Antique Tiffany Lamps
Antique Tiffany lamps are distinctive, brass-based lamps made by the Tiffany factory. The are considered a design classic among collectors and command substantial suns at auction.
Tiffany lamps are considered a design classic and remain incredibly popular today. Lamps made in the Tiffany style are widely manufactured and easy to find.
Genuine Tiffany lamps, however, those made by Louis Comfort Tiffany or produced by his Tiffany Studios, which closed a few years after his death in 1933, are far rarer and are considered high-end among top collectors. These original Tiffany lamps that were initially made to furnish the expansive homes of a wealthy elite, can bring tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.
Original antique Tiffany lamps exhibit an exceedingly high level of craftsmanship. Assembled by an esteemed team of artists, craftspeople and inventors, including noted British chemist Arthur J. Nash, only the highest quality materials were used in their production.
Bronze Tiffany lamp bases alone can fetch high sums at auction. The fat that bronze was used suggests something of the calibre of these lamps – they were sculptural artefacts as well as practical objects.
At the Tiffany factory, innovative glass making techniques were trialled and tested. An iridescent sheen was achieved by adding metallic compounds to molten glass. Tiffany would also marry as many as seven different colours of hot glass in order to create multiple hues. Replica lamps achieve similar effects using paints. He also experimented with millefiori, an ancient technique wherein rods of colour glass are fused together, usually in the shape of flowers, and then sliced to make patterns.
Lastly, he employed copper foil to fuse the stained glass pieces together in even more delicate lines than had ever been created with lead.
The lamps were decorated with flowering plants, curving branches, delicate leaves and almond shaped petals in many hues, which glowed like jewels when illuminated from within. At the time they were made, they were considered luxury items, art pieces that also served a functional purpose in home decor.
According to Collectors Weekly, the son of the fine jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the famed Tiffany and Co., abandoned the family business to study under landscape painter George Inness.
Even though the budding artist was on his way to a propitious painting career, he became beguiled by stained glass as a medium.
In 1879, he started making windows for the homes of his father’s wealthy friends, employing organic shapes and sinewy lines. These windows embodied the aesthetic of the emerging Art Nouveau movement.
While decorating the Lyceum Theatre in New York, Tiffany employed a playful approach, experimenting with lighting and glass.
Here, he created a breath taking chandelier and the sconces, which were described at the time as “fire monster in emeralds.”
Tiffany's earliest lamps (from 1876 and 1879) were kerosene-burners with blown-glass shades, bearing no resemblance to his windows. These are highly collectible, although not as aesthetically pleasing.
It wasn't until 1898 that Tiffany introduced his trademark lamp, which featured an artful bronze base and a stained-glass shade. By 1906, his Tiffany Studios offered more than 400 oil and electric lamps. They were as popular at the time as they are now.
Around the same period, Tiffany was making vases, paperweights, and other art-glass objects using his own handblown-glass techniques. He dubbed his work Favrile in 1894 after the old English word “fabrile,” meaning “handmade” or “fabricated.” These items frequently come up for auction and appeal greatly to collectors of Tiffany.
Some of Tiffany Studios’ most iconic lamp designs include the dragonfly, wisteria, the Tyler scroll, nautilus (shaped like a snail), and lily, with lily-pad bases.
While Tiffany is credited with these designs, many women, then known as “The Tiffany Girls,” worked for him as designers, and some, such as Clara Driscoll, actully designed many of his admired floral lamps.
While Tiffany-style lamps fell out of fashion during the 1920s and '30s, when hard geometric lines of Art Deco became all the rage, and modernism took hold of the Western imagination, they saw a resurgence in popularity following World War II. Over the past 40 years, more and more companies have dedicated themselves to reproducing the elegant, intricate lamp style of Tiffany Studios.
Tiffany lamps made after 1902 have the model number stamped on their base or base plate. When the shade has a different number, it is stamped into the metal on the inside of the bottom edge. All in all, the studios produced more than 500 designs for lamp bases and another 500-plus designs for shades.
Genuine Tiffany lamps can fetch over $50,000 at auction, with exceptional examples outperforming even this.
Mass market replicas have little/no monetary value, however. If a lamp has been carefully designed and constructed in the Tiffany style by contemporary artisans, it could be worth up to $200.