The History of Tiffany Glass Making

Tiffany Glass is a luxurious stained glass produced in New York between 1878 and 1933. You can find it in highly sought-after Tiffany glass windows, decorative lamps and flower cones.

For decades, Tiffany Glass pieces have been valuable collectibles thanks to their elegance, sophistication and unique hues and textures. These rare collectibles boast brilliant colors and mimic many aspects of nature, including beautiful insects, plants and aquatic life. Today, Tiffany Glass remains a masterpiece that many art collectors dream of getting their hands on.

Original Tiffany Glass pieces are worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the piece's size, style and condition. One such piece is the Tiffany stained glass window, titled "Jesus in a Field of Lilies," which recently sold to a church for $237,500. Their gorgeous designs, renowned brand name, superior craftsmanship and rich historical significance justify the high price point.

There are only a handful of authentic Tiffany Glass pieces you can find in auction houses and galleries. You can also find them in antique shops, family attics and estate sales, but you must have a keen eye to ensure you purchase a genuine piece.

Despite the production of original Tiffany Glass stopping in the early 20th century, replica Tiffany Glass pieces continued to be mass-produced in countries such as China and India. However, these do not match up to the quality or authenticity of the original because they use cheaper materials and production methods.

Louis Comfort Tiffany pioneered Tiffany glass making by hiring some of the finest artisans and craftsmen to create unique, intricate stained glass designs. Louis became a household name in the glass making industry, and his pieces became a significant part of American art history. Below, explore the rich history of Tiffany glass making and some of the most common Tiffany Glass types.

What Is Tiffany Glass?

Tiffany Glass is a generic name for different types of glass designed and produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). He was the son of the popular jeweler and Tiffany Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany.

He used cheap bottle glass jars to create colored and textured glass at his studio and foundry in New York City between 1878 and 1933. He called it Tiffany Glass and used it to handcraft elegant art and interior decor pieces ranging from magnificent stained glass windows to heirloom-quality lamps

His idea was to create glass that changed color under light instead of painting it as many before him did. This birthed a unique type of stained glass with a wider variety of colors and textures that he called and trademarked Favrile.

The stunning visual effects of Favrile glass were superior to other fine glass thanks to iron oxides and impurities in the cheap glass bottles he used for production. Tiffany also accredited the rich hues to the uneven thickness of the glass and restraint from using glass paint and enamels.

stunning visual effects of favrile glass

He used a labor-intensive process known as the copper foil technique to recreate free-flowing designs of natural objects on Tiffany Glass. The copper foil technique involved fitting thin strips of copper to the edges of the glass pieces to bond the glass elements and create sturdy glass designs. The copper foil pieces had to be very thin to prevent the formation of noticeable joints and heavy lines.

Louis Comfort Tiffany — The Man Behind Tiffany Stained Glass

Louis Comfort Tiffany is the brains behind Tiffany stained glass. He followed in his father's footsteps to become artistic and entrepreneurial. However, instead of getting into the family jewelry-making business, he leveraged his solid upbringing and family's fortune to forge his own path. He rose to become a renowned American artist and designer associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements.

Louis was a seasoned painter and interior designer before he ventured into glass making. His training as a painter started under George Illness in Eagleswood, New Jersey. In 1866, he attended the National Academy of Design — the honorary association of American artists — in New York City. He then traveled to Paris in 1868 to train as a landscape painter.

His glass-making journey started in 1875 when he returned to New York City from his travels in Europe, North America and North Africa. He drew inspiration from exotic art and architecture during his travels, especially the medieval Roman and Syrian glass. As a painter, he was certain he could improve on the foundation of stained glass-making to eliminate some of its limitations, including opaqueness, fading and peeling off.

Louis worked in several glasshouses in Brooklyn until 1878, when he opened his studio and glass foundry to sharpen his craft. Here, he experimented with different types of glass to create a wider variety of colors and textures than anyone else in his time. Tiffany used opalescent glass because of its ability to change colors under light without having to struggle with the limitations of paint.

He started by manufacturing the glass for windows, using fine glass. When manufacturers who supplied him with fine glass refused to leave glass impurities in — which were the highlight of his designs — Tiffany ventured into glass-making full-time. He started his glass making firm called Tiffany Glass Company, and in 1902, he renamed it Tiffany Studios.

He also built another factory called Tiffany Glass Furnaces in Corona, Queens, in 1893. This is where he produced the first piece of blown glass and introduced the term “Favrile." The name for Favrile glass derives from the French word for “fibrils,” loosely translated as handmade or made by hand. He trademarked the term in 1894 and started using it for all his iridescent art glass, enamel and pottery.

Tiffany was a hands-on leader, president and art director at his glass-making companies that hired up to 300 specialized workers. He encouraged his employees to innovate new stained glass forms, patterns and textures while drawing inspiration from the radiance of ancient glass. He also encouraged chemists to develop new glass formulas and for the glass makers to experiment with new mosaics to create different glass types.

Under his supervision, the designers and artisans translated Tiffany Glass into renowned and collectible stained glass objects, including blown-up glass vases, lamps and leaded-glass windows. He incorporated some Tiffany stained glass windows in his interior design projects, starting with his penthouse at the Bella Apartments in New York City. One of his most elaborate additions here was the leaded-glass entrance hall window that incorporated the use of opalescent and confetti-type glass.

