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Identifying Ysart Glass
Part 2 – Paperweights
This article first appeared in Ysartnews Issue 4 - Mar 1988. Complete review 2002
Edited by Mary Houston-Lambert
For a more comprehensive guide see Kevin Holt’s website
I recommend Kevin’s site as my knowledge of paperweights is not strong and Kevin is involved in ongoing research into Ysart weights. This article was, however, produced with the help of members of the collectors club whose main interest was paperweights - in particular Roy Brown. It still provides a good grounding.
Another excellent reference is the book “Paperweights from Great Britain, 1930-2000” by John Simmonds. See Ysart Glass bibliography page on this website.
Trying to convey on paper an understanding of the differences between paperweights by the Ysarts and other Scottish makers has proved to be more difficult than with their art glass. While it is possible to provide some guidelines, these are only helpful if an in-depth study of the history of paperweights is undertaken. The Ysart name deservedly belongs in that history, which begins from c.1843 through the years of Baccarat, Clichy, St. Louis and the English and American makers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The unique contribution of the Ysarts, particularly Paul, to paperweight making in Scotland is undisputed. Paul’s commitment to innovation and excellence in his art, led him from the relatively crude examples of the early Monart days to some of the finest examples of paperweights ever produced world-wide. As an outgrowth of the Ysart gift, many young apprentices who learned their craft under the Master’s tutelage have gone on to start their own studios, producing weights with strong stylistic similarities to the Monart and Harland weights. Adding their own creativity and style, modern Scottish paperweight craftsmen are now building on the Ysart legacy to claim a place of leadership in the future development of the art form.
Following are some notes on other paperweight makers of the 20th century, and the bibliography included elsewhere on this website lists many books on the subject of paperweights and their history. Some of these contain references to the Ysart and other Scottish paperweight productions.
There are six main groups of the Ysart paperweights: Monart, Vasart, Salvador Ysart ‘Y’ cane, Paul Ysart unmarked, Paul Ysart with PY cane and Paul Ysart with ‘H’ cane.
From the weights that have been individually confirmed by Paul Ysart, as belonging to the Monart period, a noticeable and consistent feature has emerged - the colour of the glass used. When compared with other weights, including later Ysart weights, the glass used for the clear dome is a dark almost ‘black’ colour. The degree of ‘blackness’ does vary considerably, from being just noticeable when compared with another weight to so dark that it mutes the colours of the design to a considerable degree. It has also been observed that most of the earlier weights of this period have a rough unfinished pontil mark; only occasionally is one found with the base polished flat.
A key identifying feature of any paperweight is the design of the canes that form the pattern. Unfortunately, little documentation exists on the designs of these canes, but this has been partly remedied by the contents of this website, as well as the KevH site (see links page). As a general guideline, the majority of weights are patterned millefiori with the millefiori canes set flush into mottled, translucent, coloured grounds or ‘cushions’. Very few other makers were as consistent in the flush setting of canes as were the Ysart family. Of course, weights that contain Paul Ysart’s signature cane ‘PY’ are excellent stylistic references for the unmarked weights. Another common feature is the arrangement of rods of cane, set like spokes of a wheel around the cushion. This feature is common to all Scottish weights. The rods are frequently of clear glass containing one or more spiralled threads, coloured or white, often with a solid-coloured core. Some also have opposing spirals at different depths.
Aventurine glass, a translucent glass containing metallic oxides creating a metal dust appearance, was used extensively by the Ysarts in their paperweights. Unlike the art glass where mostly gold aventurine was used, the Brown, Red and Green variety appears in the paperweights. The aventurine was used in filigree rods for the millefiori weights and extensively in the Flower, Bouquet, Butterfly, Dragonfly, Moth, Fish and Reptile types. The picture, or lampwork, paperweights were usually framed with a circle of millefiori canes. The leaves of the flower weights are fairly distinctive in the Ysart weights and are made in the same way in weights attributed to both Paul and Salvador Ysart. There is little else to distinguish weights made by father or son, but since Salvador did not have a great commercial interest in this type of work it can be assumed that the bulk of the weights were made by Paul. Mostly, Paul made dome shaped weights and the only known pieces documented as his father’s include variations in shape. Principal among these is an upright, bullet shaped, weight containing a standing flower with leaves in the Ysart style. Another similar weight, in a private collection, was assumed by that collector to be an Ysart, on stylistic grounds, and this has been confirmed by the definite attribution of the bullet-shaped one by an Ysart family member.
An ink bottle, shown at the ‘British Glass between The Wars’ exhibition in 1987, has an attribution to Salvador Ysart at Moncrieff’s c.1930. This bottle shows that Salvador was capable of a very high standard of work in this medium. Documented pieces of Monart art glass show that Salvador was using millefiori canes from his earliest days at Moncrieff. In the Perth Museum there is an experimental cup attributed to Salvador during 1922 and an uncased bowl of the early Monart production, both containing millefiori or filigree canes. Such pieces are very helpful when identifying weights of uncertain provenance. Very few examples of Paul Ysart weights from this period are known with a ‘PY’ cane, and only a few examples are currently known with a ‘PY’ cane and a paper Monart label.
