Friday, January 6, 2012
Pantin Paperweights: Snakes in the Glass
My fascination with snakes and other reptiles in ceramic also translates into glass, in this case glass paperweights. The most famous and rare of these were produced in France in the middle of the 19th Century by a company generally known as “Pantin.” According to sources fewer than 20 of these snake, salamander and worm paperweights are known. From a range of Internet sources I have gathered eight Pantin weights to show here.
Little is known about the Pantin factory and what information is available often is partial and even conflicting. One account goes like this: The Cristallerie de Pantin was founded by E. S. Monot at LaVillette, France, in 1850. It moved to Pantin, near Paris, in 1855. The company manufactured glass tubes and other chemical glass, crystal drinking vessels, and chandeliers. None of the weights Pantin produced were signed or dated. Evidence of Pantin paperweight making is in printed materials from the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878. American delegate Charles Colne described the snakes, lizards, fruits, and millefiori that amazed him in their skilled craftsmanship. The company continued until 1915, when it merged with Legras & Cie to form Verreries et Cristalleries de St. Denis et Pantin.
The artists who produced these weight overcame the risks involved in representing delicate and detailed animals in molten crystal, while preserving the fine quality of the lampworking. Frequently the bodies were wheel-cut to simulate scales. The legs and other details were added. It is suggested that one reason salamanders are a frequent Pantin motif is that they were thought to be able to survive fire unharmed. As such, it is said, they were long revered by glassmakers.
In 2010, A Pantin weight sold for $65,370, more than double its estimate. Shown here, it is just over 4 inches in diameter and shows a yellowish orange spotted black salamander clambering across green leaves with red and white flowers, all set on an opaque white ground mottled with moss and buff-coloured sand. Beautiful, indeed, but a pricey piece of glass.
The red salamander weight that follows is another prize. It was part of the Henry Melville Fuller collection of paperweights given to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1999. Said Mr. Fuller: "One of my favorite weights from this period was made by Pantin, a factory near Paris. The paperweight is somewhat unusual...lizards and snakes being a favorite subject of the Pantin artists. But these weights are very scarce, for the factory was only in business for a short time."
Most known Pantin weights can be found in museum collections. The next item, featuring a green snake, is from the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. In 1978 that institution brought together 13 examples in a special exhibit, believed to be the largest assemblage ever made of Pantin weights. The Chicago Art Institute has in its collection a Pantin weight that features three silkworms on a mulberry leaf. I am uncertain of the provenance of the last four weights shown here.
For $65,000, one of these Pantin weights might be purchased to be held in the hand. As the next best thing, this post offers up this array of eight for viewing, each offering its own “eye candy.” And they are presented here free of charge.