Tiffany Lamps 101 Guide: History, Value

Tiffany lamps are highly collectible art pieces that have become one of the cornerstones of the Art Nouveau movement. Find out more about their history, reasons why Tiffany lamps are so expensive, and how to decorate your home with these colorful light fittings.

History of Tiffany Lamps

At the turn of the century, as the industrial revolution was progressing, artists worldwide considered returning to nature and were inspired by flower and nature motifs. This art movement was called Art Nouveau, and Tiffany lamps have become its signature trademark.

But wait. Tiffany is well-known for its luxury jewelry business. How come they also produce lamps?

Tiffany lamps originated in the United States in the 1890s. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), son of Tiffany & Co. jewelry company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812–1902), started an interior design business. Born into a rich family, he was lucky to travel the world and get inspiration from captivating stained glass windows, so he dived into the design of leaded glass windows as well. He even got a chance to create a stained glass screen in the White House, installed in the Entrance Hall in 1882. Unfortunately, it was later destroyed by fire.

Sunset of the Gaslight Age, 1891. Peter Waddell, The Grand Illumination, oil on canvas, 55 x 73. Credit: whitehousehistory.org

According to historic evidence, the very first Tiffany lamp was created around 1895 in New York. Contrary to expectations, it wasn’t designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany but by Clara Driscoll, Tiffany Design Studios’ director. She is believed to be the creator of the very first Daffodil-designed Tiffany table lamp and is credited with the classic Wisteria, Dragonfly and Peony designs that continue to this day.

The earliest Tiffany lamps at the turn of the 19th century were oil lamps with blown lead glass lampshades in combination with bronze feet. A few years later, as electric lighting becomes affordable and more popular, Tiffany begins to give its customers the choice between oil or electric lamps.

Original Tiffany lamps were in production from around 1895 until 1928. Today they are highly sought after and fetch significant prices for the astute collector.

A ‘Tiffany Lamp’ correctly refers to the genuine article – one that was made by Tiffany & Co. or Tiffany Studios. However, nowadays ‘Tiffany lamps’ generally refer to ‘Tiffany-style lamps’, i.e. a stained glass lamp with a bronze (or bronze-styled) base, most often with nature motifs. Authentic Tiffany lamps are very hard to come across, they’re mostly represented in museums and on renowned auctions, such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s.

Styles of Tiffany Lamps Shades

There are four main designs of Tiffany shades:

  • Art Nouveau
  • Nature (Traditional)
  • Geometric (Art Deco)
  • Mackintosh inspired

Let’s see a few examples of each of the decorative styles.

Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau era in art and design lasted from about 1890 until around 1915. It may have actually been going Had it not been for the First World War, it may have gone on for much longer. It was characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms. This was a very stylish period in history that predated the Art Deco era.

Nature

That’s basically what Tiffany lamps are known for. Nature motifs, such as abundant flowers or signature dragonfly designs, are at the heart of this style. These lamps are true masterpieces, with a myriad of tiny stained glass pieces soldered altogether into a breathtaking lighting shade.

Just take a look at the flowering Lotus table lamp and imagine how long it has taken to design, select and cut, assemble and solder every piece together to create this work of art.

Nature and Art Nouveau may overlap, since the motifs they are using are the same elements, such as animalistic shapes, flowers, plants.

Geometric

geometric tiffany lamps

Tiffany shades with geometric designs were fashionable starting from the roaring 1920, and Art Deco period. Featuring contrasting glass, symmetrical patterns, and straight lines, such simple yet stylish designs are dramatically different from colorful Tiffany lamps. Even though it’s not as feasty to the eye as Art Nouveau or nature motifs, its contrasting motifs and reserved colors will find the right home.

Mackintosh Inspired

This style is inspired by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh rose motif that most of us recognize. It usually features an uncluttered nature-influenced background with a more prominent rose. This style often features other animals from nature such as doves, butterflies and damselflies. It is usually more angled and sometimes feature a drop skirt around the edge. The Keppie table lamp is shown as a good example.

What’s the Value of Antique Tiffany Lamps?

Tiffany lamps can be considered a full-fledged antique item (tip: our experts explained the difference between antique and vintage items here). Have you ever wondered how much are they worth?

