Major Collectors of the Past
Paperweights have been collected since they were first made in the mid 19th century. But because they were made for only a limited period, most of the very early collections began after production ceased. Paperweights were certainly recognized then as being beautiful and tasteful. Perhaps the impetus for collecting them was realized only after collectors became aware that paperweights were a limited commodity. At the time, paperweights were still inexpensive. The first collectors were the nobility and royalty, including Queen Mary, Queen Victoria, Napoleon III’s Empress Eugénie, Princess Murat, the Duke of Cardoza, and Mexican Emperor Maximilian’s Empress Carlotta. Also included was literary dandy Oscar Wilde. These were very wealthy individuals who obviously could have collected anything they chose, so one may question why did they choose paperweights that were relatively inexpensive at the time. I think it must have been for their obvious attraction, beauty, and sentimentality of a well-designed item that was no longer being made.
Several notable paperweight collections were gathered from 1900 into the 1940s, on both sides of the Atlantic. The first significant collector of less than noble background who made an impact was an Englishman, H.W.L. Way, who began his collection in 1912 and wrote an article “Glass Paperweights” for The Connoisseur in 1920. Way’s article was credited with stimulating the interest in, and the beginning of, modern paperweight collecting.
One of the major early collectors in England was Mrs. Applewhaite-Abbott who collected from 1900-1938. She was a very wealthy lady who amassed a collection of 428 paperweights, but never paid more than £35 for any of her weights (a spectacular Pantin lizard). She also bought the famous and rare Pantin Silkworms for £26. After she died in 1938, her heirs tried to give the collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum, but they refused the donation, not recognizing its importance. Her weights were stored until they were auctioned by Sotheby’s in two sessions (1952 & 1953) for a total of $89,319. a very substantial sum at the time.
Mrs. Jenny H. Sinclair, of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire collected from about 1918 until her death in 1965, when her fine collection of 439 weights was donated to the New York Historical Society. This became one of the four greatest public collections in the world and was displayed there until 1995 when it was auctioned by Sotheby’s, bringing in over $1.5 million. It was the highest grossing sale at the time.
- Djevahirdjian, known to his friends as “Mr. Djeva,” began his collecting in 1922 as a 13-year old youth in Paris. He became one of the most knowledgeable authorities and built a collection of several hundredweights, which included about 65 of the world’s most sought-after paperweights. His weights were sold and today collectors praise this rare provenance.
Another collector at about the same time was Estelle Doheny, wife of the wealthy founder and chairman of the Union Oil Company of California. She built an extensive collection of books, paintings, furniture, jewelry, paperweights etc., but after her husband died in 1935, she lost interest in acquisitions and began a philanthropic disposal of her collections. About 1940, she split her paperweight collection, giving 212 antique paperweights of her extensive collection to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where they have displayed at the St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo California until they were auctioned by Christie’s in 1988. In the early 1940s, she gave her remaining 154 weights to the St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, a small town about 90 miles south of St. Louis. They were displayed at the Seminary until they were auctioned by Christie’s in 2001.
The accompanying images show two historic catalogues—
the Sotheby’s (NYC) January 18, 1995, auction of the New York Historical Society’s collection from Jennie H. Sinclair and the Christie’s (NYC) 2001 auction belonging to the Saint Mary’s of the Barrens.
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