Caithness Glass

Caithness Glass featuring the history of Caithness (Rhona Burns / Angela Bowey)
from the Glass Encyclopedia and Glass Museum

Caithness paperweight
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, Caithness & 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.

Two years after the company was formed, Paul Ysart - already a world renowned paperweight maker, was recruited as training officer to teach local people how to make glass. He was very secretive about his paperweight techniques, and taught them to a few selected people. The company at that time did not make paperweights, and Paul and his apprentices Peter Holmes and Willie Manson, made them after work and at the weekends. In 1968 the late Colin Terris joined the company with the responsibility of setting up an engraving and design studio. He was initiated into the mysteries of paperweight making by Paul, and soon developed his own ideas for completely different designs. In 1969 he designed the "Planets" set of four abstract paperweights, which happily coincided with the first landing on the moon. The limited edition of 500 sets were soon sold out, and the following year Colin designed and successfully marketed three more paperweight designs. Colin Terris and Caithness Glass developed the concept of production lines for abstract paperweights. At the time, abstract paperweights were being made in Scandinavia and some US studios. But they were one-off creations of colors and bubbles. Colin required that each design had to be reproduced over and over again - 500 times in the case of his Planets set, for example. This innovation made a major contribution to the success of Caithness Glass.

Caithness grew into a major operation making paperweights, jewelry, clocks, vases, bowls, scent bottles, and many other items in high quality crystal and coloured glass. In their heyday, the 1990s, they had two huge visitor centres where glass-making could be observed, displays admired and treasured glass items purchased. Their paperweights are recognised world-wide as collectors' items. But unfortunately after a series of mergers and takeovers Caithness Glass had been reduced by 2008 to a small team with just five staff (all glassworkers) renting a portion of the Crieff Visitor Centre. The history of this company and its wonderful glass is covered in the article by Rhona Burns and Angela Bowey further down this page.

If you are looking for Caithness glass, you can usually find items on ebay - click here to see a wide range of Caithness paperweights and glassware.

References and Sources: Click on a book cover to see more about that book.

Caithness glass book Scottish  paperweights book 1999 British Glass Book 2 GB Paperweights book 2007 The Caithness Collection 1981 World Paperweights book 2001 Perthshire paperweights 1997 All About Paperweights book 1992 Paperweight Signature Canes book 1997 The Glass Menagerie book 1997 Encyclopedia of Caithness Paperweights, Nowson 2011

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Caithness Glass: history, people and glass

Caithness 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.

The Sinclair family was closely concerned with the county of Caithness and when the government started to build a nuclear reactor near Thurso in the late 1950s Robin Sinclair looked for an enterprise that would create local employment for the town of Wick. Something that would find a market with the tourists who came to this remote part of Scotland, and could be easily exported, was Art Glass. It converted raw materials which were readily available into prestigious products by means of artistry and skill. Robin decided to seek Government sponsorship to build a glass factory.

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.

Early Caithness vases
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.

Willie Manson joined Caithness in the late 1960's and when Paul Ysart left Caithness in 1971, he took Willie Manson with him to work at Paul's new venture, Harland Glass. When the Harland glassworks failed in 1974 Willie Manson returned to Caithness Glass and worked there making and designing paperweights from 1975 to 1997 (with a two year break in 1979). He left in 1997 to found William Manson Paperweights, which flourished until about 2004 when it was closed and WIlliam went to work with John Deacons until around 2008. Names which have been attached to William Manson paperweights include Scotia paperweights, Manart paperweights, and Phoenix paperweights.

paperweight by Paul Ysartpaperweight by Willie Mansonpaperweight by Paul Ysart
Paul Ysart paperweight 1960s made at Caithness. Photograph courtesy of Kevin HoltWillie Manson limited edition paperweight Royal Flourish made at Caithness in 1989Paul Ysart butterfly paperweight, 1970. One of the last made at Caithness by Paul

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.

In 1968 another newcomer to Caithness was Colin Terris. Colin, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, had spent a year in Norway furthering his copperwheel engraving skills, and for eight years had taught art whilst at the same time working as a freelance engraver. He joined Caithness as head of their new Design and Engraving Studio and two years later, in 1970, he was made Design Director of the company.

Colin was inspired by the paperweights he saw Paul Ysart making, recognising the very considerable potential for Caithness to start producing paperweights in the factory.

Colin Terris worked with Peter Holmes experimenting with abstract designs which could be reproduced in large numbers in the factory. The abstract paperweights which Colin designed for Caithness, in a tradition which continues today, were not random placings of bubbles and colored inserts like many abstract paperweights produced elsewhere. Each piece was designed to be a production run, sometimes as many as 650 of one design, and sometimes many thousands (the unlimited editions). Crimps and special tools were designed and detailed drawings and instructions prepared for each design.

crimp used for making 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.

One of the first paperweights made at Caithness

Mercury 1969 by Colin Terris
- one of the first paperweights produced by
the Caithness factory. It was part of a set of
four called The Planets, a limited edition of 500.
The most successful paperweight in the world
Moonflower 1969 unlimited edition by Colin Terris
- 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.

