Small Wonders: The Donald C. and Ruth C. Smith Paperweight Collection
September 8, 2017 – February 14, 2018
The 19th century was an era of rapid industrialization, which brought with it the evolution of decorative glass paperweights. These pieces exemplified the Victorian fondness for intricate handcrafted objects. Due to their small size, high quality, and relatively low cost, glass paperweights gained popularity as sentimental and charming gifts. Most of the 15,000 to 25,000 paperweights manufactured during the peak years between 1845 and 1860 were produced in three French factories: Clichy, St. Louis and Baccarat.
Because of improved transportation, tourism became more popular by the 1850s, and people began to travel to the World Trade Fairs held in major cities such as London, Paris and New York. The first of these fairs, London’s 1851 Great Exhibition, may have introduced Americans to the paperweight trend. American paperweights were primarily made on the northeastern seaboard by European immigrants who were already skilled in the art. Though the popularity of paperweights waned toward the end of the 19th century, production was revived in the 1950s and they have become highly sought-after collectibles.
The Donald C. and Ruth C. Smith Collection contains over 340 weights and was donated to the Forsyth Galleries in 2001.