Art Glass Lamps — A Century of Elegant Lighting

This Tiffany Seven-Light Lily Lamp with Gold Dore Base is one of the most innovative styles of the Tiffany lamps.  Originally selling for $80 100 years ago, it sold for $21,850 (including the buyer’s premium) in October 2006.

This Tiffany Seven-Light Lily Lamp with Gold Dore Base is one of the most innovative styles of the Tiffany lamps. Originally selling for $80 100 years ago, it sold for $21,850 (including the buyer’s premium) in October 2006.

A century ago, people who wanted to buy fine American-made electric lighting fixtures were presented with a bewildering array of choices.

The premier company to was Tiffany Studios, with a showroom at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street in New York City and workshops in Corona, N.Y. From 1893, when Louis Comfort Tiffany sent two hanging fixtures to the Chicago World’s Fair, Tiffany Studios set the standard in innovative design and unsurpassed quality. More than 500 designs for lamp bases and lampshades were produced by Tiffany Studios. These included student lamps with Tiffany favrile shades, ornate mosaic glass lamps, favrile lamps, table lamps with ornate bronze bases, floor lamps and hanging chandeliers for every decor.

Tiffany Studios lamps were the finest lighting products available, and were expensive even in 1906. According to the Oct. 1, 1906, price list, an 18-light drop cluster pond lily lamp would cost $125, while a smaller 7-light pond lily lamp was priced at $80. Considering that in 1906 the average hourly wage was about 17 1/2 cents, purchase of a Tiffany lamp was not a casual investment.

Another popular American lamp manufacturer was The Pairpoint Company of New Bedford, Mass. The company started as an offshoot of the Mount Washington Glass Company, already well known for its Royal Flemish, Crown Milano and Burmese art glass. In 1907, the company received a patent for the production of three-dimensional shades, today known as “puffies.” These lamps, primarily floral and fruit motifs, were ornate, extremely feminine and complimented most decors. Pairpoint’s more than 100 lamps, available on more than 350 bases, were sold at the finest department stores across the country. Today, the name Pairpoint is most often linked with the wonderfully innovative “Pairpoint Puffy” lamp.

This Pairpoint Puffy closed top 13-inch shade with large red roses and green leaves, supported on an original signed Pairpoint base with molded grapes and leaves, sold for : $9,775 (including the buyer’s premium) in February of 2007.

This Pairpoint Puffy closed top 13-inch shade with large red roses and green leaves, supported on an original signed Pairpoint base with molded grapes and leaves, sold for $9,775 (including the buyer’s premium) in February of 2007.

This Handel Reverse Painted Floral #7032 on Rookwood Base sold for 10,350 (including the buyer’s premium) in October of 2006.

This Handel Reverse Painted Floral #7032 on Rookwood base sold for 10,350 (including the buyer’s premium) in October of 2006.

By 1906, The Handel Company of Meriden, Conn. had been in business for 21 years and was advertising regularly in popular magazines. It produced lamp globes, fine painted porcelain, electric and gas table lamps, smoking articles and holiday novelties. Handel is most famous for its 18-inch, obverse-painted and inside-(reverse) painted lampshades, which exemplified a change from leaded portable lamps to a less expensive but elegant lamp that coordinated well with Arts and Crafts, art nouveau and art deco furnishings.

Handel used bases from various American potteries such as Rookwood, Grueby and Hampshire. Glass blanks, purchased primarily from the Rodefer Brothers Glassworks of Bellaire, Ohio, were decorated with original designs by Handel artists and matched with an appropriate white metal base finished with one of several colored patinas. Decorations fell into many categories—flowers, birds, readily recognized American landscapes such as Yosemite and the Connecticut River Valley, and simple geometric borders. All were aggressively marketed to upscale jewelry and department stores across the United States.

This a very rare Tiffany Moorish Chandelier with pulled feather and lily lights brought an astounding $59,800 (including the buyer’s premium) at an October 6, 2006 auction.

This a very rare Tiffany Moorish Chandelier with pulled feather and lily lights brought an astounding $59,800 (including the buyer’s premium) at an October 6, 2006 auction.

This 18-inch leaded glass geometric shade in blue-green mottled glass, supported by a rare Tiffany bronze base of urn form with paw feet on flat disk, sold for $17,825 (including the buyer’s premium) in an October 2006 auction.

This 18-inch leaded glass geometric shade in blue-green mottled glass, supported by a rare Tiffany bronze base of urn form with paw feet on flat disk, sold for $17,825 (including the buyer’s premium) in an October 2006 auction.

As with most businesses that catered to the upper middle class, the gradual change in the economic climate and the onset of the Great Depression ended the production of many of these beautiful lighting devices, treasured by today’s collectors.

Tips for Collecting Art Glass Lamps

1. Determine how much you are willing to spend. Depending on whether you are interested in a modest art glass boudoir lamp or a rare Tiffany lighting fixture, the purchase price can be considerable and is truly an investment.

2. Become knowledgeable about the type of lamp you wish to purchase. Many reference books are available that can give you valuable insight about the manufacturers, designs, styles and components to assist you in authenticating your selection. Go to shows where major galleries display their inventory. Check out the Internet. Many auction houses and galleries have excellent web sites that will allow you to view available items. Ask lots of questions.

3. Only do business with a reputable gallery, auction house or other seller who will guarantee the authenticity of what they sell. Many high-quality reproductions exist, which can confuse an inexperienced buyer, and new shades are often “married” to old bases.

4. Carefully examine all the components of a lamp for damage. Very minor nicks and patina issues may not significantly reduce the value of a lamp, but major condition issues such as cracks and chips to the glass and heavy pitting to the metal should be avoided.

Dr. Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series “History Detectives” and is a featured appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” He can be reached via email at info@historicamericana.com.

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