Authentic antique Tiffany lamps can mostly be found at renowned auctions, such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. On a rare occasion you can also come across an original Tiffany lamp in an antique store in your area.

In fact, as with every object with history, the prices vary considerably based on several factors:

  • how rare the item is
  • its condition
  • its provenance and story

Generally, prices for antique Tiffany lamps start as $4,000 for the most simple desk lamps. You can also try to find the shade and the base separately. More intricate light fittings, the ones Tiffany is known for, start around $50,000. They mostly go for high five figures or even break into six figures provided they’re in great condition.

As always, there are exceptions. Some antique lamps are highly collectable and can be worth much more than that. Some of the examples are below.

Most Expensive Antique Tiffany Lamps

Original antique Tiffany lamps vary in size and shapes, as well as prices. Here are some of the most expensive items that were auctioned.

Tiffany Fish and Waves Table Lamp, circa 1900-1903, Sothebys

most expensive tiffany lamps
Image credit: Sotheby’s

Estimate: $1,000,000-$2,500,000

If you’re probably wondering why this particular Tiffany lamp is so expensive, there’s a thorough explanation.

This is a representation of the finest Tiffany work, which was known for its meticulously connected curved glass elements. This is one of the few lamps showcasing the harmony of Japanese-inspired nature motifs, which Louis Comfort Tiffany explored mostly while creating stained glass interior elements early in his career. He appreciated Asian art and its symbolism, according to which goldfish represents happiness and prosperity. On top of that, this shade seems to be a special order, never again repeated.

An expensive cast brass base is also reflected in the overall cost of a table lamp. This one is a true masterpiece full of motion, depicting three goldfish swimming upstream towards cresting waves surmounted by a rope-twist collar that supports the shade. The casting is of phenomenal quality, as is the applied rich brown patina with green highlights.

Tiffany Studios “Wisteria” Table Lamp (1904)

antique tiffany table lamp Wisteria
Image credit: Sotheby’s

Sold price: $881,000

Wisteria, or the “blue vine”, was believed to be a symbol of long life and immortality, love and tenderness in Japan. It was one of the Louis Tiffany’s preferred plants, which he cultivated on his estate. No wonder this plant has become a part of his decorative designs.

Captivated by the sapphire racemes, Louis provided his guidance to Clara Driscoll to create the “Wisteria” model. When the lamp first appeared, it retailed for $400, an exorbitant amount, previously unheard of in the lighting market. Soon after that, it became one of their best-sellers.

To manufacture this model, Tiffany studios had to individually inspect over 2,000 glass pieces. Each, in their turn, had to be cut and fitted to create the twisting leaded glass vine racemes in shades of sapphire, sky blue, lavender, lilac and pearlescent white, that descend to the irregular lower border.

Wisteria represents one of the most classic Tiffany lamp designs.

Tiffany Studios Dragonfly Table Lamp

Tiffany Dragonfly Table Lamp
Image credit: Sotheby’s

Sale price: $884,000

Dragonfly was a signature Tiffany Studios designs due to a few reasons. To start with, it was one of the most favorite symbols for Louis Tiffany himself. As he was an avid collector of Asian decorative art, he was aware that in Japan a dragonfly symbolized power and agility, while to the Chinese it meant good fortune.

Just take a look at the dazzling irridiscence of dragonfly wings, with the etched filigrees overlaying the sky blue glass elements and you’ll have no doubt regarding why this lamp is so valuable. As a matter of fact, when this design was first introduced by Clara Driscoll, the comany’s accountants voted to discontinue the design as it appeared impractical and too expensive to produce. Determined to create a work of art, Louis insisted on the iconic design and time has proven him right.

This is by far the most known design of a Tiffany shade ever released.

An Important Rare “Landscape” Tiffany Table Lamp (1906)

Image credit: Sotheby’s

SOLD: $721,800 (estimate $600,000-$700,000)

The same lamp is a part of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s permanent collection. It’s a very rare model, likely the first of only three known examples. Based on Frederick Wilson’s “River of Life” window, the shade illustrates a landscape with indigo iris flowers on a green ground surrounded by cypress trees. Yellowish and mauve hues make it hard to guess the time of the day.

This beautiful bronze cast ideally complements the shade, repeating the same green hues with turle-back tiles in the middle section. Its green highlights in the lower half together with the inset mosaic makes it a perfect match.

