How to Spot Authentic Tiffany Studios Lamps
Collectors and appreciators of art recognize the beauty and elegance of Tiffany Studios lamps. Formally, these lamps were designer goods for home decor. Now, they are collector’s items worth thousands of dollars — though some may call them priceless. If you’re interested in Tiffany Studios lamps, learn more about how to spot the real thing.
History of Tiffany Studios
Tiffany Studios started as the small design firm of Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the famous founder of Tiffany & Co. Jewelry. He was a great pursuer of art and developed a fascination with glass early in his career. This interest would catapult his firm to fame and make him a household name in the glass industry. Tiffany founded his own glass factory where artisans created glass with unique tones and textures.
From these projects, the Tiffany Studios lamps came into being. Tiffany developed a new type of glass, favrile, by mixing different colors of glass together while still hot so the product was a beautiful, opaque color. He also developed a new method of attaching stained glass without thick lead rods, allowing for more intricate and delicate designs. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, designers from his studios hand-crafted the beautiful stained-glass lamps we marvel at today.
What Makes a Tiffany Studios Lamp So Valuable?
If you’re unfamiliar with antique Tiffany lamps, there are a few factors you need to know to understand why the art and collector communities value these lamps so highly. At a recent auction, a Tiffany Studios lamp sold for $3.37 million, the highest price ever for a Tiffany Studios lamp. Even reproductions of Tiffany lamps can fetch a price in the thousands. These pieces are valued for their:
Tiffany Studios used unique, often brand-new methods to craft their lamps. Tiffany invented a new way of attaching stained glass by using a copper foil technique. This method eliminated the need to connect stained glass together with heavy rods, giving it a more delicate look. Additionally, he invented a new type of glass — favrile glass — by blending different colors to create a beautiful iridescent color.
2. High-Quality Materials
The value of Tiffany Studios Lamps originates in the materials the artisans used. The bases of genuine Tiffany lamps are always pure bronze, and the lamps were hand-crafted by a small group of artisans. Additionally, the glass and materials in the shade will always be genuine Tiffany glass with unique characteristics and coloring.
3. Rarity and Value
The rarer an object is, especially in the art world, the more valuable it is. There’s only one Mona Lisa, so it’s an enormously valuable piece of art. Tiffany Studios lamps are rare because there are so few of them globally, and that’s why they fetch such a high value at auctions. Tiffany Studios stopped producing the lamps early in the 20th century, so they are a rare find today.
Tiffany Studios Lamps vs. Tiffany-Style Lamps
Tiffany Studios lamps are incredibly rare, expensive and sought after. As a result, companies began creating Tiffany-style lamps that mimic the aesthetics and look of Tiffany lamps. These companies used cheaper materials than the authentic lamps did, so there’s usually a marked difference between a real and fake lamp. Even so, fake lamps can fetch a high price due to the association with Tiffany Studios.
Fake Tiffany Studios lamps are called Tiffany-style lamps. If you see a lamp that looks like a Tiffany lamp for sale at a relatively low price, it’s likely a Tiffany-style lamp rather than the real deal. However, many undiscovered lamps have been found in old estates and as part of inheritances, and people may not know the value of the lamp they own. In these scenarios, it’s crucial to understand how to identify authentic Tiffany Studios lamps.
There are quite a few methods antique and fine arts dealers employ to spot a fake lamp. While a real Tiffany Studios lamp is often unmistakable, there are some impressive copies out there.
Do Reproductions Have Any Value?
While the disparity between Tiffany Studios lamps and their fakes may be extreme, that doesn’t mean reproductions are worthless. Tiffany-style lamps can fetch a fair price at sale.
Basic models from big-box retailers sell for around a couple hundred, and more custom or hand-made models can sell for more. Particularly large, vibrant reproduction Tiffany lamps can sell for up to $5,000. While Tiffany Studios lamps are worth much more, the price tag for Tiffany-style lamps demonstrates how valuable and desirable these lamps are, whether they’re authentic or not.
Step-By-Step Guide to Identify an Authentic Tiffany Studios Lamp
While it takes a Tiffany lamp expert to truly authenticate a Tiffany Studios lamp, you can check for certain characteristics and signs that point to whether a lamp is authentic or a reproduction. In this step-by-step guide, discover how to tell if a Tiffany Studios lamp is real:
1. Research the Origins
Tiffany Studios lamps have appeared in auction houses, estate sales, art museums and for some lucky people, in small antique shops and flea markets. If someone has a Tiffany lamp, they’re not likely to let go of it easily, which is why these lamps usually originate from one owner. In some cases, the owners’ children inherit the lamps and discover they’ve had a fortune sitting on their side table all along.
