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Made in the Shades: Art Nouveau Art Glass Illuminate Start-Up Collections

by Wes Cowan (11/07/11).

This four-arm Arts & Crafts style electric chandelier with pulled feather gold Aurene shades (unsigned) came from the former Gulliver’s Restaurant in Chicago. Even without a signature, the piece made a tidy sum of $2,990 at auction. (Photos courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio)

Louis Comfort Tiffany was not the only glassmaker producing gorgeous American art glass during the turn of the 20th century. American glass manufacturers such as Steuben Glass Works, Quezal Art Glass and Lustre Art Glass Co. were equally as influential in the production of high quality decorative glass. The art glass by these makers is often just as beautiful and certainly more moderately priced compared to Tiffany art glass, making it a great place to start collecting.

Some of the most widely available and collectable pieces of American art glass are the beautiful shade forms. A pair of Steuben or Quezal art glass shades will generally run between $500-$1,000, depending on condition and decoration.

The Art Nouveau art movement (ca. 1890-1920) conveniently coincided with the nation’s rush to electrify homes and businesses. Versatile and highly decorative shades were created to adorn the ceiling fixtures and wall sconces being installed homes throughout the country. Collectors today seek art glass shades to be used as originally intended and as choice cabinet pieces for display.

The Art Nouveau focus on decoration and organic, natural design can easily be seen in the color and patterning of the glass shade forms. The pulled feather, the leaf & vine, and the drag loop or King Tut swirl were some of the most common and recognizable decorative patterns seen in American art glass shade. These patterns were usually produced while the glass was still molten and often pulled on a solid opaque ground with an iridescent interior.

Next to Tiffany, Frederick Carder’s Steuben Glass Works was one of the most innovative glass houses of the early 20th century. Carder created many types of lustrous lead glass but is best known for his Aurene glass. Steuben Aurene glass was available in a variety of colors with an iridescent finish. Gold and blue Aurene were the most popular and most common. Other colors include red, brown, yellow and green. Carder felt that blue Aurene was strong enough to stand unadorned, which explains why there are very few decorated blue Aurene forms.

This lot of five Lustre Art heart and vine shades sold for $900 at auction.

Pair of Quezal ribbed gold Aurene pulled-feather shades sold for $390.

The signature assigns these shades to Lustre Arts.

These shades have the Quezal signature.

The Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company produced shades in every color and nearly every decoration, form, and size. There are more Quezal art glass shades available on the market than any other manufacturer, due to large production numbers. Like Steuben, Quezal shades incorporated decorative patterns on an opaque ground with an iridescent interior as well as decoration embedded in clear glass.

Glasshouses like Lustre Art, Durand and Fostoria also produced glass shades during the period. While their pieces were very similar in coloring and pattering, the quality did not compare to those produced by Steuben, Quezal and certainly Tiffany.

Three Steuben ovoid pulled lace pattern shades sold for $1,495 at auction.

The Steuben fleur de lis mark at rim is still visible.

Pieces with similar or identical features can sometimes be identified by the presence of a signature. Steuben glass vases and perfumes were often signed STEUBEN in small block letters, however the shades were signed with the trademark silver fleur de lis on the rim. Most Quezal pieces were signed with an engraved or acid-etched QUEZAL signature at the rim. Lustre Art shades were signed with an engraved Lustre Art script signature.

When choosing an art glass shade, personal taste should always come first. Look for consistency in color in the exterior decoration. If the interior is an Aurene or iridized glass, the finish should not be flaking or have excessive wear. Also, be sure to check for chips or cracks. A high-quality art glass shade exhibits a high level of craftsmanship and brilliant coloring.


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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