On Saturday, September 17th, 2016, Chicago’s L.H. Selman Gallery is auctioning close to 400 glass paperweights that had been part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection. The artwork on the block had been donated to the Institute by Arthur Rubloff, Potter and Pauline Palmer, Ella Grace Burwick and Lucy K. Kretchmer. According to Benjamin Clark, CEO and owner of L.H. Selman, the non-profit organization helping to create awareness of glass paperweights as an art form known as The Glass Paperweight Foundation “will receive 100-percent of the net proceeds of the buyer’s premium.” (The buyer’s premium is an additional cost a buyer pays when they win a lot. In this case it will be between 20-25% of the hammer price.) According to Christopher Monkhouse, the Eloise W. Martin Chair and Curator, Department of European Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago: “The net proceeds of the sale of will be used towards to purchase of artwork for the Art Institute of Chicago.” Monkhouse also explains that “deaccessioning artwork is a very sensitive matter for museums, but in rare occasions they are forced to do it, particularly when the collection is too large or a substantial number of close duplicates are kept in storage.” Case in point, Arthur Rubloff regularly acquired entire series of paperweights for one specific item, this eccentric practice naturally added sizeable numbers of duplicates to his collection. In 2012 after the Museum expanded the Arthur Rubloff Paperweight Gallery many of these paperweights were sent to storage because great examples were already on display. The museum is putting the duplicates back the in the hands of the public. Continue reading
Somewhere under the clutter of papers on my desk in the newsroom is a glass paperweight about to be laid to waste by the “Frankenstein of Cary.”
“There’s a night-and-day difference between paperweights. There are paperweights like the one on your desk that are worth maybe 35 cents, and then there are the ones at the Art Institute of Chicago,” says this Frankenstein, who earns his title as a heavyweight in the paperweight world. “I got the nickname because the dealers created a monster when I outbid them at auctions.”
He may intimidate paperweight peers, but I’m withholding his real name not out of personal fear but because Frankenstein is an otherwise polite 71-year-old retired chemical industry executive who doesn’t want strangers to know he owns a collection of valuable antique paperweights, including some worth more than my car.
He’s about to get a chance to add museum-worthy gems to his collection, thanks to next month’s auction of paperweights that reside at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“This has never happened before. Never in the history of paperweights has there ever been an opportunity to purchase museum-quality artwork,” says Ben Clark, owner of L.H. Selman, the extensive paperweight gallery in Chicago, which is hosting the auction. “These are essentially near-duplicates of what’s on display (in the Art Institute’s Arthur Rubloff Collection of Paperweights). Some of these will go for five figures.”
The auction of 400 paperweights, bundled in lots of two to four with bidding beginning at $1,000, begins at noon Sept. 17 with bidders competing in a live auction at 900 S. Clinton St. in Chicago, and worldwide online, by phone and through absentee bids.
The majority of the auction features 19th-century works, but it also includes some 20th-century pieces and some made by contemporary artists.
To register or get more information, phone (800) 538-0766 or visit the L.H. Selman website at theglassgallery.com.
“This auction is an absolutely great opportunity for a new collector to find an antique weight,” Frankenstein says. “This is the chance of a lifetime for someone who is interested in the finest, rarest things.”
The Cary collector got his start in the hobby when he was in his 20s.
“I wanted things that everybody didn’t know about. The first paperweight I ever bought was at a farm sale in Kansas,” he says, remembering how he took his bidding cues from paperweight dealers. “They came to this farm in the middle of Kansas. I just outbid the dealers.”
Hooked, he learned more through research and books, such as “The Dictionary of Glass Paperweights,” by Paul H. Dunlop. Frankenstein still has his original paperweight.
“The first one I bought was a Clichy flower,” he says of the colorful flower encased in glass and made between 1846 and 1850. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out to be a very rare and hard-to-find Clichy Fantasy Flower.”
Another of his favorites is a “scrambled” piece by Italian artist Pietro Bigaglia. The paperweight features lots of colorful and intricate items, including a crown, since it was made for the Queen of Greece to commemorate her visit to Venice on Sept. 30, 1845.
“What a nice souvenir,” Frankenstein says.
But sentiment doesn’t play a role in his collections, he insists, telling of how he recently passed up a chance to buy a box full of interesting paperweights because none was worth more than a few dollars.
“There are some paperweights that I bought for a couple hundred that are worth more than $10,000 now. I don’t buy anything without value,” he proclaims, pausing a moment before offering an admission. “But you can get hooked on the beauty of them. Each one is unique.”
With maybe 15,000 19th-century paperweights still around, and a couple thousand collectors, the market, as it did originally, caters to an aristocratic crowd not concerned with practicality.
“I think people who collect them collect them because of their beauty and their rarity,” Frankenstein says. “What would you use a paperweight for today? I can’t think of one thing.”
Among the rareties in the upcoming auction are Paul Stankard’s 1984 Morning Glories, at left; an antique Baccarat blue primrose star-cut paperweight from the Rubloff Collection, top right; and a Baccarat Napoleon III with red and white torsade faceted weight, also from the Rubloff Collection.