Why Are Tiffany Lamps So Expensive?

why are tiffany lamps are so expensive
Image credit: Sothebys

Louis Comfort Tiffany, the creator of Tiffany lamps, from the very beginning treated his company’s lighting designs as fine art and was committed to exceptional museum-level quality, comparable to prominent paintings and sculptures. Both light shades and cast brass bases were created as works of art.

The more complex lamp models contain hundreds of pieces of art glass and take countless hours to make. Each piece of glass has to be hand-cut and hand-polished before being edged in foil, fitted, and soldered into place. The more time it takes, the higher the labor cost. It’s worth noting that even at that time company’s managers considered a few designs extremely expensive to manufacture.

Tiffany lamps are one of the few representations of American Art Nouveau. They’re all were designed and manufactured in the United States. Tiffany Studios lamps remains one of the unique masterpieces of art in lighting till this very day.

How To Decorate Your Interior With Tiffany Lamps

Original Tiffany lamps were created in a range of sizes and types, including ceiling lamps, wall lights, table and floor lamps from 145mm to 1m in diameter. This buying guide will show a few examples and how you can find the right Tiffany lamp to decorate your home.

Tiffany Ceiling Lights

how to decorate your house with a tiffany lamp

Being the main source of light, pendants are mounted on the ceiling and hung down to illuminate the room. As already mentioned, they vary in sizes and you’ll always find an appropriate size for your room. The light fitting can be mounted either close to the ceiling or hung up lower, for more light.

With Tiffany ceiling lamps, you can choose whether the shades are facing downwards or upwards. The beauty of an upward-facing shade is that you’ll have the pleasure of peeping into the soft ambient light along with the intricate stained glass design each evening.

Tiffany Wall Lights

Tiffany wall lights are fantastic choice for any room. They’re quire rare compared to table and floor lamps though, therefore, the choice is not that wide.

Tiffany Table lamps

how to incorporate a tiffany lamp in your interior

Tiffany table lamps have become a signature item for Tiffany, known for their downward facing flower-shaped shades. With their subdued lighting, this lamp is an eye-catching decorative accessory that brings cosiness to your evenings. Avalable in a multitude of shapes and colors, table lamps are also easier to find and generally less expensive than ceiling or floor lamps.

Floor lamps

art deco tiffany lamp in interior

Tiffany floor lamps exist in as many designs and colors as table lamps. You can choose between either the traditionally styled standard lamp, with a downward facing shade or an uplighter. The floor lamp that projects the light downward will provide enough light for a cosy evening with a book will project the light downwards and give a pool of light below and the shade will illuminate and direct the attention towards the lamp. The uplighter will also sparkle when lit but bounces the light off the ceiling to create a wider, softer spread of light. The floor lamps usually sit on a cast metal base, finished in black, bronze or antique depending on style.

Tiffany Lamps Buying Tips

Now that you are aware of all the options that you have with Tiffany lamps, it’s important to mention a few tips on how to choose the best one.

  • Find the selection

Tiffany style lamps are available in a variety of shops and marketplaces, including Amazon. You’ll come across a lot fo options, mainly within the range of $150-$700. In order to choose

Even though it might seem pretty obvious that a $700 lamp should be of higher quality than a $150 one, that’s not always the case. Read on a few manufacturers to find

  • Examine the quality

It’s hard to predict the quality and the shade color based on pictures only. So whenever you can, go see the light fittings in-person. In this way, you’ll be able to choose the best quality within the same range of prices. Something that looks like a brass base, in reality might turn out to be plastic.

If you can’t examine the lighting in person, opt for a store that accepts return just in case this won’t be as good as you expected.

  • Check the leaded glass

One thing you should pay attention to is the quality of the glass and its color. While on cheap Tiffany-style lamps one small piece of mosaic will only show one color, original Tiffany lamps show a mixture of colors with various hues, which is more complex and pleasant to the eye.

Summary

Louis Comfort Tiffany translated his deep love of nature and appreciation for the Asian decorative arts into timeless works of art, which are still available to us today.

With their captivating lights, Tiffany lamps bring warmth, coziness, and peace to any home. Regardless of your interior, you can always find a perfect lighting match aligned with the colors of your choice that will keep you smiling through gloomy winter nights.

Our team wished you to find the most beautiful Tiffany lamp.

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