Occasionally we have item in a sale that catches everyone by surprise.
In our Fine Art and Antiques sale on 10th July 2007, lot 83 was listed as: “French glass paperweight decorated with a lizard amongst aconites, on a rocky base, 10 cm, (4″) £100 – £150.” Nothing too unusual you might think but it soon became clear that this might be something a little more interesting.
The paperweight turned out to be a previously undocumented example of work by the Cristallerie de Pantin (often referred to as The Fourth Factory after Baccarat, Clichy and Saint Louis) thought to have been made in the second half of the 19th century.
After a lot of interest from both sides of the Atlantic: in the saleroom, on the telephone and over the internet, the item finally sold for £22,000 to an American collector bidding over the internet via www.the-saleroom.com. (Not bad for an item purchased at a Northamptonshire Car Boot sale for “less than the cost of a breakfast!”)
This discovery lead to a leading article in the Antiques Trade Gazette (www.antiquestradegazette.com) and a 5 page write up in the Annual Bulletin of the Paperweight Collectors Association Inc. 2008 (www.paperweight.org) – which can be read in full below. (Many thanks to John Simmonds and the good people at the Paperweight Collectors Association for their kind permission to reproduce his article)
A Previously Unrecorded Pantin Lizard
By: John Simmonds
Photography by the Author (Reproduced with kind permission).
I guess we all have those moments in life when we just cannot believe what we are hearing or seeing. Such was the case with myself which was to culminate with this article.
It all began when Ian Barrie, a fellow collector and good friend of mine, telephoned me one evening to talk, as I thought, about things in general. However, this was not so; instead he told me that he had just received a catalogue from a local auction house and that it listed a French paperweight, four inches in diameter, that was decorated with a lizard. The estimate was £100 – £150 ($192 – $288). He said he thought he might go along and have a look at the weight, and wondered if I had any idea as to what it was.
Alarm bells started ringing and my immediate reaction was – French, lizard, and four inches – surely this must mean Pantin, but at £100 something had to be wrong. With baited breath I awaited a copy of the catalogue and a picture that my friend had obtained. Both arrived and although it was not a particularly clear picture, I was sure that my assumption was correct. This paperweight was almost certainly a Pantin lizard. The catalogue lot description, which did not include an illustration, read “83 French glass paperweight decorated with a lizard amongst aconites, on a rocky base, 10 cm, (4″) £100 – £150.”
For the benefit of new and/or lesser informed readers, it should be noted that these paperweights are extremely rare and the sort of thing that collectors can but dream about; in fact many collectors have never seen even one.
Figure 1: Lot 83, a previously unrecorded Pantin lizard. 4 3/32″ diameter.
Full of excitement, I travelled to the auction room to see and fully assess Lot 83. On viewing the paperweight (Figure 1), not only was attribution to Pantin confirmed but, just as important, I had a feeling that it might well be an example which had not been hitherto documented. Before this one appeared, only sixteen examples of Pantin lizards (or gila monsters) and the three dimensional salamanders were known to exist. After reviewing available documentation, I found that only four similar examples with a black bodied lizard and two yellow aconites had previously been documented. (End Notes 1, 2, 3, 4) I am thus able to state that the paperweight about to be described has not previously been recorded.
|Figure 2||Figure 3|
Figure 2: Yellow spotted black lizard, head at top.
Figure 3: Yellow spotted black lizard with red eyes and yellow nostrils.
The black lizard, with two rows of yellow spots on each side of its body (Figure 2), lies flat and virtually straight with its legs very close to the body. Forward of its red eyes, the yellow nostrils are just visible (Figure 3).
|Figure 4||Figure 5|
Figure 4: Left hand flower with closed petals and long tapering veined leaves.
Figure 5: Right hand flower with open petals and partly folded spear type leaves.
Whilst the petals of the left hand flower are closed (Figure 4), those of the other one
(Figure 5) are open revealing stamens that are of the normal multiple yellow rod type (End Note 5) (left relates to having the lizard’s head pointing away from the viewer). The two kinds of leaf, as seen in Figures 4 and 5, are the long tapering veined variety and the partly folded spear type as defined by Kulles, (End Note 6) with each plant having nine, (left hand, six lower plus three upper, and right hand, five lower and four upper). In common with other examples, the rocky base on a white ground has approximately one quarter inch of clear glass beneath (Figure 6).
|Figure 6||Figure 7|
Figure 6: White ground and base showing basal rim.
Figure 7: Examples of surface damage – chip and minor scratches.
Physical characteristics are as follows:
- Diameter: 4 3/32″
- Height: 33/32″
- Base diameter: 27/8″
- Basal rim width: 3/16″
- Base: smooth concave
The main damage is a chip and two minor bruises to the dome together with many,
mostly very fine, scratches (Figure 7). A short distance down from the top of the dome is an extremely fine, slightly frosted annular ring about one eighth inch in width. This could be seen more than felt, and it is impossible to comment further on its possible origin. As a result of these surface defects, the clarity of the lizard, etc. was, understandably, not perfect, and in the author’s opinion this paperweight would probably benefit from sympathetic restoration.
Auction day (Tuesday 10th July 2007) arrived and bidders quickly pushed the final hammer price up to £22,000 ($42,240)!
