In early nineteenth-century Europe, a new creative potential developed in the decorative arts. An increasingly urban population and an expanding market of goods created by the Industrial Revolution stimulated the manufacture of many new decorative novelties. In the mid-1840s, glass paperweights appeared. They were a wholly modern, functional glass form that drew upon the ancient glassmaking techniques of millefiori and lampwork and the late-eighteenth century technique of cameo incrustation
Although the first paperweights did not appear until the mid-1840s, nearly all of the techniques required for their construction were in existence much earlier. It remained only for the glass artisan to draw upon his reservoir of skills to create a paperweight. Some of these techniques go back thousands of years. Decorative paperweights are widely produced, collected and appreciated as works of art, and are often exhibited in museums as examples of fine glass art. Decorative glass paperweights fit easily into the hand and are actually meant to be handled and viewed from various directions through the dome, which acts like a lens to make the design change in its appearance with its movements in an attractive way. A magnifying glass is often used to gain appreciation of the fine detail of the work within. Paperweights are made by sole artisans, and in factories where many artists and technicians collaborate. Both may produce inexpensive as well as “collector” weights. Workmanship, design, rarity, and condition determine the value of a paperweight. They range in price from a few dollars, to a record $258,500 once paid for an antique French weight. Antique weights, of which perhaps 10,000 or so survive (mostly in museums), generally appreciate steadily in value.