This year, as we look back over the past fifty years of our life with fine glass paperweights, there is much to be grateful for. First, we are grateful for the glass artists, whose creative genius and honed technical skills have produced some of the finest work in glass ever seen. Secondly, we are grateful for the collectors—the appreciative audience who continue to treasure and build their fine collections. Thirdly, we are grateful for other paperweight dealers who over the years have challenged us to do our very best, and who worked together with us to educate the public and to promote the artists and their work. Together, these three groups have elevated the art form to the high standard it enjoys today. And finally, we are profoundly grateful for the opportunity to work in an a rewarding environment, in a field we love.
As part of our celebration this year, we thought you might enjoy reading a little about the history of L. H. Selman, Ltd., founded in 1969 by Lawrence Selman. We have condensed what could be a large tome into what we hope will be an entertaining scrapbook of snapshots from the past.
For old-times, this will be a nostalgic walk down Memory Lane. For newer collectors, we hope you will pick up some new information for your ongoing journey into glass collecting. We are betting that everyone will learn something they didn’t know before!
Selman’s Introduction to Fine Glass Paperweights:
In the late1960s, when young Americans were tuning in to peace, love, and self-discovery, Lawrence Selman found himself at a personal crossroads. With a PhD in organic chemistry from Yale under his belt (thanks to the persistence of his dedicated mother), and a passion for playing early music on the viola da gamba, Selman needed to make a choice: Continue with an academic career? Or follow his passion for playing music?
In the end, Selman chose a different path altogether. He chose the path of innovators from the Renaissance era whose music he had been smitten by. During the Renaissance, skills and talents from many fields of expertise were combined in a life of extraordinary creativity. In other words, why not do it all: Continue to be a scholar, play music, and…. sell glass paperweights!
Larry Selman was introduced to fine glass paperweights through a fellow musician Jack Curtis, who was a collector. Originally from Cleveland Ohio, Selman was teaching chemistry in San Diego at the time, and became a regular visitor to Curtis’s home in Temecula, California, where afternoons spent playing early music (Renaissance and Elizabethan) on various instruments often extended late into the night.
“A musician friend of mine lived in a remote and rustic setting,” he recalls. “Each time I visited, he showed me a different group of collectibles from his wide and varied interests. Once it was fine Japanese prints; another time he introduced me to the nuances of American folk art. One day he brought out his paperweight collection. For the first time, I saw the intricacies of the millefiori canes and the splendid colors captured in them. At once I imagined the pleasures of owning and collecting these small works of art.”
Larry Selman found himself fascinated with these diminutive objets d’art, so much so that he accompanied Curtis one afternoon to Knotts Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California. The glassblower Harold Hacker had set up a booth where he formed tiny animals and flowers of borosilicate glass, under a hot torch. In addition to the animals, Hacker offered for sale some glass paperweights he had made from furnace glass in a separate studio. Selman bought a paperweight for himself, and Curtis, encouraged him to buy yet another. And thus a simple afternoon visit to an amusement park spawned a new paperweight collector, and a long career.
On a visit to Cleveland to visit his mother, Selman found himself perusing a local newspaper which sported a “Paperweights Wanted” ad in the classified section. He happened to have with him the recently-acquired Harold Hacker paperweights, so he contacted the collector in Cleveland. “Oh my God! You have a Harold Hacker paperweight!” she exclaimed. When she offered to buy them he was flummoxed. He didn’t know what price to put on them, naively thinking that it wouldn’t be right to sell them for more than what he had paid for them. So he ended up trading his Harold Hacker weights for several popular commemorative sulphide weights from her collection.
Kitchen Table Mail-Order Business:
It wasn’t long before the small works of art became more than a passing fancy for Selman. When his teaching schedule allowed, he found himself traveling across the country to purchase and sell fine glass paperweights. Eventually, he found himself so enamored with playing early chamber music, that he decided to take time away from his job as a professor of chemistry in order to have time to play.
In an interview with Heather Knight, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, Selman recalls: “My mother couldn’t believe it,” he said. She kept saying, ‘You went to graduate school in chemistry. What are you doing?’ ” But Selman believed that knowledge and skills acquired in one field are transferable to another, and he continued to follow his passion.
Needing some form of livelihood while he pursued his dream of playing music, Selman published his first Catalogue of Collector’s Paperweights, with photos in black and white, where he offered contemporary (Scottish and American) and antique paperweights (French, American, English, Sulphides) as well as books, and lucite stands.