And now to the all important question of where the paperweight was found. Gildings, amazed at the result, issued the following press release from which the discovery will, to put it mildly, be found to be surprising: “A rare French paperweight bought by a local couple at a car boot sale (in Northamptonshire), sold – using live internet bidding – to an American collector for £22,000. Indeed, the opening bid, when it came under John Gilding’s hammer, was £6,000, and with interest in the sale room and on four telephone lines from the U.S.A. as well as from this country, the price rose rapidly.” Spokesman for the Auctioneers, Mr Mark Gilding, said “When I contacted the couple to tell them of the successful outcome, they were absolutely delighted – getting up early most Sundays had eventually paid off!” When asked what the lucky couple paid for their rare find, Mark said “a handful of change – less than the cost of a breakfast!”
News of this important event made front page news in the Antiques Trade Gazette (End Note 7) which, in addition to a good report picturing an excellent side view of the weight, said the successful bidder was from the east coast of the U.S.A.
Further references are listed (End Notes 8, 9, 10) to assist those keen to compare this paperweight with other known examples. Of these, it is “Paperweights: Flowers which clothe the meadows” that illustrates and details by far the largest number of examples in a single publication, listing a total of nine.
As an aid to greatly speeding up the process of positively defining any future examples that may come to light, Table 1 (below) lists various parameters of all the known specimens covered by the end notes and this article.
|Source Reference and End Note No.||F=Figure L=Lot P=Page||Lizard Style
(F=Flat 3D=3 dimensional
|Number of Flowers||Flower Colours
Y=Yellow R=Red B=Blue P=Pink W=White R/W=Red& White
S=Spear T=Tapered YT=Yellow Edged Tapered
|Dia. Inches||Owner per
(* Examples Known by 1978)
|(2) Hall||P69||F||2||Y||S,T||3 29/32||Guggenheim*|
|(2) Hall||P69||3D||2||R,W||S||4 1/4||Owner Unknown|
|(4) Sotheby’s||L177||F||2||Y||S,T||4 3/8||Owner Unknown*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F278||3D||-||-||-||4 1/2||Corning*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F279||3D||2||YP||S||4 15/32||Owner Unknown*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F280||3D||1||W||S||4 7/32||Bergstrom*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F281||3D||1||Y||S||4 3/16||Langston*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F282||3D||1||Y||S||4 1/8||Illinois State Museum*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F283||3D||1||R/W||YT||4 3/16||Art Institute of Chicago*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F284||3D||1||W||S||4 1/4||Owner Unknown*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F285||3D||2||Y||S,T||4 1/16||Jokelson*|
|(8) Hollister / Lanmon||F286||3D||1||Y||S||4 3/8||Corning*|
|(9) Sotheby’s||L70||F||3||R,W,B||YT||4 1/4||Fairchild*|
|(10) Cloak||F261||F||3||R,W, P||S||4 1/8||Bergstrom*|
|Gildings Auction||L83||F||2||Y||S,T||4 3/32||Owner Unknown|
At any given point in time the exact number of known examples of lizard paperweights has often been the subject of debate, and the chances of a previously unrecorded example coming to light are very remote. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that in 1978 only fourteen examples were known, and it took a further twenty-one years for this figure to increase to sixteen, the present example bringing the figure to seventeen. It has been four years now since one of these has been auctioned (the Batiste collection) and on that occasion it was a known example.
How long will it be before another unrecorded lizard surfaces?
1: Paul Hollister, Paperweights from the Henry Melville Fuller Collection (New Hampshire: The Currier Gallery of Art, 1993)
2: Robert G. Hall, World Paperweights (Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001)
3: Sotheby’s, Olympia, London, 29 June 2004 Auction, lot 305.
4: Sotheby’s, London, 5 February 1968 Auction, lot 177.
5: Paul H. Dunlop, “Pantin Paperweights,” Annual Bulletin of the Paperweight Collectors Association, Inc., 2004, pp. 63 – 69.
6: George N. Kulles, Identifying Antique Paperweights – The Less Familiar (Santa Cruz: Paperweight Press, 2003)
7: Roland Arkell, Antiques Trade Gazette. Issue 1799, 21 July 2007.
8: Hollister/Lanmon, Paperweights: Flowers which clothe the Meadows (Corning: The Corning Museum of Glass, 1978)
9: Sotheby’s, New York, “Important Paperweights from the Collection of F. Regnault and Frances C. D. Fairchild,” June 16, 1999 Auction, Lot 70
10: Evelyn Campbell Cloak, Glass Paperweights of the Bergstrom Art Center (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1969)
To Learn More:
Sotheby’s, New York, April 29,1998 catalogue provides excellent Pantin references and “The Fourth Factory,” an article by Albert Christian Revi in the June, 1965 edition of the Bulletin of the Paperweight Collectors’ Association, gives historical background information on the Pantin factory.
About the Author:
John Simmonds, author of Paperweights from Great Britain 1930-2000, has collected paperweights for over thirty years. He is an inaugural member of the Paperweight Collectors Circle U.K., and a listed County Council speaker.
Contact the Paperweight Collectors Association:
Paperweight Collectors Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 4153,