Two other unusually shaped weights are known to have been made by Salvador Ysart; these are large flat pieces containing a mass of millefiori work,with a central rear opening into one of which has been inserted a photograph of Salvador and of his wife, Enriquetta, in the other. The Perth Museum has a weight containing a lamp-work Monart vase with flowers; these were made by Paul Ysart, and three or four others are now known.
The same dark glass as that used at Moncrieff’s has been found in the later Vasart weights, but many are also found with a much whiter glass. The ink bottle came to prominence at Vasart and has often been confused with the antique English variety. The philosophy of paperweight production at Vasart was quite different to that of Paul Ysart. Paperweights were mainly made for the gift trade and while they were executed with care they do not exhibit the artistic merit of Paul Ysart’s weights. Many were in fact quite crude. Yet the ink bottles usually show a much higher standard of work, with more complex canes than the bulk of the weights. Also, a small quantity of weights were made by Salvador, Vincent and Augustine to a very high standard of workmanship. Occasionally, these weights are found with a paper label; any such piece is of great documentary value.
Canes were used much more frequently to decorate the vases and, with one remarkable exception, this decoration was applied at the point where the upper and lower colour-ways meet. These can be a good source of help in identifying the canes in some of the Vasart paperweights. The illustrations of weights on the back page of Ysartnews 3 newsletter, picture 4, show examples of the better quality Vasart work. The weight on the right has a raised garland of spiral canes, a style that has not been reported in any of Paul Ysart’s weights. Vasart weights were also used for door-knobs and for decorating a variety of objects such as corkscrews. Millefiori corkscrews are quite unusual so any found are more than likely to be the work of Vasart Glass. Door-knobs were also made by Whitefriars, Strathearn, Perthshire Paperweights and possibly other Scottish makers. Particular Vasart canes include symbols of a red heart, a red diamond, a black spade and a black club, all in circular opaque white canes. Another is a butterfly cane with a lilac body, green antennae and wings made from four reddish and green circular canes all set in white surrounded by a green rim to the circular cane. While the Ysart men produced the bulk of the finer millefiori work at the Vasart workshop, the larger portion of general commercial production was assembled by Vincent Ysart’s wife and other women, see Plate 3 in Ysartnews 3. A photograph of Jack Allan assembling a weight exists, but as he did not usually do any of this work the photograph was only posed for publicity purposes. (1)
Salvador Ysart’s weights are largely unknown territory, but some weights with a crude ‘Y’ cane have been attributed to him. I have seen about three of these and while unique amongst the Ysart weights, they bear more relationship to the Vasart period than Monart. I have also seen some millefiori picture frames made by Salvador Ysart and these are of a very high standard, much higher than the ‘Y’ weights mentioned above. See the ‘Y’ cane weights catalogue page.
Paul Ysart has stated that he started his interest in 1932. His weights can be divided into three categories, spread over his entire production period:
The ‘H’ cane weights were only produced from his private studio at Harland and were often sold as ‘Highland’ weights. After 1955 (2) the ‘PY’ signed canes are supposed to have been produced exclusively for Paul Jokelson in the United States, but a limited quantity did continue to circulate in the United Kingdom It is likely that some UK collectors did buy paperweights from Paul Jokelson, which would explain their lack of scarcity in the UK. However, the bulk of the weights sold there were in fact unsigned. The inclusion or not of a signature cane does not appear to bear any relationship to the quality of the weights; many superb weights bear no signature cane whatsoever. The main factor that distinguishes the Monart period and the Post-Monart period in Paul’s weights is the colour of the glass. Certainly, all the pre-war production used the ‘Black’ glass and the independent period a very clear ‘White’ glass.
A number of paperweights that came on the market recently (1989), now known to be fakes, were mostly on a black ground and exhibited a variety of quality in workmanship. The weights seen included: Millefiori; Flowers; Dragonflies; Moths; Fish. All contained a ‘PY’ cane, with dropped ‘Y’, and used the ‘White’ glass. Later testing showed that the glass used was the standard metal used by all contemporary Scottish paperweight makers. Two of the weights were of a flower, with eight ruby petals arranged in two tiers, and containing identical canes in a border - the main difference being the shape of the green stem. The leaves are of a striped green, an Ysart characteristic also found in other makers, but not quite the same as the Ysart version. Both of these particular weights are of a very high standard. Some of the other weights in this recent batch are of a poor standard by comparison.