This would be the first of many regular catalogs published by the mail-order company. Selman loved to collect early prints of glass artists, and decided to put a classic image of a glass worker at his bench on the cover. That image later became—and remains—the company’s logo.
Also in 1970, Selman sent out his first regular (monthly) mailing to his growing list of collectors. While the catalog, published occasionally, was meant to offer a broad array of paperweights, both contemporary and antique, the monthly mailings would feature a particular artist or glass house, with regular special offerings.
This first mailing was sent out in letter format, produced on a typewriter. Later, mailings would become more sophisticated, with professional printing and high-quality color photographs.
Future marketing efforts would eventually include major art and antique fairs, collector’s meetings, an internet web site, live telephone and online auctions, gallery events, museum events, paperweight festivals, and collectors’ weekends with artists.
Early in his paperweight career, Selman became acquainted with a London antique dealer, Alan Tilman, who in turn introduced him to Stuart Drysdale, founder of the newly-established Perthshire Paperweights in Crieff, Scotland. Stuart Drysdale and Selman began traveling around the UK and the United States, visiting both shops and collectors to introduce them to paperweights.
Early on, Selman had also gotten to know Paul Jokelson, a French American who in the 1950s had persuaded the French factories of Saint Louis and Baccarat to reinvent the art form, whose secrets had been lost to glass workers since its demise in the1860s. Jokelson had been importing paperweights while living in New York. Both Drysdale and Jokelson were very influential in Selman’s development, and became life-long friends.
Publishing Company—Paperweight Press:
Recognizing a void in information available to the paperweight-collecting community, Selman decided to create a publishing company—Paperweight Press—through which he could distribute his own growing knowledge of paperweights for the benefit of collectors, new and established. Even a small personal library can be an invaluable resource for collectors. This is still true, even in today’s online Google-based research world. Selman’s first effort was Paperweights for Collectors, which he co-authored with his first wife, Linda Pope. The book proved indispensable, and many other titles followed.
Lawrence Selman introduced a series of books titled The Art of the Paperweight, the first of which was a coffee-table edition, considered a must for collectors. This book is now available in digital form on our website. Other books in the series included The Art of the Paperweight, Saint Louis, by Gerard Ingold, which depicted modern paperweights made in the Saint Louis Factory in France from 1970 through 1981. This was followed by The Art of the Paperweight, Perthshire, which included photos and descriptions all paperweights made at the Perthshire factory through 1983.
The ever popular All about Paperweights, first published in 1992, was reprinted many times, with later editions including an updated price guide. Songs Without Words, The Art of the Paperweight, Rick Ayotte, was published in 1997, a comprehensive record of the artist’s work from 1978 through 1995.
In addition to the Art of the Paperweight series, Paperweight Press went on to publish many titles by various experts in the field.
For a comprehensive list of books available from Paperweight Press, see our website: https://www.theglassgallery.com/publications
In 1975, Paperweight News was launched—a regular newsletter for collectors with information, announcements about upcoming events, paperweight terminology, glossaries, history, humor and trivia. Many articles were contributed by paperweight collectors.
Selman continued to travel regularly to antique shows around the country, announcing upcoming trips via post cards mailed to collectors who lived in the area to be visited.
Selman also traveled to artist fairs where he encouraged budding glass workers to try their hand at making paperweights; he was instrumental in helping establish Jim Lundberg and Mark Cantor and their studio in Davenport, California, which spawned a group of artists—some of whom are still active today.
Early in his paperweight career, Selman began attending meetings of the Paperweight Collectors Association (PCA), founded in 1953 by Paul Jokelson, with multiple regional chapters for collectors, dealers, and artists. Selman attended all of the biannual national meetings of the PCA until he sold the business in 2009, after which the new owners have continued to represent the company at PCA events. Over the years, L. H. Selman Ltd. contributed many articles to the organization’s annual publication the PCA Bulletin.
In 1971, Selman moved to San Francisco, where catalogs two through five were published, the latter partially in color.
L. H. Selman Ltd. Gallery in Santa Cruz:
Eventually the business was incorporated as L. H. Selman Ltd, in Santa Cruz, California, where Selman had moved in 1974 in order to keep playing early music with his friends. Employees were hired, and a modest brick and mortar gallery was established at 761 Chestnut Street, which became something of a mecca for paperweight enthusiasts worldwide. At this point, Selman was better known in New York or London than in Santa Cruz. “It’s hard for people to take me seriously,” he frequently recalled. “I say I’m a paperweight dealer and I get a look like, ‘Yeah, right! Tell me another story.’”