If a lamp has had a single owner for its life span or has remained in the same family, it’s likely an authentic Tiffany Studios lamp. If you are looking at a lamp at an auction house, ask the operator to tell you more about its origins. In most cases, authentic lamps come with a rich history of origin, which makes Tiffany Studios lamps so unique.
2. Check the Base for a Gray Metal Ring
Authentic Tiffany Studios lamps have hollow bases, and they are made of pure bronze. There are a few examples of art pottery bases, though those are rare. When Tiffany Studios lamps were manufactured, bronze was expensive and hard to come by. The artisans could not make the base solid bronze, so they added an extra structural feature to the lamp.
To support the weight of the heavy stained-glass shade, original Tiffany lamps have a heavy ring of lead in the base. This ring prevents the lamp from being too top-heavy and falling over, especially since the bronze bases by themselves aren’t very heavy. If a lamp does not have a ringed lead base, you’re likely dealing with a Tiffany-style lamp rather than the real thing.
3. Look for a Patina on the Base
An authentic Tiffany Studios lamp is made with a bronze base, and over time bronze develops a beautiful patina. The patina on Tiffany lamps is a result of a chemical reaction, called oxidation, that causes the bronze to develop a film that’s slightly brown or green in hue. While the change in color represents a slight degradation of the original metal, it is still a beautiful and desirable element of bronze artwork.
However, the patina shouldn’t be the only indication of an authentic Tiffany Studios lamp. Artists can mimic the look of bronze patina with paint, and some reproductions look very convincing. Genuine Tiffany Studios lamps will have bases of pure bronze, and some even have intricate designs related to the lamp’s motif.
4. Review the Quality of Materials
Artisans constructed Tiffany Studios lamps entirely by hand with the highest-quality materials available. If the lamp or any materials appear cheaply made or improperly attached, the lamp is likely a reproduction rather than the real thing. Bronze material in the base with a patina should be a large giveaway for the authenticity of the lamp.
The shade can also help you identify whether the materials are of the quality of genuine Tiffany lamps. If any glass seems painted or too tightly attached to the base of the shade, it’s a reproduction. Tiffany created beautiful colors and textures with the glass itself, so there was no need to paint it.
5. Identify Stamps and Signatures
There are various places to look for stamps and signatures to identify if a lamp is a genuine Tiffany Studios product. However, you have to know what you’re looking at since the original studio altered the stamping and signature style throughout production. A major factor is that authentic lamps should have all capital letters in their stamps — if there’s a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, the lamp is a reproduction.
Another way to identify a genuine lamp is the look of the maker’s mark. The marking includes the company name, “Tiffany Studios New York,” and some have serial numbers included. If the logo is off-center, tilted or the letters are different sizes, that can indicate a fake lamp. It’s important not to rely too heavily on this feature to identify a real Tiffany Studios lamp, since the style changed so much over time.
6. Look at the Components
The components are another way to identify the authenticity of a Tiffany Studios lamp. Genuine lamps will have a turn-paddle knob to turn it on and off, and very few may have a pull chain or switch on the base. Older lamps might be oil lamps since electricity was a relatively new invention when the studio began producing the lamps. If it has any other type of fixture, the lamp is a reproduction.
7. Identify the Motif
Every Tiffany Studios lamp has a unique motif, and some were even custom designs. There are a few signature motifs the studio used in their designs, including:
- Favrile glass: While they’re known for beautiful mosaics, some of the first lamps Tiffany Studios ever produced were blown glass lamps. The studio’s unique favrile glass technique produced a beautifully pigmented, often iridescent glass shade.
- Flora: A characteristic Tiffany Studios lamp is one with a floral motif. The glass used in the shades lends itself to beautiful colors and unique textures that resemble gorgeous flowers and elements of the natural world. Often, the bases of the lamp would correspond to the shade’s motif, with the tree-trunk style base being exceptionally popular.
- Fauna: Animals also featured heavily in the lamp motifs. Creatures such as dragonflies, butterflies, spiders and even peacock feathers were the statement pieces on many lamps. Dragonflies were particularly popular, and in some lamps their wings actually came away from the shade to give a three-dimensional look.
- Geometric: In addition to flora and fauna, designers took inspiration from geometric forms, creating intricate patterns in the glass using simple shapes like rectangles and squares.
- Linenfold: A linenfold shade motif has paneled glass with a linenfold shape. This shape resembles geometric patterns, and these lamps often used larger panels.
