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Tiffany Lamps Fetch Astronomical Prices
by Bob Brooke


Authentic Tiffany table lamp.With Tiffany lamps fetching astronomical prices, how can a buyer know that a lamp is an original Tiffany? According to Alistair Duncan, Tiffany expert and author of the book Louis Comfort Tiffany, the glass is the identifying characteristic. "A lamp’s style or signature isn't the only criteria from which to judge it," she said. "Some models only had the base signed, some the shades. But provenance, or a history of its owners, is probably more important. Though some lamps may come onto the market from someone’s attic and, therefore, not have a provenance, in most cases, the first thing I try to establish is a provenance."

Tiffany’s magnificent lamps were an instant commercial success and won prizes and awards wherever they were displayed. Thus, his designs were emulated by several American companies, including Handel, the Pairpoint Corporation and Quezal. While Handel and Pairpoint concentrated upon creating innovative lampshades, often, but not always, in the style of Tiffany, Quezal helped to satisfy the increasing demand for the iridescent glassware popularized by Tiffany in America.

The name "Tiffany" has become a generic term for windows, lamps, and glass of--or imitating--the period. However, there were many other firms in the U.S. and in Europe doing similar and in many cases nearly identical work. This has lead to a great deal of confusion, and much work by others is sold as "Tiffany," often with false "Tiffany" signatures added to it.

Tiffany Studios signature.It’s important to note that much of the genuine work of L. C. Tiffany and Tiffany studios was NOT marked or signed in any way. However, it’s often easy to forge Tiffany signatures on similar-looking period or reproduction items. Many genuine Tiffany pieces that weren’t signed originally have probably had forged signatures added to them to increase their worth and make them easier to sell, as well.

Reproductions are quite common. Currently almost all of Tiffany Studios' bronze lamp bases are being reproduced. And probably almost anything Tiffany ever made that’s pictured in books about Tiffany is now being reproduced or forged--or could be. Names of modern reproducers include several easily confused with original old names--Dale Tiffany, TiffaMini, Quoizel, Handale--and there’s even a firm selling to large lighting showrooms under the name "Tiffany Studios", though they may have been forced to desist using that name.

Detail of Tiffany lamp shade.A Tiffany reproduction is a lamp made by another who reproduced the same design as Tiffany Studios. They sell for significantly less than an original Tiffany lamp, but are essentially made to the same quality standards in most cases. The price range for Tiffany reproductions is generally between $500 to $5000 in the U.S. Those of better quality are generally made from Bullseye, Oceana, Uroboros, Kokomo, Stipple and other glasses that meet this criteria.

Artistic Glass of Atlanta, Georgia, for example, offers a wide selection of Tiffany reproduction lamps in its showroom. Tiffany lighting has been expanded in application since the time when Tiffany created the first ones in 1899. They are now available in hanging, ceiling flush mounts, fan mounts, chandelier, wall sconces and small accent lamps. They are also available in all the traditional functions as well such as table and floor lamps.

Tiffany-Style Lamps
Tiffany-style lamp. A Tiffany-style lamp, on the other hand, A "Tiffany style" lamp is a lamp made by the same technique as Tiffany studios, but are totally new designs crafted by different artists. Often they will resemble a Tiffany design, but have subtle differences. Tiffany style lamps will begin at the price of about $100 and go to as much as $5000 depending on their quality and size.

"The market for Tiffany lamps is very bright, even luminescent," said Duncan. "It’s a very strong market which has suddenly turned up another notch. In fact, it has never been stronger."

Today original Tiffany lamps are sought highly by collectors. A "Magnolia" auctioned in 1985 sold for $528,000. One auctioned recently, sold for $990,000. A "Zinnia" recently sold for over a million.

"A ‘Lotus’ sold at auction last December for $2.8 million, the highest amount for public sale," she said. "But there have been quite a few lamps reaching the seven-figure level at auction. That very ‘Lotus’ lamp I sold privately in 1994 in Japan for $4.6 million from the owner here in New York, who had originally had purchased two of them. The first one was sold at Sotheby’s a year earlier for $1.1 million. The second came back and was sold at Christie’s.

"For the first time in my memory, which goes back to 1977, the highest price for a lamp at auction was $22,000 in Chicago," Duncan added. "and went from there very quickly to six figures. Every three or four months there’s a Wisteria for sale and the price is always in the high $100,000 or $200,000."

The Market for Tiffany Lamps
This simple tale illustrates just how volatile the Tiffany lamp market has become: As prices go up and up, objects go round and round, often with bewildering speed. A southern client sent a photograph of a Tiffany lamp to Christie's and, following an exchange of correspondence, the lamp arrived in New York where, on inspection, it was found to be a modern reproduction. The owner was notified and the lamp returned. It was immediately placed in a local auction where it was purchased and sent by the next owner--to Christie's. It was again returned. Over the next three months the piece is now known to have changed hands three further times, making its way, finally, into a Tiffany collection in California just in time to be included in a shipment--to Christie's. The entire episode, from the time the first photograph of the lamp was sent to the time that the lamp made its third visit to New York took only seven months, highlighting the frantic pace at which the Tiffany market can operate.

What’s astonishing, noted Duncan, is that for the first time, demand exceeds supply. "There were always lots of lamps out there," she said. "but a collector in Nagoya, Japan, has a opened a private museum, the Louis C. Tiffany Museum, in 1994. He has vacuumed up the best of everything. The catalog for the museum, along, sells at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for $145. Unfortunately, for most collectors, prices are prohibitive now."

Tiffany retired in 1918, but he kept a watchful eye on the company. Nash carried on the business, but his later work, fighting a rearguard action against Art Deco, wasn’t of the same quality. In 1928, L.C. Tiffany severed all connection with the firm, withdrawing permission to use his name.

By his vision and energy, Louis C. Tiffany succeeded in blending classical motifs with bold new techniques in glassmaking to create a distinctive American art form. The demand for Tiffany lamps among today's collectors attests to the lasting value of his work.

Read more about Tiffany and his lamps.

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