He also used Tiffany Glass to design the homes and buildings of numerous affluent individuals, including President Chester Alan Arthur. Tiffany redecorated the White House before the 21st president of America moved in. He added an opalescent floor-to-ceiling glass screen in the entrance hall and installed some new mantelpieces in other rooms, including the East Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room and the State Dining Room.

As a talented painter and interior designer, he also accepted commissions to change wallpapers, repaint some decor patterns and refurnish the rooms. Unfortunately, other works of art replaced his intricate designs at the White House when President Roosevelt restored it to the Federal style during his term.

After the death of his father in 1902, Louis became the first design director at Tiffany Co. He leveraged his artistic talents and the same organic designs he used for Tiffany Glass to design jewelry and accessories with a distinct American touch. His intricate designs were also inspired by nature. These included a dragonfly brooch, black opals, demantoid garnets and green enamel.

Tiffany Glass pieces are now rare collectibles that many art collectors look forward to getting their hands on. However, with the popularity of imitations like Tiffany-style stained glass, you must have a keen eye. Some of the authentic elements to look for when shopping for Tiffany glass include his highly sought-after signature at the bottom right corner of his beautiful masterpieces, specifically the windows.

For the other Tiffany Studios products, you can look out for signature Tiffany markings, mostly stamping in capital letters or maker markings, such as “Tiffany Studios New York” and serial numbers. Other than windows, Tiffany Glass was also used to make decorative glass items, including lamps, globes and flower cones.

Tiffany Glass Types

Tiffany, with the help of his designers and artisans, created some of the most unique types of stained glass. The glass incorporated different themes inspired by flora, insects and water. Below are some of these collectible and valuable Tiffany Glass types.

1. Favrile Glass

Favrile is the general trademark name Tiffany used for his glass, metalwork and pottery. However, Favrile glass refers to a shimmering opalescent glass with naturalistic patterns and a lustrous finish. He created Favrile glass by melting different colored glasses together at temperatures up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit and mixing them when hot to create varied textures, lines and densities. This type of glass also consists of random color tones that exist on the inside and the exterior surface of the glass.

Tiffany created Favrile glass using different techniques, including surface manipulations and mold casting. He also used it to create a variety of objects, including Tiffany stained glass lamps in shades of gold, blue, red and turquoise.

2. Opalescent Glass

Opalescent Tiffany Glass refers to a type of glass that changes colors when under light. It boasts more color variety and texture than silver stained glass, which was enhanced by adding silver nitrate to turn red glass to orange and blue glass to green. The beauty is it reflects and refracts light, making it semi-opaque. Tiffany could mold opalescent glass to mimic water, a sunlit horizon, fabric and foliage.

3. Streamer Glass

Tiffany steamer glass is a textured glass type that gives the feel of strings pressed onto the surface of the glass sheet. To create it, artisans gathered and rapidly swung super hot molten glass at the end of the pontil to make the glass strings pattern. It's typically used to mimic grass, twigs and branches.

4. Fracture Glass

fracture tiffany glass characteristics

Fracture glass refers to a type of Tiffany Glass made from irregularly shaped glass wafers. The glass wafers or structures result from super hot colored molten glass protruding from the end of a blowpipe. This stretches into a paper-thin glass bubble that's shattered into shards when it cools and hardens. Artisans then affix these shards to the surface of a clear sheet of glass to create beautiful, irregularly textured glass. Fractured glass is most common in floral windows.

5. Ripple Glass

Ripple glass is a type of Tiffany Glass marked with waves or veins to represent water or leaves. To create this effect, artisans would use a fast-spinning roller that made ripples on a glass sheet.

6. Ring Mottle Glass

Ring mottle glass is a type of sheet glass that's heat-treated to relay crystal-like opacification. On Tiffany Glass, it often adds a touch of organic details on leaves and other natural design elements.

7. Drapery Glass

Drapery glass is a sheet of heavily folded glass that imitates the natural look and feel of fabric. Tiffany used it to create 3D effects, such as flowing robes and angel wings on stained-glass windows and lamps. Artisans used pliers or tongs to crease and fold the entire sheet of glass to create the drapery effect and then let it cool so it became fixed in that position.

Discover Tiffany Glass With Fontaine's Auction Gallery

discover tiffany glass with fontaine's auction

Fontaine's Auction Gallery is the oldest full-service auction gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We specialize in the purchase and sale of antiques, fine art, jewelry and unique Tiffany stained glass pieces. Our experts actively source Tiffany glass lamps, windows and chandeliers. You can bid for Tiffany Glass pieces in-house, online, over the phone or we can guide you through the absentee bidding process.

If you have Tiffany Glass items you'd like to sell, we can help you authenticate and date your items and then provide you with appraisal paperwork to ensure you realize the maximum value for your rare antique items. Alternatively, consign your Tiffany stained glass items with us for free and fair valuations as well as in-depth knowledge of the market.

If you're interested in buying an antique Tiffany Glass piece, check out our upcoming auctions or request a free auction estimate to explore the Tiffany Glass collection at the Fontain's Auction Gallery. You can also contact us to get more information on how to consign the Tiffany Glass pieces you want to pass along.