand flowers. In glassmaking terms, millefiori means glass decorated with narrow slices of colored glass rods with internal patterns, called cane. These cross-sections of cane could be fused into a mosaic design, embedded onto the surface of a glass vessel or encased in a glass dome to form a paperweight.

Canes were utilized in glassmaking as early as the fifteenth century B.C. in Mesopotamia. Mosaic cane bowls were produced by fusing the small slices in a shallow mold by the third century B.C. The word millefiori appears to have been used for the first time in print in 1827 by the antiquarian Heinrich C. von Minutoli. Minutoli was describing the new craze of imitating ancient mosaic glass by Venetian and Roman glassmakers, which was called in Italian “millefiori.”

Canes were primarily made in two basic methods. A glassmaker could bundle or arrange different colored rods in intricate patterns. The plain or complex bundle was then held in a die or bound with wire and heated to melt the separate rods into one piece of glass.

Another method was to employ a one-piece mold with an internal pattern. A gather of molten colored glass was collected on the end of a pontil or iron rod. The glass was then dipped into the mold and allowed to cool slightly, embedding the mold’s design into the gather. Once removed, the patterned gather was dipped into another color of glass and pressed into a slightly larger mold with different relief. This process continued until the desired motif was completed.

At this phase, both the molded design and the bundled and fused rods were approximately three inches in width and six inches in length. From this stage, both types of cane were worked the same way. Once reheated, iron pontils were securely attached to both ends. Stretching the hot glass, two workers moved quickly apart until the rod was elongated and pencil thin. The internal design, which became tiny, was still perfectly intact. The cooled finished canes could then again be bundled to form more intricate designs. Cane continues to be produced today by these same techniques.

Millefiori canes can be made in a wide variety of motifs. The styles include cogs with a wide range in the number of spokes, geometric designs of arrows, bull’s eyes, stars, and whorls as well as floral examples of roses and edelweiss. Other canes, not considered millefiori but almost always included with millefiori designs, are silhouette canes, portrait canes, date and signature canes. Silhouette canes are usually of animals, human figures, devils and objects. Portrait canes reveal the head or bust of a man, woman or family. The earliest known date cane in a paperweight was 1845, used in Venice and France. Signature canes of initials, representing the name of the maker, were incorporated in the design of antique weights and continue to be utilized by contemporary glass artists.

In the United States, millefiori glass was not produced until 1852, when the New England Glass Company of East Cambridge, Massachusetts, began manufacturing paperweights.

By then, millefiori paperweights had been produced in Europe for nearly ten years. The Venetian glassmaker, Pietro Bigaglia, had exhibited millefiori paperweights in 1845 in Vienna at the Exhibition of Austrian Industry.

The millefiori paperweight form probably evolved from hollow and solid spheres that were filled with assorted chevron-design canes which were produced in Venice in the fifteenth century. The process for making these balls was illustrated by Apsley Pellatt in his book Curiosities of Glassmaking, in 1849. The method utilized was to blow a transparent, conical double-walled vessel which was then cooled. Once cooled, the hollow walls were filled with lozenges of millefiori cane. The entire vessel was then reheated and attached at its opening to a blowpipe. Instead of blowing, the worker sucked out the air to compress the hollow walls together around the canes. The solid piece could then be fashioned into a ball or a desired object.

By 1845, paperweights were made by arranging small pieces of millefiori canes in a shallow brass or iron die. The die and canes were heated but not melted. A gather of clear molten glass, attached to a pontil, was then pressed into the die adhering the warm canes to the glass.

The fused canes were then encased in a dome of clear glass. This process is still utilized today.

Paperweight production had probably begun in Bohemia around the mid-1840s. In the same year after the Vienna Exhibition, manufacture of paperweights began in France. By the mid-1840s to late 1840s, millefiori paperweights were produced in large quantities because they were cheap to make and buy. They made great souvenirs or small gifts.

