How Tiffany Studios Lamps Are Made
Louis Comfort Tiffany created his first leaded-glass lamp in 1895 and introduced many innovative techniques to craft his lamps. Tiffany lamps are more than just lamps. They are iconic pieces of art still appreciated today for their intricate details and fine craftsmanship. These stunning lamps were part of the Art Nouveau movement of the 20th century, and they are a significant part of American history. How Tiffany Studios lamps are made is truly astonishing and part of what makes them so unique and sought after.
The Original Tiffany Studios Lamp
Original Tiffany lamps were lavishly decorated with patterns inspired by nature and the beautiful stained-glass windows Tiffany also crafted. In the 1904 Tiffany Lamps catalog, Tiffany described his lampshades as “pieces of glass bound together with copper and welded together, producing the effect found in our floral and geometrical windows.” Historians and collectors consider any Tiffany lamps produced by Tiffany and his skilled staff to be original Tiffany Studios lamps. Most of these original lamps were created between 1895 and 1913, when the company ceased production because the lamps fell out of fashion. Tiffany lamps regained popularity in the 1950s, making the original lamps collector’s items.
Museums such as the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art often feature Tiffany lamps. However, many original lamps are still in circulation and sell for significant amounts of money, and some rare originals even sell for millions of dollars. Tiffany-style lamps are still produced today, but an original Tiffany lamp will have distinct attributes that help determine the authenticity.
The Making of Tiffany Studios Lamps
Making Tiffany lamps was a demanding and intricate process. The company’s artisans selected each section of glass from various glass sheets and used these small glass pieces to craft the lampshades. With the copper foil method, they achieved intricate details by using a flexible, thin foil to bond pieces of glass together without visible joints or heavy lines. This allowed artisans to minimize outlines without using paint to create a seamless look.
Making the lamp bases for Tiffany Studios Lamps was also a complex process. Tiffany Studios lamp bases were made of bronze, and this is why older lamps will have a slight color change or a fading patina on the surface. Since the cost of bronze was relatively high when the lamps were originally made, Tiffany Studios made hollow bases that contained a ring of lead to support the heavy lamp shades. Artisans often used turtleback, Favrile, blown glass and turn paddle knob sockets in the construction of lamps, and they rarely used a pull chain.
Tiffany Studios Lamps: A Piece of True Craftsmanship
Tiffany Studios lamps were carefully constructed and not machine- or mass-produced. When Tiffany first started Tiffany Studios in the 1900s, he hired some of the finest artisans to craft Tiffany lamps. By 1902, his team consisted of over 300 artisans, all with specialized training and skills. These artisans had to have superior attention to detail to select each section of glass from thousands of different colored glass sheets and create intricate and ornate designs using small glass pieces.
The glass of Ancient Rome inspired Louis Tiffany to create colorful glass pieces without using enamel or paint. This led to the innovation of favrile glass, which is produced by heating different colored pieces of glass and mixing them together. John La Farge originally created this method in 1879, but Tiffany debuted it in 1893. Excellent craftsmanship is necessary for creating favrile glass because artisans must heat the glass to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit for it to reach a molten state. They then use tools to collect the liquified glass and manipulate it to achieve various aesthetic effects.
Tiffany also developed the innovation of the copper foil technique to avoid the use of paint and increase the intricacy of detail in his lamps. The first step of the copper foil method involved applying a copper foil solution to each piece and adhering the glass pieces together. Artisans would create a firm hold by soldering the bonded edges together then clean the lamp to bring out its stunning beauty.
Artisans sketched designs onto paper then used pencils, watercolor and paint to copy the design onto plaster in the shape of the shade to create a three-dimensional model of the design. They would then inscribe the design onto a carved wooden mold and apply each piece of the leaded-glass shade onto it to assemble the shade. They often used brass to fashion the patterns so they could use it to create multiple lamps with the same design.
Historians believe Clara Driscoll designed many Tiffany glass patterns for the company. She also supervised female employees, known as the “Tiffany Girls,” who were in charge of design, glass selection and fabrication. The male employees soldered glass pieces together and added a patina to the lead surfaces. Artisans used the patination process to apply oxidizing chemicals to the bronze bases of the lamps to create a faded patina surface. It is the true craftsmanship that went into producing the original Tiffany lamps that makes them such sought-after collector’s items.
Modern Day Productions of Tiffany Studios Lamp
How Tiffany Studio lamps were originally made and how lamps are made today are similar processes. Making a Tiffany lampshade still requires the same exquisite attention to detail and a similar process to the one Tiffany’s artisans used in their production of the lamps. Artisans glue a layer of linen to a wooden model of the lamp, and then they trace the pattern onto the fabric and note where each colored piece of glass will be placed. They then used adhesive wax to apply each glass piece to the model. Once they join the pieces together, they remove the glass from the wood, edge the pieces with copper foil and solder them together.
Reproduction Tiffany lamps are also mass-produced in countries such as India, China and Vietnam. Factory workers use water jet machines to cut pieces of glass from stained glass sheets, and then they assemble the lampshades based on a set design. Because of the set design, there is nothing that makes the replicas unique in any way.
Buy or Consign Tiffany Studios Lamps
Tiffany Studios lamps are more than just lamps. They are an iconic part of art history, and their intricate designs still astonish collectors today. Created with beautiful craftsmanship, Tiffany Studios lamps add a gorgeous touch to any collection. Buy or consign Tiffany Studios lamps at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery.