Colin Terris Glass Designer (1937 - 2007)

Colin Terris 2004
Above: Colin Terris in his garden in Scotland.

Colin Terris is acknowledged internationally as the Father of Modern Paperweight Design. For 33 years he was the lead designer at Caithness Glass and in 1991 he was created a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to British Glass. Yet there are many many glass artists making modern paperweights all around the world. What is so special about Colin Terris's contribution, and for that matter, what do we mean by Modern Paperweight Design? This article looks at Colin's career and his work to find the answer to these questions.

Born in 1937 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Colin's early ambition was to be a graphic designer, and on leaving school he went to study art at Edinburgh College of Art. Like many UK institutions, Edinburgh College put all their art students through a common first year (indeed at Edinburgh this was extended for the first two years) and so Colin studied drawing, painting, sculpture, and crafts which included glass for two years. He became very interested in glass as a medium for engraved designs, and in his final two years he specialised in Glass Engraving and Calligraphy.

During those final two years Colin visited Vincent Ysart at his glassworks in Perth (Vasart Glass) for the purpose of obtaining glass suitable for engraving. He recalls with pleasure some of the memories of those visits. For the first time he watched paperweights being made, and Vincent gave him some of the paperweights he had made. But Vincent was far more interested in showing Colin how he could convert a whisky bottle into an ashtray by partially melting it and pressing it flat (these became one of Vasart's most successful products). He also had the contract for adding the gold rim and the babycham logo onto saucer-shaped champagne glasses, and had devised a system using a steel drill which he brought down onto each glass to make a small scratch in the bottom. This had the effect of encouraging a stream of bubbles starting from the scratch mark, when champagne or perry was put into the glasses. If you can find one of these early Babycham champagne saucers with the rough patch scratched in the bottom, you can test the theory - it does work! Vincent Ysart sounds like quite a character!

Meantime in 1960 Colin graduated with a degree in Glass Art and Calligraphy. His friend, Alistair Gordon, was working in Norway in the glass industry, and helped Colin find a job as a glass engraver with a company in Bergen, Norway. Scandinavia was leading the world in glass design during the 1950s and 60s and Colin's enthusiasm for modern designs was enhanced. He developed his skills in copper wheel engraving whilst at Bergen.

Returning to Britain in 1961/2 Colin trained as a teacher at Moray House Teacher Training College and for the next eight years he taught art, specialising in glass engraving. He opened his own craft shop in Lower Largo, East Fife where he sold his engraved glass amongst other craft products.

Colin was head-hunted to join Caithness Glass in 1968 to start an engraving studio there. And for the second time in his life he found himself watching an Ysart making paperweights, as the legendary Paul Ysart was the Training Officer at Caithness Glass. Paul had an agreement with Caithness that he could make paperweights in his own time using company facilities, and he liked to do this on a Sunday when the new batch of glass was ready (a new batch was always prepared on a Saturday ready for the next week). Paul was also secretive about parts of the process of making his paperweights, and liked the seclusion of the weekends at Caithness.

Paul's passion was for traditional paperweight designs using millefiori and lampwork inclusions. Colin was interested in contemporary designs for glass and the two did not clash, but rather Paul helped Colin to convert his design ideas into glass paperweights. Colin evolved a strategy for his "modern" designs - they were to be repeatable so the factory could make a series of each design; he would give each a name and a story which would be written on a card; each would be signed and there were to be both limited and unlimited editions.

Mars paperweight
Mercury paperweight
Saturn paperweight
Venus paperweight
Above: The first modern style paperweights produced by Caithness Glass, The Planets, made in 1969.

Colin wrote a "spec sheet" for each of his designs and supervised a glassmaker producing the master sample. Later (from about 1978 onwards) he made his own masters, as he "grew tired of training people who went off to set up on their own". From Colin's "spec sheet" the glass workers could faithfully produce a whole series to the same design. These instructions spelled out the details such as what colours to use, what grit sizes for each colour (powder, rough, chips, etc.) and what had to be done at each stage of manufacture. The finished items were then compared to the master sample and if they were over or under-sized by 3mm or more they were discarded. The inspectors also judged whether the design was close enough to the master paperweight.

The first of these modern paperweights was called The Planets, a set of four which are shown above. They were sold as a limited edition set of four for 40 per set, and all 500 numbered sets sold out quite quickly. If you could find one of those sets today they would be worth about 2500 (US$4,500 approximately).

