The mere mention of Tiffany style lamps immediately evokes images of brilliantly colored, bejeweled, dragonfly design stained glass lampshades. The genius behind the creation of the Tiffany lamp was an American by the name of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of the New York jeweller, Charles Tiffany. He was currently positioned at the right time to take advantage of the coming of the electrical era with the vibrant artistic movement called Art Nouveau.
In fact, it was probably the decade or so that Louis Tiffany spent in Europe, during the period that the Art Nouveau movement was reaching its full development, that had such a profound effect on his ideas and influenced his creations. He cleverly developed a totally new iridescent stained glass in a whole spectrum of peacock colors which was the perfect medium for softening and diffusing the starkness of electric light.
Louis Comfort Tiffany took the light of electricity and the vibrancy of the Art Nouveau designs and implemented them together in such a way that the end result was his magnificent collection of lamps fashioned from glass and metal.
The lamps created by Tiffany were made purely by highly skilled craftsmen and were deemed to be expensive, luxury items at that time, costing around $100 per lamp. Indeed, genuine Tiffany Lamps came to be looked upon as “must-have” items that wealthy Americans desired to own.
Louis Tiffany was interested in blown glass techniques and experimented with these a lot. He employed many master craftsmen to aid him with his experiments, including the Venetian glassblower, Andrea Boldini and a highly skilled Englishman by the name of Arthur Nash. It was Nash who had already worked with techniques for introducing iridescence into glass.
Tiffany expected a very high standard of perfection and craftsmanship from his workers but Arthur Nash did consider himself to be the true master of Tiffany glass. Whatever the real truth, one thing is certain, that Tiffany was the master genius behind the whole concept of Tiffany glass lamps.
“Favrile” is a term much used in the world of Tiffany lamps and it is referred to as Tiffany’s process for introducing color into glass. The term “favrile” means “by hand” and Tiffany had applied for a patent for this technique as early as 1880. This Favrile style of colored glass was completely unlike the old stained glass that had been so heavily used in Europe for many centuries – in fact the latter was really clear glass with color applied only at surface level.
The Favrile method involved spraying reheated glass with a vaporised solution of salts of tin or iron which were absorbed by the molten glass and created layers of reflecting color when the object had cooled and set. It was very interesting to see the sorts of colors produced – for example, a copper vapor spray could result in colors from greenish blue to a rich ruby red, depending on the furnace conditions. Cobalt vapor gave a spectrum of blue shades and produced black if mixed with manganese.
The most famous of the Tiffany lamps have designs based on the dragonfly, peacocks, wisteria, water lilies and so forth.
A genuine Tiffany lamp is worth a small fortune these days, most but not all are marked “Tiffany Studios” on the base. In any case, very few people can afford to buy the really magnificent old Tiffany Lamps but these days the reproduction lamps have captured the style of that period really well.