rubloff-museum-paperweightsWe would like to thank everyone who responded to the Chicago Tribune’s article postulating that the Chicago Art Institute’s Rubloff paperweight exhibit is not a good use of the world famous museum’s space.  We at L.H. Selman obviously took issue with the article and asked those of you in the paperweight community from around the world to respond with your calls and letters.

Well, call and write you did!

The Tribune printed a follow-up story headlined, “Worst exhibits of 2011?  Some beg to differ”. The reporter went on to state;

“…I have heard by now from nearly 300 people, including a good portion of the world’s collectors of glass paperweights, incensed that I thought the “Arthur Rubloff Paperweight Collection” gets too much space in the Art Institute.”

Great job everyone!

Many of you copied us with your letters.  We were touched by stories of you as a young children seeing paperweights for the very first time when visiting the Rubloff with a special family member, or saving up the money so you could one day see it in person and how it made you feel to finally experience the Rubloff collection, the Art Institute and Chicago.  Some of you challenged the reporter to take time to learn about the art form before passing judgement, and then there was one of our favorite letters that asked, “What do you collect?  Bobbleheads?”

Whether you revisited a favorite memory, tried to educate, expressed anger or resorted to humor, your letters are priceless and we would like to reprint them in a special L.H. Selman blog here on our website.

So, if you already sent us a copy of your letter (unless you ask us not to post it) we will add it to the new L.H. Selman blog next week.  If we don’t already have a copy of your letter, please email us a copy or send us something new describing a special paperweight memory or a description of what paperweights mean to you and we will add it to the postings.  And, as always, special credit for poems!

By the way, we have spoken with the Art Institute and they have assured us that the Rubloff paperweight collection is a treasured collection within the museum and that they have every intention of keeping it on display for many years to come.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Alexis, Suzanne, Casey, Mitch and Ben


77 thoughts on “What do you think of the Rubloff Collection?

  1. Pingback: Esteemed Chicago paperweight exhibit a target for drive-by newspaper columnists | The GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet

  2. Dear Scott and Steve,

    Paperweights are a true form of art. Some people collects paintings and have tons of wall space to display them.
    Most of us go to museums to enjoy all works of art. I can understand that some folks have their likes and dislikes,
    but to call them “tchotchkes” is a bit banal. Are you aware of the history and the price tag on these pocket size
    creations? The work and detail is just incredible. From an antique millifiore to an underwater modern, and everything
    in between, this is art. These artists make a living working with molten glass. Educate yourselves and take a short walk
    to a wonderful shop L.H. Selman. These paperweight specialists might teach you a thing or two.

    I am a Chicagoan, living in South Africa on assignment. Every time I return to Chicago, I go to the Art Institute to view
    this wonderful collection. My small collection, comes with me on the road and it reminds me of home.

    Linda Worthington

  3. In my first honors math class at Dartmouth (Fall 1964) the Germanic professor, using chalk, wrote the basic Calculus formula on the black board. One student asked, “Where did all that crap on the left side of the equation come from?” Your column trivializing the world famous Rubloff art glass paperweight collection at the Art Institute reminded me of the professor’s response. He stared at the student for a few seconds while we all quaked in our seats, and then replied with thick accent, “Some people go to museums but they can’t appreciate what they see there. Those people should stay home.”
    Maybe, Mr. Johnson, you should just stay home. People like me who travel from all over the world to Chicago to see the Rubloff Exhibit won’t miss you if you’re not there.

    Joseph Barri
    Milton, MA 02186

  4. Gentlemen,

    What ever happened to the notion that a journalist does research before going to print? How long would it have taken you to get a grasp on the unique art form known as the Paperweight? The Ryerson Library at the Art Institute has many fine books on the subject and just a little further down Michigan Avenue the L.H. Selman Gallery has a vast library and a knowledgeable staff that would have been only to happy to assist you in some basic research.

    Not only do you show a lack of understanding of art you show a lack of Chicago history. Arthur Rubloff did so much for the city he loved. He was a great humanitarian and had a deep love of art. His gifts to Northwestern University and The University of Chicago and to the Art Institute of Chicago will live forever.