Of the three major French manufacturers of paperweights, Compagnie des Cristalleries de Baccarat, Cristalleries de Saint Louis and Clichy-de-Garenne, only the Clichy firm exhibited paperweights at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. It is believed that American glass firms became interested in paperweights at the 1851 exhibition. Paperweights with millefiori designs became production items at the New England Glass Company by the following year.

The New England Glass Company was incorporated in 1818 by Amos Binney, Edmund Monroe, Daniel Hastings and Deming Jarves. The major production of the firm was flint (lead) glass tableware, which was cut or pressed. By 1855, the factory employed five hundred workers. The first paperweight produced at the New England factory was a clear hexagonal weight with a pressed motif of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, which was dated 1851.

Millefiori paperweights were being regularly produced at the factory by 1852. The following year, the firm exhibited “fancy paperweights” at the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations held in New York.

Several workers at the New England Glass Company probably made millefiori paperweights but Francois Pierre was the most recognized. Born in Alsace-Lorraine, France, in 1834, he worked at Baccarat before arriving in New England in 1849. Not only was he known for his millefiori work but also for his lampworking skills.

Miraculously, fourteen slices of New England Glass Company canes survive today and were given to the Museum of American Glass in 1978. The canes, found in a small box, included a small card on which, in pencil, was written, “I got these pieces of glass at the glass-works in East Cambridge, Mass., Aug. 8th, 1864.” On the reverse side was inscribed, “Frank Muzzey, Phila. Pa.” Frank Muzzey was eighteen years old when he collected these millefiori canes. His father, William M. Muzzey, was a glass merchant in Philadelphia, acting as the agent for several glass companies, one of which was the New England Glass Company. The canes depict ten different millefiori designs and two silhouette canes of the running rabbit and eagle designs. These are the only known New England Glass Factory canes outside of paperweights.

Besides canes of millefiori and silhouettes of animals, the New England factory created date canes made up of white numerals of “1852” on a deep blue background. Canes bearing the date “1825” do exist but are recognized as mistakes, having their last two numerals reversed.

New England millefiori paperweights followed the motifs of their French predecessors. Open and Closed Concentric rings of millefiori canes, Crowns of twisted rods, and Scrambled designs of mixed-up canes were typical production items. Nosegays, also known as posies or flat bouquets, were another French design put into production at New England.

Nosegays were usually made up of at least three millefiori canes arranged to look like flowers, surrounded by green lampworked leaves. Their usual backgrounds were of white crisscrossed latticinio or were clear with a ring of millefiori canes. Unusual nosegay backgrounds were also created, such as a cupped millefiori cane basket, and a rare white mushroom background with cocoa and white double overlay, which is in the collection of the New York Historical Society.

Overlays of thin single or double layers of color were applied to the exterior of the sphere while the paperweight was still hot from production. Once cooled, the overlays were cut with designs of windows and facets to reveal the motif within. The New England factory was known for its double overlays of brick red, blue, and cocoa brown (often appearing amethyst) over white, and its single overlays of white. These overlays usually surrounded Concentrics, Close Concentrics, Nosegays, and upright bouquets.

Flowers and Bouquets were made at New England by the process called lampworking, which involved manipulating colored glass rods in a gas flame. The lampworked designs were then encased in clear glass. Francois Pierre, a skilled lampworker, is credited with making many of these designs which imitated French patterns.

Poinsettia flowers, consisting of two rows of colored petals with green stems and leaves, were produced and normally placed on latticinio ground. Millefiori canes were incorporated into the center of the flower to form the pistil.

Upright three-dimensional Bouquets utilized canes for the centers of the flowers in much the same manner as the poinsettias. The more intricate designs also employed canes as actual flowers. Upright Bouquets ranged in size from magnums (approximately four inches in diameter) to smaller examples. Probably the rarest type of New England paperweight is the double overlay with Upright Bouquet.

At least one Upright Basket in a paperweight, made of blue and white latticinio with a red and white twisted handle, was created at the New England firm. The basket is filled with various red, white and blue canes. Unfortunately, a large bubble surrounds the basket, distorting this uncommon design.

