One of the many abstract
designs produced by
Caithness Glass as
unlimited editions. This
one is "Desert Spring"
by Alistair MacIntosh.
Pirelli Glass including
the link between the
Ysarts & Pirelli.
- take a look
Caithness Glass: A short explanation:
Caithness is the most northerly and remote county in Scotland. Wick, on the North East coast, was the original home of Caithness Glass, which started as a small glassworks in 1961 making vases and bowls for the tourist trade.
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Caithness Glass: history, people and glass
Above: three beautiful limited edition paperweights produced by Caithness Glass in 1995:
three tenors edition of 100, spellcaster edition of 650, and mephistopheles edition of 650.
by Rhona Burns and Angela Bowey
Rhona Burns was Marketing Executive with Caithness Glass Ltd
Caithness Glass was founded in 1961 at Wick in the far North East of Scotland, by the late Robin Sinclair, local landowner and politician. The idea was sparked off by an unemployment crisis in this area when the farming and herring fishing industries collapsed in the mid 20th century.
A new purpose-built factory was eventually funded by the Scottish Industrial Estates agency, and leased to Caithness Glass in 1961. Initially the Company made bowls, vases and drinking glasses in the popular Scandinavian style of the time. They soon became well known for their distinctive coloured glass designs, which echoed the haunting colors of the Scottish landscape.
Above: three Caithness vases (1980s).
In 1962 Paul Ysart left Moncrieff Glassworks and joined Caithness Glass as their training officer. Paul Ysart was an internationally recognised designer of paperweights and as training officer he had permission to make his paperweights at the weekends. He trained two apprentices, Peter Holmes and Willie Manson, to work with him at these paperweight-making sessions. Both of them went on to become famous paperweight artists in their own right. Peter Holmes started as a young apprentice in 1963, and stayed until 1977 when he left to found Selkirk Glass, which flourished for over 20 years. Selkirk Glass was bought by Caledonian Investments in 2004 but was finally closed in 2006.
Although Paul Ysart's paperweights were made at Caithness, and a few of them were sold through the Caithness Glass shop, they were not produced by the factory as production designs. They were individual items produced by Paul himself. Even his apprentices were not encouraged to make their own paperweights.
Crimps like the one on the left are used to make many of the designs. This is Cornflower by Helen MacDonald, with its crimp.
In 1969 Colin Terris launched his first set of modern paperweights - The Planets, a set of four abstracts paperweights representing Mars, Mercury, Saturn and Venus and each produced in a limited edition of 500. These quickly sold and Colin Terris built on this success by launching six new paperweights in 1970. There was a second Planets set (Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, and Earth) and one called "Orbit" and all five were again limited editions of 500. The first unlimited edition, Moonflower, was produced that year, and continued to be produced for over thirty years. Moonflower was the most successful paperweight ever made by Caithness and probably the most successful in the world in terms of numbers sold.
With all the important events going on in relation to paperweights, it is easy to forget that Caithness originally made its name as a successful producer of vases, bottles, and bowls. In 1968 the company was awarded the Queen Mother's Royal Warrant (meaning they were the recognised supplier of glass to the Queen Mother) and the company continues today to make a beautiful range of glassware, which now includes paperweights and small clocks set in glass spheres.
Until 1969 Caithness had only one factory, the one at Wick; but in 1969 a new factory was opened at Oban, many miles away on the West coast of Scotland. This factory focussed primarily on art glass, but they did help out with paperweight production from the early 1970s to the 1990s.
When the Caithness factory started making paperweights in 1969, Paul Ysart and Peter Holmes were already producing very successful jewellery items with small millefiori decorations. Around 1970 Paul decided to leave. He took Willie Manson with him and set up the Harland Glassworks with the help of former Managing Director of Caithness Glass, Graham Brown. This left only two paperweight makers at Caithness, Colin Terris and Peter Holmes. Peter was put in charge of the department making millefiori jewellery, where he stayed until 1977.
In 1971, the third year of paperweight production at the Caithness factory, Colin Terris designed another five limited edition paperweights, and by 1972 they were beginning to seriously increase production. Colin designed six more limited editions that year and two unlimited editions, Peter Holmes contributed two limited edition designs and a paperweight bottle design, and they also introduced two unlimited paperweights based on Paul Ysart designs (Harlequin Single and Harlequin Double). All of these early designs were abstract - there were no millefiori nor lampwork inserts apart from the PH cane which Peter Holmes sometimes included in his designs.
Over the next three years the flow of new designs continued, but still only the same two names - Colin Terris and Peter Holmes (apart from one, Flower in the Rain, by Jack Allan in 1974). 1974 was the year of the first millefiori and lampwork paperweights from Caithness Glass, with three such designs by Colin Terris, Crown Paperweight, Butterfly, and Bullseye Millefiori. The first two of these were Limited Editions of 100, but Bullseye Millefiori was an unlimited edition, and was probably the first paperweight to contain the CG cane (for Caithness Glass).
In 1979 Caithness Glass expanded into another new factory, this time in Perth, Central Scotland. Perth became their Headquarters, combining a major visitor center, viewing gallery, museum of Caithness paperweights, and the glass factory. The main production center for Caithness paperweights moved to Perth, with Wick and Oban concentrating on art glass. However a small number of paperweights continued to be made at Wick and at Oban.
Like all Caithness Limited Editions the Whitefriars paperweights were marked on the base CAITHNESS SCOTLAND together with the name of the paperweight and the edition number and size. If the base is too small to take the Caithness stamp, or if the clear nature of the base would make a stamp undesirable aesthetically, the information may be incised by hand using an engraving tool.
In 1983 a system of numbering was introduced for the unlimited production paperweights, consisting of a letter to denote the year starting with A in 1983, followed by the number of unlimited paperweights produced so far that year. For example, a Tidal Wave paperweight numbered F/156 would have been the 156th unlimited edition paperweight to be made in the year 1988, but not the 156th Tidal Wave paperweight. The year 2001 paperweights have the letter Y, as several letters were missed out because they might be confusing.
Later Caithness Glass Designers
Colin Terris (1937 - 2007) was the leading figure in paperweight design at Caithness from the time he launched the first Caithness limited edition paperweights in 1969 until his sad death in 2007. He designed new paperweights every year even after he retired in 2002, and over the years his designs became more and more exquisite. Colin was awarded the MBE in 1991 in recognition of his contribution to British Glass. Here are some more of his superb paperweights.
Helen MacDonald joined Caithness Glass in Wick as a trainee engraver when she was only 16. Her creative ability and skill fitted well with the direction Caithness was taking, and she designed her first paperweight in 1978, transferring to Perth in 1985. Many of her paperweights have a floral theme, and she also designed symbolic and religious paperweights. In 2001 she introduced a new series inspired by the work of Vincent Van Gogh, which included The Iris paperweight shown below. Here are some of her beautiful paperweights.
Alastair MacIntosh trained in glass design at Edinburgh College of Art before joining the staff as a technician. He left to take up a post as technician at Paisley College of Technology. He set up MacIntosh Glass in his home town of Falkirk in 1981 specialising in Vetro a Fili types of glassware including paperweights, bowls, vases and perfume bottles. He closed his glassworks in 1987 and joined Caithness as a glass designer, only to return to his own workshop in 2007 when he and Helen MacDonald were made redundant. Many of his paperweights have a space theme, and in 2001 he designed a series based on the theme 2001 - A Space Odyssey. Here are some Alastair MacIntosh designed paperweights.
Gordon Hendry became the principal designer of art glass other than paperweights at Caithness Glass. Like Helen MacDonald he joined the company as a trainee engraver. After seven years he left to study art in Dundee and London, and returned to Caithness Glass in 1996. He designed many of the art glass ranges produced by the company.
Above: the very beautiful Thistle range of engraved glassware produced by Caithness Glass in 2001.
Caithness Glass went into receivership in 2004 and the company was bought first by Edinburgh Crystal and later by Dartington Glass. The Visitor Centre and glassworks in Perth were closed and a smaller operation was set up in the Crieff Visitor Centre in 2008.
It is always interesting to see what Caithness glass there is on eBay.
References and Further Reading:
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