In 1976 son Matthew was born, followed by son Noah in 1978. Larry continued playing early music in Santa Cruz with Bill Matthews, who he had met in San Diego, and a cadre of local early music aficionados. He played concerts with The Antiquariun Funks, The Byrd Consort, and The Santa Cruz Baroque Festival.
While serving on the board of directors for the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, Selman met Marti Edwards, who shared his passion for early music. In 1989, Larry married Marti, who soon joined him in the business, where she worked as an active partner for the next twenty years. Marti Selman recalls, “Because we met so late in life, we decided to treasure each day together and savor our lives intensely, treating each year as though it were five. By this reckoning, we have now been married 150 years!”
The home base in Santa Cruz continued to grow. Support staff were added, including a computer programmer (Stephen), a writer (Ron), office staff (Stephanie, Carol and others), and sales staff (Suzanne and others)—the latter three staying with the company for multiple decades. Customer service was considered a top priority. From the beginning and throughout its history, L. H. Selman Ltd. has always maintained a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy. If a collector was not entirely pleased with a purchase, it could always be returned for a full refund.
Selman found himself regularly traveling to the world’s most prestigious auction houses (Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London and Parke-Bernet in New York), where he would acquire weights for his stock or serve as an agent to collectors.
One particular collector, Arthur Rubloff, a colossal real estate developer from Chicago, enlisted Selman to bid for him at auction—a relationship that lasted many years. When Rubloff bequeathed his famous paperweight collection to the Art Institute of Chicago, Selman appraised it for the museum. The paperweight collection at the Art Institute remains one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.
In 1990, to celebrate Selman’s first 20 years in business, Paul Jokelson encouraged Selman to host a paperweight auction. Jokelson had decided to sell his most prized paperweight—the famous Bird in the Nest, which he had bought at an antique store in Paris in 1925, and which had first piqued his interest in paperweights. Over the years he had attempted to learn more information about the piece, but neither the dealer who sold it to him or anyone else had seen anything like it before or since. Jokelson offered the paperweight as the linch-pin for this new auction endeavor—the first of many to follow (seventy, to date). Selman auctions began as telephone sales and evolved into today’s online bidding model. The Bird in the Nest sold for $182,600 and held the world record for a time as the highest-priced paperweight ever sold at auction.
Paperweights on the Internet:
Selman had long been fascinated with the seeming magic of mail order. “Here I am in California, and I can do business with someone on the other side of the country—or the world. It seems like magic.” As part of his mail order business, he established the International Paperweight Society—a sort of loyalty club where members were eligible for special offers, including free shipping of paperweights purchased. Think Selman Prime. Other benefits included an annual paperweight calendar, and various goodies such as calipers for measuring paperweight dimensions, and a variety of desk accessories—always paperweight related.
The advent of the internet deepened Selman’s interest in communicating with people from far away. He had taken some early computer code-writing classes in the 1970s, which served him well when he decided to single-handedly set up a website for the Society, with a chat group for members and pages about individual paperweight artists. The Society grew in membership and became a cadre of serious paperweight collectors who would attend many events which L. H. Selman Ltd. would host.
Here are the opening paragraphs of a press release (complete with photo attached) announcing Selman’s new presence on the internet, 1995:
As the paperweight auctions grew in popularity, the ease of bidding online brought about many changes to how these auctions were held. Selman eventually hired a professional programmer to write the computer code for the online auctions, and actually partnered with Amazon to hold one of the first live auctions ever to be held on the internet. From that point on, the auctions were held online rather than by telephone, with bids coming in from around the world on a 24-hour basis.
In 1992, after recently hosting Bar Mitzvah parties for their two sons, the Selmans decided to use their newly-acquired party-planning skills to host a paperweight Festival for members of the International Paperweight Society. Marti had previously had experience in organizing conferences in her earlier career at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Paperweight Festival would be a weekend event in Santa Cruz, incorporating learning about how paperweights are made, meeting with artists and collectors, and serious collecting—all in a fun party atmosphere.
The Paperweight Festivals were a huge hit with collectors from around the country and Europe, who enjoyed escaping to sunny California on the second weekend of November. The first festival assembled a surprising hundred people, and the Selmans continued hosting the event for five consecutive years.
