ARTICLE: Brief History of Tiffany Lamps

Tiffany lamps have been prized by collectors of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furnishings for over a century. Not so many years ago, one could still hope to find an original Tiffany lampshade in an antique shop, or at an auction, at a price still affordable. But recently, due to their increasing popularity with famous and wealthy collectors, auction prices have attained levels comparable to those seen only for the most famous works of art, in excess of one million dollars for the rarest of the Tiffany lamps.

In 1894 Tiffany patented his famous Favrile glass, a molten combination of common opalescent white glass and clear "antique" colored glass (the type of glass that had been used in stained-glass windows for centuries). Those who had previously tried to combine the two glasses while hot had produced only a dull and uninteresting material. After much experimentation, Tiffany succeeded in blending as many as five separate colors, and his process would forever change the look of works rendered in stained glass.

    At the turn of the century, the Tiffany Studios in New York produced lampshades of the most amazing quality and diversity: In addition to geometric patterns of Native American, Moorish, and other motifs, numerous animals and scores of floral designs were depicted in a variety of shapes and sizes. Shades were created which could show flowers from earliest budding through the death of the bloom. The designers were continually improving concepts, color schemes, and techniques, with the result that a botanically-correct artist's drawing could be followed with such accuracy that the finshed work might seem to recreate a garden scene direct from nature.

    There is no short-cut for producing faithful recreations of these works of art, for they must be assembled by hand in the same manner as the originals. And it is, above all, the choice of glass, the harmonious blending of pieces cut from many diverse sheets of Favrile glass, which requires the greatest of artistic talent. The mechanical assembly of a lamp, although itself a precision operation requiring considerable technique, is secondary to the art of the glass-work.

    With the recent increasing popularity of Tiffany lamps, many mass-produced imitations of dubious quality were produced, first in the West, and recently in the Far East. More popular are the cheap imitations dubbed as "tiffany style" creations which is not worth of the Tiffany affinity. On the other end - very good preproductions do exists - and the casual collector can be fooled by them. Thus -it always pay to deal exclusively with reputable dealers only.