Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) is the creative genius behind Favrile glass, a lustrous and iridescent art glass used to create a variety of decorative items and architectural installations around the turn of the 20th Century. In this article, our Phoenix antique valuation and appraisal specialists will provide some background on how this exemplary material was first discovered and how to authenticate Favrile glass.
What is Favrile Glass?
The word “Favrile” originates from the Old English word “Frabrile,” which directly translates to “handmade.” Recognized as the technique of embedding coloring within glass itself, it achieves distinctive hues of vivid shades, setting Favrile Glass apart from other forms of iridescent glass.
Brief History of Favrile Glass
Taking inspiration from medieval stained-glass in London during the 1860s, Louis Comfort Tiffany — son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany & Company — felt that he could enhance the quality and appearance of contemporary glass.
Comfort Tiffany began experimenting with stained glass in 1875, before establishing his own glass making factory in Corona, Queens in New York. By 1892, he had already established the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. The brilliant designer and artistic mastermind patented Favrile Glass soon after 1894, before winning the grand prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition. As a result, Comfort Tiffany affixed his reputation internationally as one of the most influential public figures in the Art Nouveau style, acquiring global recognition for his glassmaking innovations.
Following 1900, Comfort Tiffany rebranded his company to Tiffany Studios. During this time, he extended his portfolio and diversified into decorative lamps, pottery, bibelots, and jewelry. Due to his success with smaller decorative pieces, Comfort Tiffany further magnified the popularity of his company by accepting commissions for large stained-glass Favrile pieces.
High-Profile Favrile Glass Commisions
One of Tiffany Studios’ most significant projects was Maxfield Parrish’s “Dream Garden,” which the Curtis Publishing Company commissioned in 1916 for their headquarters in Philadelphia.
Another noteworthy commission was by former United States President Chester A. Arthur for the redecoration of the White House’s reception rooms, for which Comfort Tiffany designed the glorious stained-glass screen in the entrance hall. Unfortunately, it is one of Comfort Tiffany’s lost masterworks, as it was removed on the orders of President Teddy Roosevelt in 1902, who allegedly wanted it “smashed” into tiny pieces.
What Makes Favrile Glass Special: Techniques
During Comfort Tiffany’s first experimentations with Favrile glass, he discovered that treating molten glass with metallic oxides increased absorption and created a luxurious and opalescent effect on the surface of glass. In making such a profound discovery, he changed the science of glassmaking into an artform.
This iridescent glass or “American glass” was a big innovation from the commonly used “pot metal,” which was translucent and monochrome. These were usually painted over with enamels to achieve a more vibrant effect. In contrast, Comfort Tiffany’s glass was more intricate in terms of surface and coloration. People adored Favrile Glass for its naturalistic forms and its lustrous surface. With Comfort Tiffany’s team of skilled artisans, he could easily recreate most, if not all, natural motifs, including foliage and water, akin to a painting.
Comfort Tiffany used many different techniques to create Favrile Glass, including mold casting and surface manipulation. For example, to achieve drapery effect glass, he used hand tools to shift and twist molten glass. Combining different colors and hues was also a special technique and the results included striated glass and confetti glass, which he and his artisans created by pouring molten glass over existing pieces of colored glass.
The Renowned Tiffany Lamps
One of the company’s most notable creations is the Tiffany lamp. The manufacturing process for leaded-glass Tiffany lampshades always began with a color sketch, from which the design would be transported onto a plaster before being assessed as a three-dimensional object. This process allowed Comfort Tiffany and his skillful artisans to assemble each piece of glass onto the mold, creating the final leaded-glass shade.
Within this intricate process, the copper-foil technique was fundamental to the assembly of glass pieces. This special technique involves wrapping the edges of each piece of glass with a thin copper foil before an artisan laid out and soldered them together. They were often treated with muriatic acid and beeswax, which allowed the foil to seal the glass and ensure the solder bonded to the foil. As for the rest of the lamp, including the stand, artisans would fashion them out of brass, which was more resilient and durable compared to other materials available at the time.
A Woman’s Touch
The Women’s Glass Cutting Department, which Comfort Tiffany established in 1892, was a pioneering decision at the time. beginning with six employees, within five years, the department expanded and had a total of fifty all-female employees, all of whom played a significant role in the completion of Tiffany Lamps. Learn more about the Tiffany Girls.
How to Authenticate Favrile Glass Marks
In terms of authentication, there are specific marks or qualities to look for in Favrile Glass. However, since the artisans originally hand inscribed the marks, they do vary from piece to piece and across different decades, which has unfortunately made counterfeiting easier. Therefore, it is crucial to take note of the original colors and styles Tiffany used, so one can identify genuine Favrile glass pieces.
- L.C. Tiffany Favrile Mark with Paper Label. One of the most difficult to authenticate because counterfeiters can easily reproduce paper labels and attach them to non-Tiffany wares. Here, it is best to evaluate a Favrile Glass piece based on the color, style, and any other marks present.
- L.C. Tiffany Favrile Mark. Another variation of the L.C. Tiffany Favrile mark, in which the lettering can have slight differences from mark to mark.
- Louis C. Tiffany Mark. Counterfeiters can easily reproduce this etching. As such, it is important to look for other signs of authenticity.
- L.C.T. Favrile Mark. Occasionally, a combination of L.C.T. initials with the word Favrile are present in Favrile Glass pieces.
- Louis C. Tiffany Furnaces Inc. Mark. In 1920, Tiffany’s glass making studios rebranded to Louis C. Tiffany Furnaces, Inc. If there are numbers included in the mark, they do not necessarily indicate a particular model or style number.
- L.C.T. Mark. Yet another variation of the L.C.T. mark, the initials stand for Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Current Market Trends for Favrile Glass
Due to the rarity of some Tiffany Favrile pieces, particularly ceiling and table lamps, they often command substantial prices at auctions. However, smaller ceramic pieces, such as bowls and vases, are often more attainable, fetching below $1,000 at auctions, according to Invaluable, an online marketplace for fine art, antiques, and collectibles.
Talk to an Antiques Appraiser Now
Our Favrile Glass appraisers in Scottsdale and Chandler, AZ are ready to help you with any questions about antique pieces, plus:
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