Old English Paperweights - Identification

Here is a brief guide to the complex and difficult task of identifying Old English paperweights. See also Bob Hall's book 'Old English Paperweights' - link on my Books page.

So you have a paperweight, and think that it might be Old English. What can you do to be more confident about the attribution, and perhaps identify the manufacturer?

Some points to consider.

All Old English paperweights were made with lead crystal, which is a minimum of 24% lead. The majority have a higher lead content, with Walsh Walsh and Arculus running at about 33%. So the specific gravity should be between 2.900 and 3.250, and they should fluoresce blue under short wave UV light. If they don't meet these criteria, they are probably not OE weights (I realise that not many of us have equipment to make these tests).

Many Old english weights are relatively large - over 3 inch / 75 mm diameter - but there are one or two smaller ones around. These are ofter reground bottle stoppers. As far as we know, there are no Old English weights containing lampwork.

Antique Whitefriars - I don't think they exist. There is no evidence that Whitefriars made any paperweights before about 1930, when some millefiori weights and bottles appear in a catalogue. And there is little evidence of more than an odd one being produced until the early 1950s.

Arculus - well documented and identifiable, as canes and items were retained in the family, and some are in Broadfield House glass museum. Produced items in the early 1900s, before being taken over successively by Hands and by Walsh Walsh (1930). Walsh Walsh certainly produced paperweights from the takeover of Arculus for several years, seemingly in both factories, and quite possibly until 1950 when they closed. They were an important high quality maker in the 1850s, and may have produced some paperweights then, but we have no evidence at present. If you find an Old English weight or ink bottle with the date '1848' in separate canes, often rather crudely done, it was virtually certainly made by Arculus or Walsh Walsh in the 1900 - 1930 period. Good pointers are also the '7/6' or 'window' canes. See my article 'Alphabet Soup' in the PCA Bulletin 2006.

The majority of weights from these two makers are concentric millefiori designs, usually with 5 to 7 rows. The profiles vary from flat to high sided, but there is rarely an 'undercut' like in classic French weights. Bases are rarely polished or ground - the pontil mark is very obvious. Quality varies from excellent to very poor. There are a few closepacks. Bottle stoppers do not always match the base design; indeed, this is so common that it is likely that some items left the factory that way.

It is difficult to distinguish Arculus and Walsh Walsh products, but there are some pointers. The 'chequer' weights are thought to be made by Arculus, and also the 'low domed' concentric weights. The evidence suggests that Arculus made some of the more untidy weights, but could also make neat ones at times. Walsh Walsh collaborated with Whitefriars for certain glass products in the 1940s, and it could be that paperweight making expertise spread from the one to the other, explaining the similarity of some Whitefriars 1950s designs to some 1920s-1930s Arculus and Walsh Walsh pieces. This may be part of the source of confusion over 'Antique Whitefriars' pieces (the myth of the 1848 date canes being genuine, and by Whitefriars, was de-bunked several years ago).

Richardson show millefiori perfume bottle designs in catalogues from around 1910, which are very similar to bottles and paperweights generally considered to be Richardson products. These are usually neat concentric designs, often with a white outer ring of canes. Many of these items have a distinct foot, but this is not unique to Richardson: I have seen a few Arculus / Walsh Walsh pieces with a foot.

I have measured the specific gravity of certain glass items in the Richardson bequest in Broadfield House Glass Museum, and the results are consistent with those obtained from the 'Richardson' bottles and paperweights. So I think we can be confident about the attribution of certain designs to Richardson. I have not yet seen a Richardson item with a complex millefiori cane (one made by bundling existing canes together, re-heating, and re-pulling).  See also my article on 'Identifying Richardson Paperweights' in the PCC Newsletter (reproduced later for the Jokelson prize in the PCA Newsletter).

Bacchus and Rice Harris (Islington Glass Works) are both commended on the quality of their glass items, including paperweights, in various articles around 1848 -1851. So we can be confident they produced paperweights - but which? The rare weights with IGW canes are probably from the Islington Glass Works, but we have no proof. There are several hundred beautiful, large paperweights with complex canes and neat basket bases, attributed to Bacchus: again, we have no concrete evidence, but it is reasonable to conclude that Bacchus made these from comments in the articles referred to. There are also some weights of poorer quality that have matching styles and canes, and that probably represent earlier or later work.

OE1 and OE2. I have identified two groups of weights (by style, cane matching, and density) that are from two different manufacturers, but which we cannot at present identify. They probably date from the 'classic period' of 1845 - 1860, when paperweights were a profitable line. Any of several major glass makers and many minor ones in the Midlands might be responsible - possibilities include Joseph Webb, John Walsh Walsh, Stevens & Williams, Davis, Greathead & Green. I am hoping to find out more about the origins of these weights.

OE1 weights are generally very neatly made, with concave polished bases. OE2 are much coarser, simpler designs, with a limited colour pallet, and frequently turn up as ink bottles.

I hope this helps. I will always try to respond to questions - and images make questions much easier to answer. 

Alan Thornton August 2007

Here are some oddities - maybe Bacchus, maybe not!!

Arculus 'chequer weights' with complex canes (left) and 2 different rabbits (right).

Rather messy Arculus 'low dome designs'. '7/6' and 'window' canes, '1848' date

Arculus multicolour, and Walsh Walsh (or Arculus) with 1848 date

Richardson close-pack and concentric

Typical footed Richardson paperweights, and a re-worked bottle base

Bacchus close-pack and concentric designs

OE 1 Group weights

OE2 Group items