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.

Caithness logo

Right: Marble range of glassware from the 2001 portfolio
Marble range of glassware

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.

Colin Terris examines a paperweight

Colin Terris examines a paperweight.
Celtic Cross Pendant

Celtic Cross from the Caithness accessories series.

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).

The situation changed in 1976. Colin and Peter were as busy as ever, with fifteen new designs between them. But a whole new team of designers/engravers started copperwheel engraving paperweights for Caithness in that year. There was David Gulland, Denis Mann, and Christine Beaton. Several Caithness paperweights in that year incorporated facet cutting (which had only been used once before, on a cased paperweight in 1972 called Cased Coral) and detailed engraving was introduced on the outside of the paperweights. William Manson was also back on board, with his first two production designs for Caithness, Millefiori Reflections and Latticino, both of them millefori designs containing the CG cane.

Since that time, Caithness has made a speciality of combining an internal theme, either lampwork or abstract, together with deeply engraved designs on the outside integrated with the theme. Sometimes the outside is also acid etched, as in Regal Iris (shown below) by Helen MacDonald who designed her first paperweight for Caithness in 1978. Sometimes the engraved design is on the back of the paperweight, so that it shows through the cut facet as part of the design, as in Secret Garden below. And sometimes the engraved design surrounds the paperweight, like Hidden in Time below.

Regal Iris

Regal Iris 1998
by Helen MacDonald
Limited Edition of 100.
Secret Garden

Secret Garden 1998
by Colin Terris,
Limited Edition of 100.
Hidden in Time

Hidden in Time 1998
by Helen MacDonald,
Limited Edition of 100.

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.

An interesting feature of this three-location production process was that the three factories tended to use different glass, and this can be detected using an ultra-violet lamp, because they fluoresce differently. When the Oban factory made paperweights, which they did between the early 1970s and early 1990s, they used only soda glass without any lead content. The Perth factory used glass which did contain lead until 1990, when they stopped including lead oxide because it was believed to be environmentally unfriendly, and because it reacted with some of the colors. Lead oxide tended to give the reds and yellows a grey or even a black tinge, and a purer color can be obtained with soda glass which contains no lead. The lead oxide was replaced with barium oxide.

However the Wick factory went on using glass containing lead oxide until 1999. The same paperweight design could be made with or without the lead oxide content, depending which of the three factories made it.

A major development occured in the early 1980s, when Caithness bought the Whitefriars Glass paperweights business, together with their molds, tools, canes, documents, and all rights in the name Whitefriars, its logos and trademarks. This followed the sad closure of the historical Whitefriars Glassworks of James Powell and Sons in London in 1980.

From 1983 onwards for several years Caithness produced an annual series of limited edition Whitefriars paperweights, preserving the millefiori tradition and introducing lampwork to some of the designs. These paperweights are always LIMITED EDITIONS and contain the hooded monk trademark logo.

2 Whitefriars paperweights

Valentino and Floral Diamond - two
Caithness Whitefriars paperweights
from 1998 each limited to 50.
Daisy Duet

Daisy Duet one of
the Caithness Whitefriars
paperweights for 2001
limited to 50.

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.

Whitefriars logo

Whitefriars Hooded
Monk Logo cane

Anemone 1990 Caithness Whitefriars
Limited Edition of 250, facetted millefiori.
Caithness Stamp

Caithness stamp as used
on Caithness paperweights.
Name of the paperweight
goes where XX's are.

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.

The name of the paperweight is always on the base, whether it is a limited or unlimited edition. And for Limited Editions there is the edition number, for example 75/100, which means the 75th paperweight of a limited edition of 100.

One more thing to note about the marks on the bottom of Caithness Glass paperweights. The company did sell "second" quality paperweights through its Visitor Centre showrooms. These were always marked on the base CIIG or just II.

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.


Winter 2000, unlimited
offered in 4 colors for the 4 seasons.

Enchantment 1996, a magnum
Limited Edition of 75.

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

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.

Eternal Passion
Eternal Passion 1998
Limited Edition of 500
The Iris
The Iris 2001
Limited Edition of 100
Last Tango
Last Tango 2001
Limited Edition of 100

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.

Sea Crystal
Sea Crystal 1993
Limited Edition of 75
Over the Hills
Over the Hills magnum 1999
Limited Edition of 250

Helium 1990 Limited Edition
750 (closed at 429)

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.

Thistle Range
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.
Take a look often to be sure you don't miss something - click here.

If you have enjoyed this article you will enjoy the books listed below. Click on the title to see more information.

References and Further Reading:

Click here to see more books about paperweights.

INFORMATION about the Pirelli-Ysart Link!
Angela's book on Pirelli Glass has a whole chapter on the links between Pirelli Glass and the Ysart family, in particular with Paul Ysart and with Vasart glass.
Pirelli formed a partnership with Vasart and used their paperweights in all kinds of items from door handles to automatic cork-screws.
Whilst Paul Ysart was working at Caithness his brother Vincent was collaborating closely with Pirelli.

Copyright (c) 1998 - 2023 Angela M. Bowey.
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