    The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the worlds great art museums and collectors and art lovers come from all over the world to view the Rubloff Collection. Its shear idiocy not to recognize the significance of this important collection for its artistic merit.

    Those of us who are life long Chicagoans find it hard to believe that you would belittle one of Chicago’s treasures, an Art Museum that we are so proud of.

    Currently three important American Museums, The Flint Institute of Art, The Akron Museum of Art and the Tacoma Glass Museum, are featuring special Paperweight Exhibits. Could it be that Art Curators, Art Historians and Museum Directors know something about this art form that you do not. A small amount of effort on your part would have given you a clue.

    Most amazing is that the Tribune would have allowed this to go to press.

    – Nancy Alfano

  5. Mr. Johnson & Mr. Powers,

    After reading your review of the Rubloff collection of paperweights at the Art Institute of Chicago, I seriously question your understanding of this art form. I must assume that your article merely stated your opinion — limited as it may be. For many collectors and art critics, paperweights represent tasteful and delightful objects of glass art that have a fascinating, colorful and rich history.

    Dwight Lanmon, former director of the prestigious Corning Museum of Glass, considers “paperweights to be among the most outstanding technical achievements in the 3500-year history of glassmaking.” He also said they were “the crown jewels for collectors”.

    The respected author, historian and fine art collector, Paul Hollister, said paperweights “ …cry out for a recognized place in the hierarchy of beautiful objects made by man. The finest of them, created by true and great artists, rank with the finest illuminated manuscripts, the bronzes of Cellini, the boxes of Faberge, or the portraits of the greatest of the miniaturists.”

    Paperweights continue to be in demand by collectors. For your information, the world record price for a single paperweight is just over $250,000, sold in a 1990 Sotheby’s auction. How would you explain to that buyer your comment that paperweights are only “moderately pretty hunks of glass…”? He laid his money on the table — you only expressed your inexperienced opinion. I recognize your right to express your opinion, but I would hope that you might have checked your facts before publicizing to the world your lack of experience.

    I’m sorry that you did not appreciate the Rubloff collection of paperweights at the Art Institute. These are considered the finest collection in the world. I’m also sorry that you chose to write your article expressing your personal opinion without doing a little background research to become better informed. I think you missed the boat.

    -Art Elder

  6. On Sat, Jan 21, 2012 at 9:30 PM, ?? ?? wrote:

    Re: My disagreement about the article by Chicago Tribune

    I was motivated to have been interested in glasspaperweight in 1964 seeing at the splendid exhibition of Old Sturbridge Village Massachusetts.

    Since then I have learned the history of glasspaperweight by several brochures. This art became prosperious under the patronage of French court then spreaded simultaneously to England and Northeastern part of U.S.A.

    Numerous kind of techniques and designs have been applied to these small glass lumps. The most elegant one was told to have being collected by famous Corning Glass

    So I will convince glasspaperweight must be qualified as one of the glass art category though they has partyly commercial side.

    Kazuyoshi Nagao
    1-4-702 Myoujindai Hodogaya
    Yokohama Japan

  7. I can’t believe that anyone would say paperweights are not worth their space! I say the more the merrier! They are amazing portraits in glass. My life would be empty without them. In fact, I’m going to try to schedule a trip to Chicago just to see the display!

  8. To: Mr. Powers,

    Did you know? Facts about fine glass paperweights

    1. The highest price ever paid for a paperweight was $258,000, purchased in 1990 by a private collector at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. The piece, an antique paperweight produced by the French Clichy Factory was known as The Basket of Flowers.

    2. While one of the world’s largest collections of paperweights was assembled by the late Arthur Rubloff, a Chicago developer and avid collector, there are thousands of collectors world-wide who share his passion. Throughout history, kings, queens and celebrities have collected paperweights. Like other expensive art objects, they have been a hobby of the upper classes. Famous collectors have included Oscar Wilde, King Farouk, Colette, Empress Eugenie, Truman Capote, Eva Peron, Malcolm Forbes, and President Clinton.