Paperweight production was discontinued at the New England Glass Company about 1874. Over the next several years, the company had many difficulties and the firm was leased to William Libbey and his son, Edward Drummond Libbey. After the death of his father and a long labor dispute, Edward Libbey moved the operation in 1888 to Toledo, Ohio, where it still exists today as a division of Owens-Illinois.

The Boston and Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, Massachusetts, probably began making paperweights in 1852, about the same time as the New England Glass Company. Although there is no documentation for this date, the Sandwich firm made scrambled weights with 1852 date canes incorporated in the mix. To confuse the issue, date canes of 1825 have also been found in Sandwich scrambled weights, which were apparently errors.

Founded by Deming Jarves in 1825, the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company produced tableware, chemical and apothecary apparatus, lamps and other articles. The name “Sandwich” has become synonymous with high quality pressed glass, but the firm also manufactured superb cut glass and enameled ware.

Production of paperweights was more limited than that of the New England factory. Several workers, including Edmund Rice, Timothy Collins and the famous Nicholas Lutz, are credited with making the Sandwich commercial line of paperweights. Lutz, born in Saint Louis, France, apprenticed in that town’s famous glass factory, which was known for its paperweights. He immigrated to the United States in 1860 to work for the Dorflinger glass firm in Brooklyn. He moved with C. Dorflinger & Sons when the factory relocated to White Mills, Pennsylvania, in 1865. While working in White Mills, Lutz is credited with making paperweights and lampworked paperweight stoppers for cut glass decanters. In 1867, Lutz moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked for the New England Glass Company until he joined the Sandwich operation in 1869.

Lutz has been credited with making most of the lampworked paperweights sold by Sandwich. He gained his knowledge of paperweights from years of experience at the glass factory in Saint Louis, France, and the New England Glass Company.

The majority of Sandwich paperweights were floral, made up of lampworked petals surrounding a millefiori cane. Unusual-looking cross flowers were also attributed to Lutz. The cross consisted of colored rods which included a millefiori cane at the center, often a rose, with two green petals attached to the base of the cross.

Scrambled millefiori and a small number of Patterned or arranged millefiori motifs were marketed by Sandwich. Production of Crown designs of twisted filigree rods domed from a central millefiori was also very limited. Timothy Collins is recognized as having made many of the scrambled millefiori examples.

Other lampworked design paperweights were manufactured at Sandwich but they did not incorporate millefiori. Paperweight production at Sandwich probably continued until the company closed in 1888.

Paperweights with millefiori designs were made on a limited basis by the Gillinder & Sons firm called the Franklin Flint Glass Works of Philadelphia. William T. Gillinder founded the factory in 1861. Born in England in 1823, Gillinder began working in glasshouses at a young age and was eventually made central secretary of the National Flint Glass Makers Society in 1851. One of the many glasshouses Gillinder worked for was Bacchus & Sons, known for its millefiori paperweights.

In 1854, Gillinder left England to work for the New England Glass Company. Although he only worked briefly in Cambridge, his path crossed with Francois Pierre, who taught Gillinder more about paperweight making. Gillinder left New England and worked for several other glass companies before settling in Philadelphia.

Thirty-six millefiori canes exist outside of Gillinder paperweights and are in the collection of The Toledo Museum of Art.

The group consists of two silhouette portrait canes and cog motifs. These canes were purchased in 1907 by Edward Drummond Libbey from Edwin Atlee Barber, then director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Libbey presented the canes to the Toledo museum later that same year.

Gillinder millefiori paperweights are dated from the opening of the firm in 1861 until 1871, when William Gillinder died. The millefiori paperweights were virtually all Close-packed Concentrics, or Carpet grounds of uniform identical canes. Many examples were faceted.

Gillinder millefiori cane colors were white and pastel shades of pink, blue, and green. The cog designs and light hues trace their roots directly to the English-made Bacchus paperweights.