Luckily, there are two paperweight makers in the Santa Cruz area, so the schedule for the weekend always included visits to these studios. They also included all kinds of artist demonstrations in lampworking and other facets of paperweight creation. There were lectures and talks by artists, games, puzzles, door prizes, and an auction. There was always special time reserved with an artist. Some weekends included wine tasting or a sunset sail on the Monterey Bay. Others included flower arranging with Debbie Tarsitano, a birding walk with Rick Ayotte, Scottish Reel dancing with Miriam Drysdale, and a “design your own paperweight,” session with the Drysdales, where guests arranged millefiori canes which were then shipped back to Scotland for encasement. All the contemporary paperweight artists and factories were invited and were asked to join L. H. Selman Ltd. in donating a weight which would be either given as a door prize for lucky attendees, or to be auctioned to raise money for the newly-formed IPS Foundation.
The fifth festival, held at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown San Francisco, drew over 300 attendees, and featured as special guest speaker, paperweight collector Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. His repeated line at the final banquet which drew a lot of laughs, was “Suzanne has my credit card!”
The festival also featured a special exhibit of artist Rick Ayotte’s work titled Songs Without Words: The Art of the Paperweight—Rick Ayotte. The exhibit, which was housed in a historic bank in downtown San Francisco, was open to the public for the purpose of educating people about the art form.
Every year at the IPS Festival, Paul Jokelson was crowned “King of Paperweights” in a ceremony at dinner on Saturday evening. “Her Royal Majesty” Margaret Jokelson also graced us with her presence. Every year, this crowning ceremony became more and more elaborate. The King reveled in all this attention, and jokingly offered his ring to be kissed.
But enough fun and frivolity. The International Paperweight Society has been responsible for more than just festivals.
In the early 1990s The International Paperweight Society Foundation was established as a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization for the purpose of supporting the art form and educating the public.
One of the Foundation’s first endeavors was to set up a traveling exhibit of 57 classic antique and 51 contemporary paperweights which would travel internationally. The exhibit, titled Challenging Tradition, contained paperweights from L. H. Selman Ltd. and various private collections and from November, 1993 to January, 1995 traveled to six different locations around the US and Scotland, with a color catalog commemorating the exhibit.
Challenging Tradition was exhibited at the Art Museum of Santa Cruz, California; MSC Forsythe Center Galleries at Texas A & M University; the Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine, Iowa; Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland (accompanied by artist Randall Grub); the Jones Museum of Glass and Ceramics, Douglas Hill, Maine; and Villa Terrace Museum of the Decorative Arts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Over the years the IPS Foundation funded scholarships for new paperweight artists (The Jokelson Fund); raised funds via a special online auction for glass artist Steve Lundberg to purchase a van after he contracted ALS and could no longer drive; established a paperweight museum on the West Coast; and, through the work of the Clark family, donated funds to expand and refurbish the Arthur Rubloff paperweight exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
New Gallery in Santa Cruz:
By the late 1990s, L. H. Selman Ltd., was running out of room in its original location on Chestnut Street. With a showroom (Larry’s office), a packing / shipping and storage room, and 10 employees crowded in three small offices, the Selmans began looking around for a new location. In 1998 they found a two-story, 5,000 square foot office building just 3 blocks away on Locust Street, and hired paperweight collector and friend Daniel MacLeith to refurbish the space. The upper floor would offer spacious office and conference space while the bottom floor would become a beautiful gallery and museum space.
The new space—The Glass Gallery—was large enough to accommodate plenty of paperweights in its mahogany cabinets, as well as floor space to accommodate pedestals to display contemporary glass sculpture. When the business moved to Chicago in 2009, MacLeith’s mahogany cabinets moved to the new location on Michigan Avenue, appropriately across the street from Chicago’s Art Institute.
All of major paperweight glass houses were represented: Baccarat, St. Louis, Perthshire, Caithness, Orient and Flume; as well as all of the contemporary studio paperweight artists, including Rick Ayotte, Melissa Ayotte, Bob Banford, Ray Banford, Chris Buzzini, Andrew Byers, John Deacons, Jim Donofrio, Drew Ebelhare, Randall Grub, Michael Hunter, James Lundberg, Steve Lundberg, Perthshire Paperweights, Ken Rosenfeld, Colin and Kathy Richardson, Alison Ruzsa, David Salazar, Daniel Salazar, Barry Sautner, Gordon Smith, Paul Stankard, Debbie Tarsitano, Victor Trabucco, Mayauel Ward, and others.
Contemporary glass sculpture artists were also included, such as the work of Ed Kachurik, Michael Leeds, Jared deLong, Denali Crystal, Marsha Blaker and Paul Desomma, Duncan MacClellan, Richard Ritter, Davide Salvadore, Rick Satava, Barry Sautner, Jesse Taj, and others.