    3. The creation of fine glass paperweights is by far the most technically complex form of all glass working, requiring many years of practice before a glass artist masters control of the molten medium used to create them. The inner design is created out of colored glass, while in its liquid form at 2,000+ degrees F, and is then encased in molten crystal. All stages in the process, from creation of the design to cooling (annealing) the glass, require a technical tour de force of knowledge and skill.

    4. The first glass paperweights were created in the mid-1850s in France. Competition between rival glass factories of Baccarat, Saint Louis, and Clichy caused what was first created as a simple novelty item to evolve into rare presentation pieces, which demonstrated the makers’ skills. While they still retain the name given them in Victorian times, glass paperweights have never been used to hold down paper. Instead they have always been collected as precious objects of art and are displayed as such by collectors everywhere.

    5. Original methods for creating paperweights has changed little over the past 160 years since the French factories competed to make their finest work. The major difference is that today’s makers use computer-controlled annealing ovens. The clear glass used for encasement is clearer than the glass used in the 1850s, but the colors of the interior designs have not faded in the least.

    6. Much of the Arthur Rubloff paperweight collection now housed in the Art Institute of Chicago was assembled by Lawrence H. Selman, founder of L. H. Selman Ltd., who traveled to auctions in the United States and Europe to bid on behalf of his client. Like other art auctions, many of the high prices paid were due to worldwide interest in these works of art, resulting in bidding wars between collectors attempting to acquire them. To put things in perspective, only one of the world’s five most expensive paperweights-the Pantin Silkworms-is in Arthur Rubloff’s collection.

    7. The world’s largest purveyor of fine glass paperweights is L. H. Selman Ltd., formerly a California glass art gallery which was acquired in 2009 by the Clark family of Chicago. The gallery is now located at 410 S. Michigan Ave., across the street from the Art Institute. For more than 40 years, L. H. Selman Ltd. has served as a leading envoy for glass collectors, supplying them with rare antique and contemporary paperweights. The company hosts various events throughout the year, including gallery exhibitions, and semi-annual online paperweight auctions, which attract bidders from around the world.

    L. H. Selman Ltd. deals with some of the most prestigious glasshouses, museums, and individual paperweight artists known today, offering the most extensive inventory of antique and contemporary paperweights in the world. L.H. Selman Ltd. has also published more than 30 books about paperweights under the imprint of Paperweight Press.

    8. The top five most expensive paperweights sold at auction in modern times:

    1. Clichy Basket of flowers: $258,000 (June 26,1990, Sotheby’s)
    2. Pantin Bird in the nest: $182,600 (April 1990, L. H. Selman Ltd.)
    3. Pantin Salamander with red and white blossoms: $156,500 (April 29,1998, Sotheby’s)
    4. Pantin Silkworms: $143,000 (December 2,1983, Sotheby’s) – Acquired by Arthur Rubloff and on display at the AIC.
    5. Saint Louis Encased gingham overlay: $117,600 (July 10,1979, Christie’s)

    All the best,

    -Lawrence H. Selman, founder of L. H. Selman Ltd. and former agent for Arthur Rubloff.

  9. Dear Mr. Johnson,

    I was shocked when I read your article in the Chicago Tribune this morning. I suspect you know very little about paperweights and do not seem to recognize that art comes in many forms and many different mediums. I do not think you would have written this article If you had done research on the history of paperweights or even taken a tour of L.H. Selman, LTD which is located in the Fine Arts Building.

    In addition to being sarcastic and uninformed, your article was very derogatory towards Mr. Rubloff who obviously generously loaned or donated his collection to the museum. I do not know the Rubloff family, but I cannot help but think they would certainly be outraged by your negative comments.

    I sincerely hope you will print a retraction.