After paperweight production ended at Gillinder, the firm continued to make cut and pressed glassware. The company became famous at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 by building an operating glass factory on the fairgrounds, which became one of the exhibition’s most popular exhibits. In 1912, the firm split, with several descendants moving to Port Jervis, New York, where Gillinder Brothers still operates today.

Paperweight production at the Mount Washington Glass Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is clouded in controversy. Little is known about paperweight manufacturing there. The paperweight plaques once attributed to Mount Washington have now been credited to Russia. At this point in time, although questions have been raised about their origins, the magnum floral and fruit paperweights are still attributed to Mount Washington.

The Mount Washington Glass Company was founded by Deming Jarves in 1837 in Boston and was relocated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1867 by its new owner, William L. Libbey. The factory became famous for its beautiful art glass and tableware.

Just when and who made the paperweights attributed to Mount Washington is unknown. Interestingly, Nicholas Lutz worked for Mount Washington from 1892 until 1895, when the firm had become part of the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company. But, the style of these lampworked floral magnum paperweights are unlike any other paperweights attributed to Nicholas Lutz.

Several of these large floral design paperweights have butterflies surrounding the blossoms. The bodies of the butterflies were lampworked but the wings were made with millefiori canes. The idea of making butterfly wings with millefiori canes can also be traced to their French predecessors.

The Mount Washington factory was purchased by the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company in 1894. Under successive ownership, the company changed its operation and location several times. Millefiori paperweights were made at the factory in the 1970s. Today, the Pairpoint firm operates in Sagamore, Massachusetts, and continues to make paperweights.

As mentioned previously, a limited number of stoppers containing floral paperweight designs, millefiori paperweights and other objects with millefiori inclusions have been attributed to the C. Dorflinger & Sons Company of White Mills, Pennsylvania around 1867. Other companies may have produced millefiori paperweights but none have been positively identified. Interestingly, at least one company not known for making paperweights was offering glass canes for sale. The Brooklyn Flint Glass Works advertised its rebuilt factory in Brooklyn in December 1867 and, in the announcement, offered “the best quality of cane glass of all sizes and colors, suitable for the manufacture of buttons, dress trimmings, etc.”

Commercial paperweight manufacture with millefiori inclusions apparently was discontinued by the end of the 1880s. But, the use of millefiori in American glass could be found in the blown vessels of Tiffany Studios about 1895 and the Steuben Glass Works in the early twentieth century.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s achievements in glassmaking are overwhelming. Leaded glass windows, leaded lamps with bronze bases, shimmering iridescent vessels in naturalistic shapes and mosaics were just some of his remarkable accomplishments. The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, under Tiffany’s direction, produced its first blown vessels in 1893 and offered them for sale in the following year. Decoration of these vessels was generally achieved by the surface application of threads and bits of glass while the piece was in its molten state. By 1900, the firm was known as Tiffany Studios.

Several Tiffany designs for vases incorporated millefiori canes. White millefiori flower canes were embedded into the surface of the object, which was also decorated with trailing vines and leaves to create a floral effect. In addition, Tiffany utilized canes as centers of flowers on vases with bolder, more naturalistic designs. These vases were made from around 1895 until 1910.

An extraordinary example of Tiffany’s work was his underwater vases called aquamarines. Thick glass formed the body of the vase to give the appearance of looking through water at sea vegetation and fish. Similar to the sea life aquamarines were vases of thick light green glass with vines, leaves and flowers made of millefiori canes. The technique used to make this style of glassware is often called “paperweight” due to the multiple steps of building the object slowly by adding layer upon layer of glass.

Louis C. Tiffany retired from Tiffany Furnaces (as Tiffany Studios became known) in 1919. The company continued to operate until 1931. Although his contributions to the world of art glass fell out of favor, interest in Tiffany’s work was revived by the early 1950s. Today, he is recognized for his remarkable achievements.

Frederick Carder helped found the Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York, in 1903 to produce high quality decorative glassware. Having worked for over two decades in England with the glassmaking firm of Stevens and Williams, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge in glassmaking. Almost immediately, production began at Steuben of gold and blue iridescent ware called Aurene.

