Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Poinsettia Paperweight ca 1850 - 1870

At a New Jersey art museum on last night's Antiques Roadshow, the program spotlighted glass paperweights including the above poinsettia paperweight. Crafted at the New England Glass Company, the poinsettia image is made from glass embedded in the paperweight. The appraiser said it was created anywhere between 1850 and 1870. The completed work demonstrates craftmanship of the highest order.
Knowing poinsettia history like I do, it occured to me poinsettias didn't arrive in the marketplace until around the same time. So a brief history from the Paul Ecke Ranch website follows. Joel Robert Poinsett was appointed as the first US ambassador to Mexico from 1825-1829 by President Madison. During his appointment to Mexico, he became enchanted with the red blooms of a tall shrub he found in the Taxco region.
He had his own hothouse at his plantation in Greenville SC and sent cuttings to be propagated during those ambassador years. From these plants, he sent cuttings to botanical institutions and friends , including John Bartram of Pennsylvania. Mr. Bartram sent cuttings to Robert Buist, a Pennsylvanian nurseyman who distributed the plant under the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrmia (literally "the most beautiful Euphorbia ). However, it wasn't referred to as a poinsettia until 1836. The people at Ecke believe this history makes the introduction perfectly clear.
So back to the paperweight history. Since Ecke is certain of the 1836 date paired with the accuracy of Antiques Roadshow's estimate of an age from 1850 to 1870, then the paperweight was certainly crafted between 15 to 35 years after the plant's introduction to this country. Just like Poinsett, someone at the New England Glass Company must have been enchanted by the beautiful red blooms of what was at the time a relatively obscure Mexican tree. And in an incredibly short amount of time, an anonymous artist captured its beauty to be shared with future generations in the confines of an important art institution.

1 comment:

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