Tiffany Lamps: What You Should Know

Tiffany lamps are among the most coveted lamps in the world. It is a type of lamp with a glass shade designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his design studio. The lamps are considered a major part of the Art Nouveau movement. Each lamp features stained leaded glass, and it is because of Tiffany’s dominant influence on the style that the term “Tiffany lamp” has been coined to refer to stained leaded glass lamps, even if they are not made by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s company.

History of the Tiffany lamp

The first Tiffany lamp was created circa 1895 by a team of skilled craftsmen, the first among its kind that was not mass produced or machine made. Although Louis Comfort Tiffany owned the company, it was actually an artist named Clara Driscoll who is the master designer behind the most creative and most valuable leaded glass lamps produced by the studio. This fact was unknown until 2007 when Rutgers professor Martin Eidelberg discovered it.

The company was initially an interior design firm in New York City specializing in the design of stained glass windows before it ventured into making the now-iconic lamps. The lamps gained popularity in 1893 after the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where they were displayed in a chapel that has strong Byzantine design influences. Wilhelm Bode and Julius Lessing, directors of state museums in Berlin, were two of the many people who were impressed with Tiffany’s presentation, and the latter purchased a few pieces for display at the Museum of Decorative Arts. The museum was the first in Europe to own Tiffany glass. Through the years, Tiffany’s work gained popularity in Europe, thanks in large part to his partnership with Siegfried Bing.

Characteristics of a genuine Tiffany lamp

While most leaded glass lamps are called Tiffany lamps nowadays, nothing beats the authentic ones. If you’re looking to spend your hard earned cash on a real Tiffany lamp, it pays to know how to authenticate one. Here are the characteristics of a genuine Tiffany lamp:

    • Tiffany studios always made its lamps with a bronze base, so steer clear of wood, plastic, brass, or zinc bases. There are bases made of art pottery, but these are extremely rare.
    • Tiffany made its high-quality glass in New York using a couple of techniques that set the authentic lamps apart. One is confetti glass, which features specks of different colors used on one of the many pieces of glass. Another is how the glass changes color when the lamp is lit.
    • An authentic Tiffany lamp usually comes from an estate or was owned for the past 50 years or so by the same person. It pays to ask the antique shop or seller who it belonged to, as people typically come upon authentic ones through their family either through inheritance or a lucky discovery in the attic or basement.
    • The base of a Tiffany lamp is stamped with Tiffany Studios, as well as a number. Most of the glass shades are also stamped.
    • Authentic lamps show signs of age and won’t look brand new. There is a distinct patina – fading, or small color changes on the bronze parts of the lamp.
    • Tiffany lamps feature a turn-paddle knob socket that enables you to turn it on and off, while a smaller number were made with a pull chain. The sockets are mostly from General Electric and Bryant and Perkins. Some lamps can also have a turn switch at the base.
    • The bases of authentic Tiffany lamps were hollow, because of the high cost of bronze. A heavy ring of lead was placed in the base to support the heavy glass shades, so you should be able to see the grayish lead when you lift the base cap.

How to spot a fake Tiffany lamp

Tiffany lamps can cost a small fortune, which is why imitations are common. Several companies mimicked the lamp style in the 1920s using cheaper materials, resulting in lesser quality models. Some of these lamps are so well-made, they can fool even collectors and experts.

Here are the common characteristics of a fake Tiffany lamp:

    • Poor quality and craftsmanship, use of low-grade glass, sloppy soldering, and base made of pot metal.
    • Applied antiquing to the shade, which you can detect by running a Q-tip with some acetone through the glass. There should be no color transfer.
    • No cracks or loose elements – remember that Tiffany lamps are old and should show signs of age.
    • Has uneven maker’s marks or fresh maker’s marks – remember that the authentic ones were die-stamped before the patina was applied, and all letter and numerals must be in a single line mark and should be of the same height. If the logo appears without the text, it is likely a fake.
    • Marked with a mixture of upper and lower case letters – all Tiffany Studios marks use full capital letters.
    • Has marks containing serifs on the letters – keep in mind that all Tiffany Studios marks contain only sans serif letters. Only and authentic TGDCO logo has serifs in its letters.

Why Tiffany lamps are so expensive

Tiffany lamps are some of the most expensive items in the world, with the originals made in the 1890s to the 1930s costing anywhere from $4,000 to over $1 million. The most a buyer ever paid for an original Tiffany lamp was $2.8 million at a Christie’s auction.

Tiffany lamps are expensive because they are never mass-produced or machine-made. Every single lamp is made by hand, so the sheer effort involved in producing a single lamp commands a high price tag. Second, they are made using materials of the highest quality that do not come cheap. Third, Tiffany lamps are collector’s items – only a small number of authentic ones are in existence, so they have a very high value. Fourth, they are often passed down from one generation to another as heirloom pieces, and its owners are aware of the inherent value of each lamp. Finally, Tiffany lamps are no longer being produced today, which means that they are not just lamps, they are practically historical artifacts, and those do not come cheap.

Head over to Biltmore Loan and Jewelry if you suspect that you have a Tiffany Lamp and you would want it to be appraised.