The unsigned weights produced in the post Moncrieff period are known to have borne at least two different designs of paper label as represented (hand drawn copies) here:
Few examples have been seen with either of these labels and further information on weights bearing these labels would be welcomed. Weights with a Monart label also exist, including codes P/W No.15, 21 and 22, and it is assumed that at least twenty-two basic designs were produced under the Monart banner:
The same range of designs, plus many more, are found in Paul’s later work. The Parrot has not been seen in the Monart period weights. He made some three dimensional weights for USA distribution, some of which are illustrated in the American Paperweights Collectors Association Journal (2) For example: ducks on a pond; fish swimming among rocks. Ink bottles were also made by Paul and, apart from the canes, are readily distinguishable from the Vasart bottles by the clear container portion. Paul is also known to have made some jewellery while at Caithness. (See the Paul Ysart - Caithness Jewellery section.) It is fair to say that, once recognised, all Paul Ysart’s weights can be identified, but do not forget the fine quality Vasart weights which, while scarcer, could be confused with Paul’s own work.
As successors to the Vasart tradition, Strathearn continued to make paperweights, which varied from a poor standard to fine quality. The most noticeable feature when identifying unmarked Strathearn weights is the ‘dry’ appearance of the canes. Presumably, there were some problems in the adherence of coloured to clear glass. A wide range of colours was used, but as with their glassware, many of these have a ‘flat’ appearance. Some weights include an ‘S’ cane and limited editions usually had an ‘S & Date’ cane. Strathearn produced a few faceted and moulded star-shaped weights, and some overlay weights were made with a green overlay. The base pontil mark is smooth and often covered by a Strathearn label. The bulk of their production was of concentric millefiori pastry mould canes, divided by filigree spokes. However, some innovative designs were produced by Angus Sillars and others.
Well documented range of commercial designs and limited editions made from 1969; most contain a single ‘P’ cane, a ‘P & Date cane’ or a ‘P’ Cane plus a letter cane denoting year in the sequence ‘A’ = 1969, ‘B’ = 1970 etc. They produced a full range of designs from the simplest to the very complex. Bases are ground flat or concave, and are sometimes star-cut. Ceased production in January 2002. See “The Art of the Paperweight: Perthshire” by L. Selman, 1983.
Made by John Deacons, the majority are miniatures (i.e. greater than 5cm or 2") and usually contain a ‘J’, ‘JD’ or ‘J’ + date cane, either within the design or on the base. The base is concave ground. Full range of traditional designs: millefiori, flowers, butterflies, garlands, overlays etc. They were only made for a short period in small quantities and they are now becoming much sought after.
From 1977 made modern designs with either a ‘PH’ (Peter Holmes) cane or engraved information on the base. Ron Hutchinson worked with Peter Holmes.
With this company’s employment of Paul Ysart as Training Officer, Caithness paperweights owe less of their tradition to the other Ysart production than Perthshire or Strathearn. Commercial production, usually to high technical standard, all well marked with Caithness name, limited issue numbers, and the dates. Some contain canes of ‘PH’, ‘PY’ and ‘WM’ (William Manson).
After Paul Ysart, Whitefriars probably produced amongst the best in earlier-modern British paperweights. Their most obvious feature is the distinct join between the base and the outer covering of glass.
The 1950’s versions are mostly concentric millefiori of 4-8 circles of canes around a large central cane. The millefiori design is not set onto a coloured cushion, so the base of the canes can be seen and they usually curve inwards. There are some weights with an 1848 date which are not backed up in any way by documentary evidence and are now believed to be made in the 1950’s The cane designs used in the 1848 dated weights are identical to those used in items from c.1951. (But see Arculus below.) This is also mentioned in the Antiques Roadshow book ‘Is It Genuine’ which contains an interview with one of the glassmakers who remembers the collectors’ eagerness for these dated weights. Two genuine dates do appear namely EIIR 1953 and TRIPLEX 1951. Canes tend to be of simple, crimped construction and not complex. Each ring of canes is identical and the most common colours are Red, White, Blue, Green & Pink.
Weights from 1970-1980 all contain a date and the Whitefriars emblem which is a stylised monk that looks like a figure ‘1’. They are mostly faceted in some way and consist of concentric millefiori, plus a number of designs of birds, animals, butterflies, and Christmas scenes made from a large number of miniature canes. In the Partridge in a Pear Tree weight the bird is made up of over 300 individual canes.
Alfred Arculus & Co, Birmingham 1850-1931. Made paperweights and other millefiori objects of a distinctive style: concentric rings; also the 1848 date cane (Also see Whitefriars.) Taken over in 1922 by T J Hands & Company. Closed in 1931, when taken over again by Wash Walsh. Pieces are also seen with the attribution of ‘Arculus Walsh’.
The most common 1930’s weights from Czechoslovakia are upright domes, sometimes diamond faceted, and usually containing upright daisy type flowers in pots, sulphide animals or photographs. This type of paperweight was also made briefly in Stourbridge.
In about 1932, two Czechoslovakian paperweight makers gave instruction to glassmakers at Thomas Webb and at Stevens & Williams. Neither firm developed the ideas commercially. (3)
A few other makers are shown on the accompanying chart.
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