FROM SHADE TO BASE, EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE BUYING OR BIDDING
By Samantha Robinson
Pursued and cherished by generations of collectors, Tiffany Studios lamps are enjoying a resurgence in the secondary market. It is no surprise that during the past two years spent primarily within the home, we are increasingly reconsidering the functional objects that surround us and – in the words of the firm’s founder, Louis Comfort Tiffany – engaging in the “pursuit of beauty.”
Few surpass Tiffany – an artist turned decorator turned designer – in terms of impact on home decor. One can argue that his greatest contribution was the series of leaded glass lamps and fixtures that combined technology, design and craftsmanship with dazzling effect. Lamps that once illuminated Gilded Age mansions are crossing the auction block with increasing frequency and finding homes in emerging and experienced collections alike, often serving as focal points of domestic spaces.
If you’re looking to begin or expand a collection of Tiffany Studios lamps, here’s everything you need to know to make a wise choice when buying or bidding.
Know Your Type
Tiffany Studios is best known for its leaded glass shades for ceiling fixtures, floor lamps and table lamps, all of which have appeared in Heritage Auctions’ recent Tiffany, Lalique & Art Glass events and fetched strong results. This gorgeous Dragonfly table lamp sold in an October 2021 Heritage auction for $150,000, tying with the Nasturtium Trellis floor lamp.
Many emerging collectors first pursue smaller lamps, such as desk and boudoir models, featuring non-leaded glass shades. Heritage’s April 28 Tiffany, Lalique & Art Glass Auction features several options, among them a gorgeous harp lamp with a “King Tut” Favrile shade on a richly patinated harp base with decorative foot.
Not All Shades Are Created Equal
The primary determinant of value of a Tiffany Studios leaded glass lamp is the model of the shade. Tiffany and the designers he employed developed an array of shade models from the simplest geometric designs to highly complex floral designs with irregular borders.
The shade on the Nasturtium Trellis floor lamp that sold for $150,000 in a 2021 Heritage auction displays an interplay between rigid architectural and sinuous natural elements. Featuring a faceted, polygonal form, the shade is composed of eight flat sides above a straight apron, all divided by eight “uprights” that intersect with several horizontal bands and extend below the apron alongside leaves and blooms.
Heritage’s April 28 event will offer an important table lamp from the Collection of Jeep and Carla Harned that features a Drophead Dragonfly shade studded with elongated jewels above a band of green and red dragonflies descending and creating an irregular border that follows the curves of their red-eyed heads and wings.
While these complex designs fetch the highest prices, simpler geometric or floral shades such as the Banded Dogwood and Tyler shades featured in Heritage’s upcoming auction are within reach for emerging collectors.
Glass Selection: Making the Cut
What sets one Tiffany Studios shade apart from others of the same model is the aesthetic choices made by the glass cutter, who selected glass pieces from the studio’s extensive repertoire and then carefully cut each tile to be incorporated into the design.
This Oriental Poppy table lamp, which realized $118,750 in a spring 2021 Heritage auction, features a complex, dynamic and therefore highly sought-after shade, among the finest due to the glass selection. It depicts a field of Oriental poppies in full bloom, executed in a wide variety of saturated red hues, from deep carmine and crimson to bright scarlet and coral, with many tiles mottled, striated or streaked with purple or yellow. The flowers rise on verdant stems and leaves set against a bright turquoise ground, with dazzling effect.
The confetti glass utilized throughout this Daffodil table lamp, also featured in Heritage’s spring 2021 auction, attracted many bidders, as it is a glass type developed and perfected by Tiffany Studios. Other hallmark glass types include opalescent glass, drapery glass and striated glass.
Bases: The Perfect Match
While shades and bases are interchangeable, it is important that these two elements complement each other. Advanced collectors consider model, height, number of sockets, patina and stylistic elements when matching shades and bases.
The shade and base of this Turtleback lamp, which sold for $60,000 in an October 2021 Heritage auction, both feature a band of highly iridescent Turtleback tiles, which indicates that the pair may have remained together over the past century.
Condition: Is Love Unconditional?
The condition of a Tiffany Studios lamp is one of the most important factors to consider. Given the decades of use and enjoyment, table hairlines are to be expected and, depending on the number, generally do not affect value tremendously. Resoldered, missing or replaced tiles, on the other hand, are of concern. As for bases, repaired or replaced elements, rewiring and wear to the surface should be considered. At Heritage, thorough condition reports are published on HA.com or available upon request. Additional images are also available upon request.
The condition report for this Banded Dogwood table lamp included mention of one original but resoldered tile.
Authenticity: Tiffany or Tiff-phony?
Reproductions – some obvious, others remarkably convincing – began to appear on the market beginning in the 1970s, when demand for and prices of Tiffany Studios wares, especially lamps, increased. A Tiffany Studios mark does not guarantee authenticity, as some reproductions bear a Tiffany Studios mark and some authentic lamps are unmarked. Heritage Auctions specialists and a third party closely examine every Tiffany Studios lamp to determine authenticity. This process enables bidders to bid with confidence.
It is common for Lily table lamps to include several or all reproduction shades, information disclosed in the catalog entry and condition report. However, all 10 shades included in the Ten-Light Lily lamp to be offered April 28 are authentic – not to mention their rich iridescence.
State of the Market
The unprecedented times in which we live have had a positive rather than negative effect on the market for Fine Art, Decorative Arts & Design, including Tiffany lamps. The results of Heritage’s biannual Tiffany, Lalique & Art Glass auctions during 2020 and 2021 reflect this trend. Works by Tiffany Studios accounted for eight of the top 10 lots in Heritage’s Tiffany, Lalique & Art Glass category during 2021, the auction house’s most successful year to date, with more than $3 million sold in its landmark spring and fall Signature auctions. The high hammer prices say as much about the merits of these individual lots as they do the robust market for Tiffany Studios, which shows no indication of slowing down.
Each season, Heritage offers a variety of fine Tiffany Studios lamps that range in size, style and price point, from desk and boudoir lamps with Favrile shades to highly complex leaded floor and table lamps. The spring 2022 auction is no different, featuring a striking pairing of a Drophead Dragonfly shade on a Queen Anne’s Lace base, a classic Lily table lamp, a diminutive decorated Favrile boudoir lamp and more.
Consign:With so many fresh-to-market lamps crossing the auction block, it is an exciting time to bid and buy at auction. It is also an ideal time to consign and maximize the return on your Tiffany Studios lamps. Heritage is now accepting consignments for its fall 2022 auction. To consign, contact Samantha Robinson at SamanthaR@HA.com.
SAMANTHA ROBINSON is Consignment Director of Decorative Arts & Design at Heritage Auctions.