The new space offered more opportunity for gallery openings, auctions, and collectors’ meetings and museum exhibits. The museum was able to offer space for special exhibits, such as the works of a particular artist, or a sulphide collection. Larry Selman still has in his possession, a world-class collection of antique sulphide objects.
When a small shop space became available for rent just up the street, Selman opened a small satellite shop which was open to the public, rather than the by-appointment schedule of the large gallery. The small shop, The Glass Gallery II, offered more affordable paperweights, small sculptures and glass jewelry.
With the new gallery as a wonderful destination for paperweight collectors, we began hosting what we called Collectors Weekends, which offered a small number of collectors the opportunity to spend the weekend with a particular paperweight artist. A small group of collectors (usually around 10 or twelve couples) were ensconced with one of their favorite paperweight artists at the lovely Inn at Depot Hill. Activities included dining with the artist at some of the best restaurants in the area, including the historic and romantic Shadowbrook Restaurant, wine tasting at local wineries, and even trips to the local flea market—all in the company of the artist. Of course, there was always time for browsing the paperweights in the gallery.
At times, collectors and artists looked back with nostalgia at the five large festivals of former days and expressed a desire for another large event. But after five years of back-to-back festival planning, Marti was ready for a change. “I was exhausted,” she recalls. “It took a year to plan one of those weekends, and after five years, I really couldn’t do it again.” But in the end, the smaller gatherings became a favorite of collectors and artists, as well as the staff at L. H. Selman Ltd., where friendships deepened and lasting bonds were made in a more relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
Rare and unusual paperweights from around the world:
By now, the online auctions at L. H. Selman Ltd. were so well established that Selman did not need to travel to London and New York auctions to acquire paperweights for his customers. As the presence of L. H. Selman Ltd. on the internet grew, offers to purchase rare pieces began to surface from hitherto-unknown collections in Eastern Europe. Once again, Selman found himself traveling to Europe to buy paperweights, but this time from individuals rather than at auction. Trips to Poland and Belgium yielded a rare Pantin Lizard magnum paperweight, as well as a one-of-a-kind glass ring, possibly from Russia, both of which sold at record prices.
One of the most fascinating facets of buying and selling paperweights over the years has been learning about the stories each piece has to tell. Provenance is important in all fields of collecting, of course, and each paperweight has its own history—whether we know the details or not. In a case like the rare Russian Ring, and Jokelson’s Bird in the Nest, the unique story is lost to history. But when someone is able to unearth the history of a particular paperweight, it is an exciting and satisfying find.
Selman recalls, “Over the years, we have watched particular pieces change hands numerous times. In some cases, we helped parents build a fine collection; and then when it was time to pass it on and their children were not interested, we had the pleasure of selling the collection again in one of our auctions. Of course, one of the most gratifying aspects of our career in glass paperweights has been getting to know such wonderful people. Our clients were consistently delighted with their acquisitions, and rarely did we ever encounter a collector who was dissatisfied. Life really doesn’t get any better than this!”
Passing the Torch:
With the business established for forty years, and the thought of retirement lurking in the back of his mind, Selman consulted with numerous professionals about how he might retire. But his business model didn’t fit the mold of the people who help to sell businesses. “My accountant told me to just reduce the prices and have a huge sale,” recalls Selman. “Of course, I wasn’t about to do that.”
Eventually Selman reached out to his collectors in an email, asking if anyone knew of someone who might be interested in acquiring the business. Out of several responders, the family of Wes Clark (who had been avid collectors for many years), kept surfacing as the best successor to carry on the legacy of L. H. Selman Ltd. / The Glass Gallery. On July 15, 2009, the sale documents were signed and plans were made to move the business to Chicago, where Mitch and Ben Clark would operate out of the Fine Arts Building, appropriately just down the street from the Art Institute and Arthur Rubloff’s world-class paperweight collection.
The Clarks kept the L. H. Selman Ltd. name, and continue to offer online auctions, gallery events and collector’s weekends, while promoting the new work of paperweight artists as well as educating the public about the art form.
Since selling the business to the Clark family in 2009, Selman has returned to his early passions of photography and playing early music on the viola da gamba. Larry and Marti have traveled extensively for bird and street photography.
Selman’s ongoing passion for photography can be seen at the following websites:
For birds: http://www.MostlyBirds.com
For black and white street photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselman/
Most recently, Larry has gone back to his early passion of playing the viola da gamba with other lovers of early music.
Photos courtesy of L. H. Selman Ltd. archives and photo collection of Larry and Marti Selman