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Glass was the dominate force in the economy of Venice for hundreds of years. It was so important that glassmakers were not allowed to leave with their glass secrets, under penalty of death. Because of the importance of this industry, though not having much personal freedom, glassmakers were held in high esteem and lived like princes. At one time Venice had ruled the world of glassmaking but by the time of the classic period of paperweights their dominance had long since passed, first to Bohemia; subsequently other countries gained supremacy. By the classic period, Venetian glass was, and still is, largely characterized by gaudy, cheaply made items for tourists.
Pietro Bigaglia (1786-1876) who came from a family of glassmakers is credited with being the first to exhibit glass paperweights, in 1845, at the Exhibition of Austrian Industry. Although these were likely the first weights exhibited publicly, we know they were not the first ones made as they had appeared several years before this in Bohemia. The weights made by Bigaglia are scrambleds, the best including a variety of good silhouette canes made by Franchini.
Giovanni Batista Franchini (1804-1873) was an innovator who was constantly searching for better materials and techniques. His son Giacomo, who would gain fame as a murrine master, was born in 1827. In addition to millefiori canes, which Giovanni sold to other glassworkers including Pietro Bigaglia, he made a variety of objects incorporating his canes and the murrine of his son, Giacomo. These objects include: oval & rectangular plaques (seen individually or set in jewelry), chops, scent bottles, snuffbox lids, and handles for walking sticks, parasols and flatware.
Excerpted from The Dictionary of Glass Paperweights, Paul H. Dunlop, Papier Presse 2009.