    Susan C. Newman

  10. I must say that I very much appreciate the wisdom of redefining our museum expectations from time to time, especially as our culture coffers burst at the seams and nine tenths of museum property is unceremoniously relegated to a life in the dungeon. I often find myself wondering just how much stuff it is appropriate to accumulate, and how much time it is appropriate to spend shuffling past it. Perhaps we should consider expending a bit less effort on gathering and cataloging objects and simply venture into the great outdoors to ponder a mountain or a stream. I love the feel of a museum, the sense of history and of times revisited; nevertheless, my very un-chic contentions are rather sincere. Since art will continue to proliferate at the same rate as our species, isn’t the thought of taking it all in not only daunting but altogether absurd? Shouldn’t we weed through the closets of culture from time to time, just as we weed through tie-dyed tee shirts and scuffed oxfords? I’m convinced of it.
    Perhaps though, our planet has not become so tiny that we can’t still find a place to store a wedding dress, an old football jersey or even a brooch we once treasured but are sure never to prick our frocks with again. To contemplate these items on the rare occasion captures the imagination and transports us, sometimes bitterly, sometimes heart-wrenchingly and sometimes rapturously, to the stories that have shaped us.
    That is what happens to us in a museum as well. Mountains and streams are essential to our psyches, but so is our past and so is the art that describes our relationship to our world. Artwork is a kind of wondrous shorthand for the journey that has evolved into today.
    I remember being at a very obscure exhibit in the Marais in Paris a few years ago. It was tucked away and seldom discovered by the casual tourist. It was an exhibit of boutonnières, or, more accurately, the tiny little vases that were used to hold them. In the 18th and 19th centuries, ladies carried little bouquets with them and gentlemen were in the habit of putting a flower through their buttonholes. Exquisite little vials were created to keep the blooms in water so that they wouldn’t decline during the course of an outing. The display of artistry was breathtaking, and the vision of room after room of tiny boutonnieres transporting. I was in another time and in another place.
    At last we come to my object. It is the paperweight, also the invention of an artist for his time. People wrote letters and cooled themselves before open windows. The cultivated world had beautiful desk sets and little by little, during a very short period of history rather sardonically acknowledged by Mr. Johnson as the classic period, great French glass artists fashioned extraordinary globes which became the crowning jewels of pen and paper. Colette, who loved and collected them, called them “frozen gardens”. To hold them and to behold them is to be transported, just as I was transported by the boutonnieres. An antique weight takes me straight back to the beau monde of Paris and a modern one perhaps to a summer garden. Mr. Johnson, did you really say “hunks of glass”? I hope you’ll look again. You have missed something very, very wondrous.
    The Art Institute is such a big place. I find it marvelous to visit its vast halls and then suddenly stumble into the intimate world of paperweights. When I clean out my closets the jewelry box is the least cumbersome of items to be considered and so chock-a-block with treasures that it will certainly be the last thing ever that I part with.

    Alexis Magaro

  11. It was 30 years ago that I joined a group of friends for a day at the Art Institute. As we headed back to view the Chagall window, something on the right caught my eye and I urged the group to stop for a moment. I went into the small room just off the main hallway and was immediately surrounded by case after case of beautiful glass objects. I stood there mesmerized, and soon learned that these objects were the Arthur Rubloff Paperweight Collection. I immediately declared “I want these.” Thus began my days as a paperweight collector.

    Over the course of those 30 years, I have come to fully appreciate the art form, from the wonderful masterpieces of the classic French antiques, to the glory of the contemporary weights, from the beauty of a Clicky rose, to the intricate, magnificant detail of a Stankard bee. I have been privileged to get to know many other collectors, and have learned much about the art form from them. And I have marveled at the works of young artists furthering the art form, sharing techniques and learning from each other. The work is breathtakingly intricate and detailed.

    And I have worked on a convention that brought several hundred collectors, artists, dealers, and curators to Chicago to learn more about the art form, and to visit the museum. That same convention was in our nation’s capitol this year, taking several hundred to the Smithsonian to view some of their paperweight collection.

    I am sorry that Mr. Johnson does not appreciate the art form, but art it most definitely is. Learn more through the Paperweight Collector’s Association (, or come to one of our PCA of Illinois meetings. Read our bulletins, attend our convention, and learn more about paperweights. I am sure you will then see what so many of us already see–paperweights are a stunningly beautiful and intricate art. I am privileged to call myself a paperweight collector.

    Ellen J. Rostker

  12. I consider it a privilege to have access to so many world-class museums in the Chicago area and am sad that the Tribune is using its power to ridicule exhibits instead of encouraging its readers to take advantage of the cultural riches available.