8. Tap for Loose Glass
Genuine Tiffany Studios lamps are all antiques, and most have been owned for a long time. Since the studio halted production in the early 20th century, all real lamps are around 100 years old. Because of their age, the materials the artisans used will have broken down over time, resulting in loose parts. If you tap the shade lightly and feel or hear a slight shaking of the glass, it might be a genuine lamp.
Reproduction lamps are newer and the materials are often more securely attached, meaning you won’t hear the sound of loose glass when you tap the lampshade.
9. Check for Confetti Glass
Tiffany Studios used a variety of different glass techniques in their lamps. One style, called confetti glass, involves inserting small specks of colored glass to create a speckled, confetti look. If you want to know how to identify Tiffany stained glass, check for tiny specks of colored glass or confetti glass to help authenticate the lamp.
10. Look at the Color of Any Golden Glass Pieces
Tiffany Studios is known for making beautiful, rich colors and textures in its glassware. The gold coloring of Tiffany lamps is particularly unique and can point you to whether the lamp is authentic or a reproduction. Tiffany Studios lamps with this color will have a gold-colored glass with an amber sheen that’s slightly translucent.
If the gold glass has a slightly green or a silver sheen to it, the lamp is probably a fake. Authentic Tiffany lamps will always have the characteristic amber coloring to them.
11. Try Rubbing the Glass With Nail Varnish
Original Tiffany lamps have colored glass, and some reproduction lamps add paint to get the characteristic color and texture of Tiffany Studios lamps. You can test the authenticity of a lamp’s glass color with nail varnish. If you swab the glass with a cotton swab soaked in nail varnish and the swab comes away with color on it, the lamp is a fake. The pigment of an authentic Tiffany lamp won’t rub off with nail varnish.
12. Ask the Seller for a Guarantee
If you are purchasing what you think is an authentic Tiffany Studios lamp, be sure to request a guarantee from the seller. If you are dealing with a reputable dealer, they should be happy to give you a guarantee. However, if the seller is not willing to give you one, you may be dealing with a fake.
How to Purchase Authentic Tiffany Studios Lamps
While a lucky few have discovered valuable Tiffany lamps in antique shops, estate sales and family attics, usually, you’ll find an authentic Tiffany lamp for sale at an auction house or gallery. The process of bidding on one of these lamps is typically as follows:
- Review the catalog: Most galleries will provide a pre-auction catalog. This list of items will be a part of the auction that day, which will allow you time to research and review the items you find interesting.
- View it in person: Seeing something in real life can change your experience of it as opposed to only viewing it on a screen. In addition to seeing it in person, you can also ask the auction house for a detailed report on the history and condition of the item.
- Attend the auction: While in-person auctions are exciting, you have a few other options to bid on items. Most houses offer online, phone and absentee bidding as well.
If you are bidding on an item that is marketed as an authentic Tiffany Studios lamp, be sure to examine it in person to determine if it has the signs of a genuine lamp. If the piece fails any of the 12 steps that can determine authenticity, it’s likely a reproduction.
Should I Seek an Expert Opinion?
It is always a good idea to seek an expert opinion whenever you purchase or sell a high-profile, valuable piece of artwork. While functional, Tiffany Studios lamps are indeed art, and an expert appraisal can help you determine if the lamp is a genuine Tiffany product. An appraisal can determine the lamp’s current market value, which takes into account the condition, previous sales and comparable products on the market.
If your aim is to sell, be sure to choose an auction house with experts that have specializations in the product or products you wish to sell. If you believe you have a real Tiffany lamp, an auction house with experts on Tiffany lamps and antique housewares can perform an appraisal for you. They will evaluate the lamp and give you an estimated value, though this does not guarantee the lamp will sell at that price, or at all if you choose to auction it.
If you are buying a Tiffany lamp, be sure to ask for a money-back guarantee. If the seller or gallery is unwilling to provide this, you could possibly be dealing with a fake lamp. Be sure to purchase Tiffany lamps from reputable sellers who have experience and expertise in appraising and selling these precious goods.
Choose Fontaine’s Auction Gallery
Fontaine’s Auction Gallery has experts who have worked with Tiffany Studios lamps for years. Whether you are looking to buy or sell, we have the experience and knowledge to give you an accurate appraisal for your Tiffany lamp. Our appraisal process is free of charge, and we have one flat rate for our services so you won’t be surprised by hidden fees. Our auctions are accessible across the country and around the world, giving your items a high chance of selling for a great price.
With Fontaine’s Auction Gallery, the consignment process for Tiffany Studios lamps is transparent and straightforward. We offer online appraisals through an auction estimate form and email for your convenience, or you can schedule an in-person appraisal. Contact us for more information about consigning your Tiffany Studios lamp today.