The following year Colin designed another "Planets" set (Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, and Earth) known as set two, which were also sold as a limited edition of 500 sets and sold out completely. That year he designed his first unlimited modern paperweight, Moonflower, arguably one of the most successful paperweights in the world. It was produced in numerous single colors over more than 30 years and is still popular today (see illustration near the end of this article).

In those early days Paul Ysart helped Colin making his first masters, and at other times Colin called on Paul for advice. Some people have described Paul Ysart as difficult and bad-tempered, but Colin said "I never found him anything but pleasant. He was interested in what I was doing and he often helped me work out how to acheive an effect I wanted."

Over the years Colin produced some exquisite designs and evolved the techniques of making modern paperweights far beyond anything acheived before. In the three paperweights shown below there is an internal bubble with external colour and stripes; an internal scene augmented by engraving on the reverse of the weight; and an internal design encased in layers cut away to reveal the interior as if in a secret cave.

Flight of Fancy
Flight of Fancy 1988
Limited Edition of 650
Waterlily Reflections
Waterlily Reflections 2000
Limited Edition of 150
Pagan Ritual
Pagan Ritual 1998
Limited Edition of 150

The designs shown above were all limited editions. In theory the company never sold second quality paperweights of a limited edition design. However, we do know that at least one exists (they have CIIG on the bottom) because one was sold on eBay. Colin speculates that a bad Monday after a hectic weekend, or an early finish on a Friday led to the slip!

Second quality weights of unlimited designs were sold only in the company's factory shops. They are easy to identify because they have CIIG on the bottom.

Another company policy was to put the first example (number one) of each limited edition into the company's Museum at Perth, where you can see examples of the full range of Caithness paperweights. However, Colin knows that not all the weights in the museum are numbered one, and he has seen a number one Caithness limited edition paperweight in the possession of a collector in the UK! Another mystery.

Golden Renaissance paperweight
Golden Renaissance
Pagoda Orchid paperweight
Pagoda Orchid
Court Jester paperweight
Court Jester
Venus paperweight
Arctic Twilight
Above: Four paperweights from the Colin Terris Collection 2002.

Colin retired at the end of 2002, and to mark his 33 years with the company he designed a special set, the Colin Terris Collection which was based on his most successful paperweights during his career. Four of this set are shown above and the other four are below.

Martian Skyline paperweight
Martian Skyline
Floral Vision paperweight
Floral Vision
Quintet paperweight
Venus paperweight
Coral Dreams
Above: Four more paperweights from the Colin Terris Collection 2002.

Over the years Colin recruited a team of designers to work with him at Caithness Glass. The two most famous of these are Helen MacDonald and Alastair MacIntosh. Other members of the design team were Gordon Hendry, Sarah Peterson, Sarah Cable, Allan Scott and Linda Campbell.

Although Colin is best known for his modern designs, he has over the years designed some superb paperweights in more traditional form. The paperweight below was produced in 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of VE day (May 8th 1945). It has a beautiful design of millefiori inserts and facets cut all around the body.

Victory in Europe paperweight by Colin Terris Victory in Europe side
Above: Millefiori facet-cut paperweight Victory in Europe by Colin Terris.

The paperweight below is another example of a traditional paperweight designed by Colin Terris. It shows a purple clematis and green leaves (made by lampwork) surrounded by a circle of millefiori canes with alternate ones being drawn down to form a basket inside the weight. The top half of the paperweight is facet cut, with six facets around the outside and a flat facetted top forming a viewing window. The bottom half is cut with a design of diamonds and fans, typical of cut crystal work.

Purple clematis paperweight by Colin Terris Victory in Europe side
Above: Millefiori, facet-cut, paperweight with hand cut design Purple Clematis by Colin Terris.

Without handling the paperweights, it is difficult to appreciate just how complicated some of the design features are. The paperweight below has just a simple tree with white flowers and green leaves in a very simple landscape. The coloured parts (white dots and green dots and the blue/green sky) were incorporated within the glass itself. But the tree and the mountains in the background were engraved onto the back of the paperweight in such a way as to link together the parts to form a picture. This is a very simple example of Colin's artistry. Some of his engraved paperweights have amazingly complicated combinations of internal colours and external engraving.

Colin Terris engraved paperweight back of engraved paperweight by Colin Terris
Above: Front and back of an engraved paperweight by Colin Terris.

There has been much speculation about the composition of Caithness glass. The Planets sets from 1969 were made with 18% lead glass for the first two and a half years. At that point the content of Caithness glass paperweights was changed to 4% lead, and in more recent years, to no lead at all. Colin recalled that the formula for the glass was changed quite frequently, and in addition Caithness supplied glass to many small studios in Scotland and England. This makes it difficult to identify Caithness paperweights from the composition of the glass. However, the company did keep and publish comprehensive records of all the paperweights made, so identifying Caithness paperweights should never be a problem.

