Antique Tips: Guide To Tiffany Lamps

Louis Comfort Tiffany helped start the art nouveau movement in America with his splendid glass lampshades and vases.

The name Tiffany is known throughout the world for its flawless perfection. The company began production of its handmade glass, known as favrile, in 1892. Louis Comfort Tiffany knew art, having acquired knowledge growing up with his New York jeweler parents. But his travels through Europe and Africa would greatly influence his design and vision. He loved the art nouveau glass of Galle that he saw in France and the handmade glass movement sweeping through Britain. The excavations of Egyptian and Roman glassware in North Africa and the Middle East were also of great influence upon him. From those inspirations, Tiffany would create glassware that would make him the best known American glass maker and help start the Art Nouveau movement in America. His love of the glass would make his items not only treasured for their looks, but valuable for their perfection in crafting. His influence was such that almost any piece of an iridescent, stained glass look is thought to be Tiffany.

Perhaps the best know Tiffany pieces are lamps. While thousands of lampshades were made, their value has not decreased, but increased over the years. Tiffany lamps and shades were produced more for their beauty and not to serve as a functional lighting. They have a bronze base, but the lampshades were the true treasure of a Tiffany lamp. When turned on, the magnificent colored glass created by Tiffany glows. Having figured out how to make the glass iridescent like the items unearthed in the excavations, the shade's leaded glass took on a rainbow-like effect, changing colors as the lamp was moved

Different factors determine a lamp's value such as rarity, color and pattern. Patterns were often that of nature scenes: daffodils, water lilies and dragonflies. Because of their popularity, Tiffany lampshades were often imitated, but the essence and beauty of a Tiffany was never fully captured by others. Authentic lampshades were labeled, usually on the bottom, inside edge with a copper tag reading Tiffany Studios, New York and a number. They may also be engraved with the initials LCT, or Louis C. Tiffany Favrile. Bases also have a similar label, although sometimes Tiffany shades are found on bases that are not Tiffany and therefore may not be labeled.

By the 1930's, the country had fell on hard times with the Great Depression and the ornate Tiffany lamps were no longer in demand. However, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, demand for them was up and prices soared. A Tiffany lamp sold for $2.8 million in 1997. While not as well known as the lamps, Tiffany vases are equally as beautiful and some, just as valuable. They are so prized that many are found in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Red vases are more rare than other colors and therefore, of more value. Because the glass blown vases often had uneven bottoms, Tiffany would sand one side down to make the piece more stable. If a vase has this grinding, it does not decrease the value.

Beware of forgeries when trying to purchase a Tiffany piece. While the forgeries may have the same labeling or engraving as an original, the craftsmanship itself will not measure up. While all pieces do not sell in the thousands, you should be prepared to pay at least into the hundreds for a smaller original piece, such as a shot glass. Be very leery of "reasonably" price Tiffany items. Remember the old adage, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. If you are planning on paying a considerable amount for a piece, make sure it is from a reputable dealer. Do not be embarrassed to ask for their credentials. Finally, educate yourself on the different Tiffany patterns and markings. Forgeries often make mistakes such as mixing up the markings of a vase with a lampshade or visa versa.

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