    When I was a child, I visited the Art Institute and gazed in wonder at the Arthur Rubloff paperweight collection. As an adult, I am thrilled to collect art glass paperweights.

    Steve Johnson suggests that he may be “too much of a rube to comprehend that there may be artistic value in paperweights” and thousands of paperweight collectors worldwide agree with him.

    I am sorry that Steve cannot appreciate the beauty, variety, and skill of the art form.

    If Steve would like to learn more, I am sure that members of the local Paperweight Collectors of Illinois would be happy to introduce Steve to our passion.


    Peggy Morrow

  13. Dear Scott and Steve,

    Paperweights are a true form of art. Some people collects paintings and have tons of wall space to display them.
    Most of us go to museums to enjoy all works of art. I can understand that some folks have their likes and dislikes,
    but to call them “tchotchkes” is a bit banal. Are you aware of the history and the price tag on these pocket size
    creations? The work and detail is just incredible. From an antique millefiore to an underwater modern, and everything
    in between, this is art. These artists make a living working with molten glass. Educate yourselves and take a short walk
    to a wonderful shop L.H. Selman. These paperweight specialists might teach you a thing or two.

    I am a Chicagoan, living in South Africa on assignment. Every time I return to Chicago, I go to the Art Institute to view
    this wonderful collection. My small collection, comes with me on the road and it reminds me of home.

    Linda Worthington

  14. I am not a Chicago resident but have made a pilgrimage to view the
    outstanding Rubloff Collection of Antique Art Paperweights, which is
    magnificent and extremely valuable. Your reporter Mr. Johnson should
    have been more careful with his research before reporting such
    mis-information. My understanding is that Mr Rubloff donated a large
    sum of money to building one the world’s foremost museums for the
    purpose of housing his collection of Art and Art Paperweights and to
    share them. If Mr. Johnson had spent anytime looking at the exhibit
    he has maligned he might have appreciated the skill and artistry of
    the items displayed. These are not just paperweights, it is a highly
    skilled art form. The form has mostly disappeared as most young
    artists do not have the skill or the inclination to master this
    intricate art form. It has been revived in the last 50 years by an
    enthusiatic group of young and highly skilled artists in the United
    States. Your reporter also should know that one of the foremost
    dealers of art glass paperweights L.H. Selman is now located in
    Chicago. There are several other studios and dealers of fine art
    glass in Chicago. The many collectors of art glass from around the
    world visit Chicago to view the Rubloff collection and to puchase both
    antique and modern paperweights. I urge you to do more research on
    this subject and hopefully print an apology to the Rubloff family and
    to the many collectors of art glass paperweights around the world.

    Gena Whitten

  15. Dear Mr. Johnson,

    I cannot begin to explain how upset I am that the Rubloff paperweights were called “(un)worthy of space”, “moderately pretty hunks of glass”, and “tschotchkes” in your article.

    I have been collecting and loving paperweights since the early 90s and have very few that come close to the beauty and artistry of any of the Rubloff weights. I have a deep appreciation for the creativity and skill of these artists–makers of the antique as well as the modern. The making of a paperweight is a very exacting process–not to mention the artistic skill of the maker.

    Please, take another look…a deeper look into these wonderful creations. You were mistaken and I hope with more thought (and another look) you will see what we collectors have seen. I hope you will write a follow up article that is much more positive.

    Marsha White

  16. Dear Mr. Powers:

    I was shocked to learn about the paperweight article that appeared in the Chicago newspaper. For those that understand the paperweight-making process, it is truly amazing that one would allow this copy to run in a major city publication or any publication, for that matter.

    While I fully understand that art is a subjective matter, but to refer to weights as “moderately beautiful”, this is a disgrace to the men and women who painstakingly toil in hope of producing the perfect piece. If you have not done so already, I would challenge you and Mr. Johnson to thoroughly research this art form before criticizing its art value or perhaps see a paperweight artisan in the process of constructing his/her works of art. Today, paperweights are in fact art, and to suggest otherwise is likely a result of misinformation or simply being uninformed.


    Jay S. Hollyman, MBA

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