Ornate Star Magnifying Paperweight

Mar 6, 2023 | Museum Monday Treasures

Today’s Museum Monday treasure from the Museum of American Glass in WV is an ornate star magnifying paperweight. Leaves are impressed on the underside of the points, with remains of gold and red paint. There is a Clark’s O.N.T. spool cotton trade card cut into circular form and inserted inside, but it is probably not original to the weight. Behind it is a photograph of three people in a field with an oil derrick behind them. The second picture is the same paperweight, but without the decoration. Although we can’t document this, we believe that both paperweights can be dated to circa 1899, on the assumption that they are covered by patent No. 634,146 for a picture-exhibitor, filed June 20, 1899, and issued October 3, 1899. The inventors were Gustavus Maddox and Joseph Maddox, of Baltimore, Maryland. The patent drawing shows a star paperweight being held upright in a metal easel, but with a much less elaborate star shape.

We can’t be certain who actually made the Maddox paperweights. Gustavus and Joseph Maddox were involved with William J. Cromwell in the Star Novelty Company, but filed a bill for a receiver in February 1899, before the patent was filed. They later sued Cromwell for infringement of this patent in January 1900. In 1903, Gustavus was trading as the Baltimore Novelty Works and was involved in a suit with Cromwell trading as the Sterling Glass Works.

A very similar paperweight was made by Harold Bennett’s Guernsey Glass Company in the 1970s. The example seen here has a transfer reproduction of the painting of the “Surrender of Cornwallis” by John Trumbull on the dome. Painted in gold on the points of the star is “U S A / 1776 1976.” It is embossed on the back of one of the points with “B” (for Bennett).

Curiously, we have another paperweight in the collection embossed on the back: “PAT’D. OCT 3, 1899,” the date of the Maddox patent, but it is in the shape of a horseshoe rather than a star. Because this patent was for an invention rather than a design, presumably any shape could be covered by the patent, which emphasized the use of the easel to hold the “picture-exhibitor.”

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