Understanding Antique Tiffany Lamps

November 30, 2017

Understanding Antique Tiffany Lamps

Tiffany Studios

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Co., and was the first Design Director of the company. Louis was an artist at heart and in practice, and an expert in the use of glass as art pieces. One thing he discovered whilst working with glass, was that cheap jars and bottles were much more useful for his purpose due to the remaining mineral contamination that were often removed in fine glass products.

Unable to convince glass makers to leave the minerals in place, as they thought this was almost sacrilegious, Tiffany set about making his own glass instead, and formed the Tiffany Glass Company in 1885 which then became Tiffany Studios in 1902.

Originally a stained glass manufacturer, the Tiffany Studios gradually began to introduce practical pieces into their catalog, including the famous, and often-copied Tiffany Lamps.

Tiffany Style

Even if you’ve never seen a genuine antique Tiffany Lamp, you will have most certainly seen a “Tiffany Style” lamp, as they are extremely common in hotel rooms, fast food restaurants and more, and it is the popularity of the style which has led to many reproduction pieces being produced. This has, in turn, led to a great deal of debate over the authenticity of supposed genuine antique Tiffany Lamps, with some estimates being as low as 4% of those lamps owned by people believing them to be genuine, actually being so.

The style itself is very much art nouveau, using bright bold colors and highly complex designs within the glass-work. In the same way that a Clarice Cliff ceramic bowl or plate is easily identifiable even by non-experts, so it is with a Tiffany Lamp, such is the unmistakable approach of the Tiffany Studios.

Genuine Tiffany Lamps can fetch prices in excess of $500,000, so forgers have become very adept in reproducing fake lamps that are very convincing, and great care should always be taken to make sure any piece offered is the real thing.

The Types Of Tiffany Lamps

Tiffany Studios produced 6 different types of lamps - Floor, Desk, Hanging Shade, Wall Sconce, Table and Chandelier - of which Hanging Shade and Table are by far the most reproduced designs.

The Elements of a Tiffany Lamp

The Base

The base of a Tiffany Lamp is almost universally made of bronze and weighted with a lead ring. Occasionally, the Studio produced lamps using ceramic bases, but these are not considered especially collectible, despite their rarity, and hardly ever come to market. The reason a ring of lead was used to weight the base, is that bronze was very expensive, and so all the bases and stands were hollow in order to reduce the manufacturing cost. This made them too light to be stable, given the height of some of the designs, so the much heavier - and cheaper - lead was used to increase the stability.

Almost all Tiffany Lamp bases are signed, usually with “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK” in all uppercase letters, and a number underneath.

The Glass

Both leaded and blown glass were used for the shades, depending on when the lamp was manufactured and what its intended use was. The designs themselves often incorporated floral or other nature motifs, and contained hundreds of individual pieces of colored glass used to make the final design. Most were very complex designs, although some geometric designs were also produced and, occasionally, Tiffany would use only a few pieces using large pieces of blown glass rather than many small pieces. It is these “turtle-back” designs that have become among the most sought after designs for collectors and dealers.

Often, Tiffany and his designers would add metallic compounds to the molten glass to add a wonderful iridescent sheen to the finished glass and to produce unique color variations, and each individual piece would then be welded to the adjacent piece using very think copper foil, instead of the traditional, and much thicker lead lining.

Like the bases, most - but not all - of the glass shades were also signed with the “TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK” signature on the bottom metal rim of the shade itself.

If a Tiffany Lamp has painted glass, it is without doubt a fake. All glass used in Tiffany Lamps was colored at source and was often salvaged from pieces left over from the creating of stained glass windows by the Tiffany Studios.

The Legacy Of Tiffany Studios

Louis Tiffany died in 1933, but Tiffany Lamps are still produced today using his original copper foil techniques. Although demand for the lamps does ebb and flow somewhat, antique examples are still highly collectable and highly desirable.

In addition, there are many companies producing Tiffany-style lamps which offer a good representation of the originals, if lacking some of the quality in both materials and techniques.

Please feel free to contact us if you want help buying a Tiffany Lamp.

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