The history of paperweights had its beginnings in the early 1840s...probably first in Silesia (in Karlsthal) and then in Venice. They were first displayed at the Exhibition of Austrian Industry in Vienna in 1845, and within no time, these glass artifacts were being produced by glasshouses in Bohemia, France, England and - a few years later - in the United States of America. Paperweights were also made in the 19th Century - on a much smaller scale - in Thuringia (in Germany), Belgium and Russia.
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The classic period of French paperweight production is considered to be ca. 1845 to 1865, after which their popularity steadily declined, although they continued to be produced at a couple of glasshouses into the 1880s. The main French producers were the big 3: Baccarat, Clichy and St. Louis. Other early producers were St. Mandé and Grenelle. Later on - in the 1870s - Pantin produced a small number of weights.
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Venetian paperweights were probably first produced on Murano around 1843 at a time when Venice was still part of the Austrian Empire. The first examples were seen in 1845, when Pietro Bigaglia exhibited paperweights - and other glassware - at the Exhibition of Austrian Industry in Vienna. Bigaglia’s weights incorporated millefiori, silhouettes and figure portraits made by Giovanni Battista Franchini and later, his son, Giacomo. The Franchini family also made paperweights - mainly scrambleds. Apart from “GBF” other initials have also been found, although it has not proved possible to determine who these makers were.
19th Century paperweights are usually referred to as Venetian. The term Murano is generally applied to later, 20th Century, paperweights.
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