The two pictures below are examples of Colin's Modern designs, with "Spellbound" (1989) on the left and "Moonflower" (1970) on the right. Over his 33 years with Caithness Colin designed many hundreds of paperweights, and passed on his knowledge and skills to a new generation of Scottish glass artists. Without Colin Terris the company would probably have carried on making vases and bowls but it would not have embarked on its programme of making modern design paperweights.

Spellbound by Colin Terris Moonflower
Above: Two modern style paperweights by Colin Terris, Spellbound (1989) and Moonflower (1970).

Although The Planets were the first modern paperweights produced by Caithness glass, it is worth pointing out that they were not the first paperweights produced there. Paul Ysart made a small number of paperweights before 1969 and some of those were marked CG for Caithness Glass and sold through the company's shop. There was also a set of hollow blown glass cone-shaped paperweights designed by Colin Terris in 1969. The glass was smoke-coloured and each one was engraved "We come in peace for all mankind. July 1969 AD" with an astronaut engraved on the front and an image of the earth on the back. These were commissioned by Harrods and 1000 of them were a made by Caithness and sold by Harrods within two weeks of the moon landing. A second edition in clear crystal was made that same year for sale only in the factory shop in Wick, Caithness, and this one was engraved "The First landing by Man on the Moon's surface July 21st 1969".

After his retirement Colin was persuaded to continue designing a small number of paperweights for Caithness Glass. The two paperweights below are from the Caithness 2005 Collection and were designed by Colin. On the left is the beautiful "Divine Messenger" - a limited edition of 500. And beside it is "Nordic Crocus" - a delightful weight with a large facet on each side through which to view the emerging crocus. This is also a limited edition of 500.

Sadly Colin Terris died in January 2007, a great man who will be missed by many in the world of art glass.

Divine Messenger by Colin Terris Nordic Crocus

Caithness paperweights are enthusiastically collected world-wide, and Colin Terris has claimed his place in history by his designs and the techniques he pioneered. Before he retired in 2002 Colin visited Taiwan three years in a row to meet collectors, sign paperweights, and give talks. The Caithness Glass Paperweights Club has members around the wide and holds regular events in the USA and other countries.

Colin Terris.

If you are looking for Caithness glass, you can usually find items on offer on ebay.
Click here to see Caithness glass
currently for sale on ebay.
Or if you are looking for paperweights click here to see a selection of paperweights.

The items below are for sale right now on eBay and on - we thought you would like to see these examples.

If you have enjoyed this article you will enjoy the books listed below. Caithness Paperweights is a book written by Colin himself which provides a comprehensive guide to identifying and valuing Caithness weights. The second edition, published in 2004, has far more information than the earlier 1999 version, and it also has 32 full colour pages of paperweight pictures. Click on the bookcover or the title to see more information.

References and Further Reading:

1: Caithness Paperweights (2nd Edition) : The Charlton Standard Catalogue, by Colin Terris, 2004

2: Scottish Paperweights, by Robert G. Hall, 1999

3: Ysart Glass, by B. Blench, I. Turner, A. J. Clarke, F. Andrews, 1990

Click on any of these book covers to read more:

Caithness glass book glass paperweights book GB Paperweights book World Paperweights book Brackel Paperweights book Paperweights Perth book PAPERWEIGHT book Perthshire paperweights Old English Paperweights paperweights book paperweights book Paperweights  book Paperweight book Signature canes book Glass canes book Paperweights by Ayotte book Boston and Sandwich and New England paperweights book paperweights book Stankard paperweights book Imperial paperweights book

New Zealand Glass book
INFORMATION about New Zealand Glass !
Including many original catalog pictures and dozens of photographs.
NOW available - this is the first paperback edition of the book
and it covers many contemporary New Zealand glass artists as well as
the history of glass in New Zealand, Crown Crystal Glass and New Zealand bottles.

Price US$29.90 plus pp.

Bagley glass

INFORMATION about Bagley Glass!

The first edition of this book sold out in a few months. The 2nd Edition is now available and has received a rave response - more information, more and better pictures, new items identified as Bagley for the first time, a helpful index, and more compehensive coverage; - and even better news - the price is lower! This book is a truly comprehensive guide to help you identify Bagley Glass. Click on the picture for more details.
2nd Edition book US$33.90 plus pp.

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