Carder was so pleased with his shimmering Aurene glass that he felt the pieces needed no additional decoration. A few gold Aurene examples of vases and lamps were decorated with white millefiori flower canes and green leaves and vine trailings. The highly polished iridescent gold surface made a dramatic background for the delicate white flowers and fragile leaves.

Venetian-style glassware has always interested glassmakers and buyers of glassware. Carder was fascinated by Venetian designs. Fusing millefiori canes into mosaic bowls was a technique that intrigued Carder. Under his influence, Steuben produced a few excellent examples. These rare pieces date from about 1915 to 1930.

In 1932, during the Depression, the owners of Steuben decided to discontinue colored glass production, which had fallen out of fashion. Production began at Steuben to develop high quality clear lead glass. Frederick Carder was relieved of his duties as manager and was appointed designer of the Corning Glass Works, where he went on to experiment with other ancient techniques.

Glassware with millefiori inclusions was probably made at glasshouses by workers on their own time during the early part of the twentieth century.

Approximately twenty-nine different millefiori canes, nine green leaves and one white lampwork leaf, once used by Dave Lilejuist, a glassworker at Pairpoint in New Bedford, are now in the collection of Kenneth Wilson. Robert Bryden, manager and later owner of the Pairpoint Glass Company, acquired the box of parts and small containers of crushed, colored glass from Lilejuist and subsequently gave them to Wilson in 1957.

Lilejuist’s story is still unclear. Believed to have emigrated from Norway, Lilejuist was listed as living in New Bedford in 1914 and therefore, probably worked at Pairpoint. He definitely was working at Pairpoint under the Gundersen management from 1939 until 1952. Lilejuist most likely made many of these canes and also probably acquired others where he could find them. It can be assumed that Lilejuist utilized these canes to make objects on his own time, like so many other glassblowers.

Serious interest in paperweight collecting began after Evangeline Bergstrom of Neenah, Wisconsin, privately published the book, Old Glass Paperweights: Their Art, Construction and Distinguishing Characteristics, in Chicago in 1940. The book inspired a lampworker named Charles Kaziun to try his hand at paperweight making.

Kaziun, who passed away in January 1992, was trained as a scientific glass apparatus maker, melting glass tubing in the flame of a gas torch. As early as 1939, Kaziun was attempting to make paperweights entirely at the torch, a technique that had never before been tried. In 1942, he went to work at the University of Pennsylvania with James D. Gorham, who exposed Kaziun to Bergstrom’s book. Kaziun devoted himself to mastering different styles of paperweights, such as roses and other floral designs. Probably some of Kaziun’s finest work was his millefiori weights. He perfected a variety of canes including silhouettes. Many examples of his millefiori work were placed on gold stone background with twisting torsades.

Kaziun set a high standard of quality for all lampwork paperweight makers who followed. Only a few lampworkers utilized canes in their paperweights. Francis Whittemore, also trained as a scientific glassblower, began making lampwork paperweights in 1968. Whittemore incorporated millefiori canes into his designs, much like the New England factories, as centers of flowers or to form blossoms in nosegays or floral sprays.

Another glassworker who made lampworked paperweights in the late 1960s and early 1970s was Ronald Hansen. Although his weights are considered somewhat crude, Hansen used millefiori canes for the pistil in flowers and sometimes as independent flowers.

In the late 1980s, Delmo Tarsitano of Long Island, began experimenting with millefiori canes. Tarsitano, who worked with his daughter Debbie, produced his first lampwork paperweights in 1976. He was known for his meticulous realistic environmental designs. Unfortunately, Tarsitano passed away in 1991 before his work with millefiori canes had a chance to further develop.

The new interest in paperweights also spread to glass companies. In the 1950s, the French factories of Baccarat and Saint Louis revived millefiori paperweight production. In the United States, several small factories began producing paperweights, sometimes incorporating Murano canes.

One such company was the Gentile Glass Company of Star City, West Virginia. The shop was founded by Peter Gentile in 1947. By the 1950s and 1960s a wide range of furnace paperweights were being manufactured. Millefiori weights were created by the Gentile craftsmen, who incorporated Murano canes instead of making their own canes. Millefiori canes can be readily purchased from Murano and can be recognized by their intense, almost garish, color combinations.

The Pairpoint Glass Company, which traces its roots to Mount Washington, was operated by Robert Bryden in the 1970s. Under his direction, millefiori paperweights in Open Concentric and Crown designs, using canes produced at Pairpoint, were manufactured. Cologne bottles with stoppers containing millefiori designs were also marketed. Pairpoint still operates today in Sagamore, Massachusetts, making a wide variety of glassware, including paperweights.

Classical style millefiori paperweights are currently being made at Parabelle Glass by Gary and Doris Scrutton. The husband and wife team began making millefiori weights in 1983. Their colorful and intricate canes are made in the traditional manner, utilizing molds. The Scruttons produce a wide range of established millefiori designs and have developed many of their own meticulously crafted designs.

The Studio Glass Movement in the United States has roots in the late 1940s. Traditionally, the movement began in 1962 at a glass workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art, organized by Harvey Littleton with Dominick Labino. The 1960s was a time of discovery and experimentation mostly by trial and error. By the 1970s, glass studio technology was readily available. Rediscovered techniques, imitating Art Nouveau designs with iridescent colors became popular. The use of millefiori was also rediscovered.

Several contemporary artists in the 1970s utilized millefiori canes in their work. Richard Marquis of Washington state began experimenting with canes in 1969 and illustrated his method in his Master of Arts thesis for the University of California. Marquis built his canes at the furnace, combining molten gathers of different colors to form letters of the alphabet. He then combined the letters to spell the words of the “Lord’s Prayer.” By the 1970s, Marquis was making bold geometric millefiori cane teapots and vessels. Marquis and other contemporary artist called their millefiori glass “murrini,” derived from the mosaic glass of ancient Alexandria called Murrhine, because they felt their bold geometric patterns were not floral. Marquis developed many of his designs alone but also worked with Ro Purser in their studio named Noble Effort.

Richard Ritter of North Carolina created murrini objects in the early 1970s, which contained detailed portrait canes. Intricate portraits of friends and family, incorporated with butterflies, and geometric designs were embedded into the surface of a bubble of glass. The bubble was then expanded, enlarging the portrait motif. Ritter also made paperweights with family portrait canes on the surface. His current solid sculptures also incorporate canes but in a very different manner creating reflections and illusion in its depths.

Michael Nourot, who works in California, produced vivid, colorful cane vases in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These creations contain large geometric canes of bright transparent and opaque concentric designs. Production was very limited due to breakage.

Other contemporary artists such as Josh Simpson of Massachusetts have incorporated canes in their current work. Like the Venetian glassmakers did so many centuries ago, these artists continue to study ancient techniques to create their modern designs.

During the early 1970s, several glass studios were founded by artists to produce commercial decorative glassware. In Flemington, New Jersey, the Vandermark Studio began producing Art Nouveau style designs. A few vases, perfume bottles and paperweights were created that incorporated millefiori designs.

The most prolific of these studios is Orient and Flume of Chico, California, which was organized in 1972. At first, the factory was a two-man operation. Today, the shop has twenty workers. The studio is known for its elaborate Art Nouveau style vases with brilliant iridescent surfaces. The colorful vases were often adorned with millefiori canes. This technique was probably taken to its height in their Hawthorne vases. Orient and Flume also incorporated millefiori in the paperweights in unusual designs. Canes were used realistically as coral sealife weights and embedded boldly on the surface surrounded with cut floral petals. The studio continues to introduce innovative designs.

Over a thousand years have passed since “a thousand flowers” were first incorporated into the art of glassmaking. Their continued use as a decorative motif attests to the fact that interest still remains strong in these tiny, delicate canes of glass.