When we wanted to learn more about the iconic masterpieces of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the highly-lauded Tiffany Lamps, we immediately reached out to Edo Ophir to answer some of our most pressing questions, only to discover that there’s much more to love about Tiffany Lamps than even meets the eye!
U.S. Antique Shows: What is the process of creating a Tiffany Lamp?
Edo Ophir: The process of creating a Tiffany lamp is fairly exhaustive. It starts with a cartoon sketch of a pattern, and once that is approved, a paper pattern is created. The paper pattern is then used for layout of the colored glass that’s going to ultimately be leaded into a form of a lamp shade. The process also includes creating stained glass, which will then be cut using the pattern, and once the full pattern is complete with glass laid out, the pattern is then transferred to a mold. The artisan can then select the color of glass to be implemented into the shade, physically apply the glass to the mold, all within leading the glass onto the mold to complete the form. The leading is actually the base structure for holding the glass in place, and then once the coper foil is applied the process of soft soldering lead lines to secure the mosaic grid into one form begins. It can take a few months depending on the size of the shade, the pattern and how intricate the design.
U.S. Antique Shows: Is Tiffany still creating lamps?
EO: Tiffany Studios, which is the creator of Louis Comfort Tiffany lamps, is no longer producing lamps; the studio folded sometime in the late 1920’s.
U.S. Antique Shows: Is there any account of how many lamps the studio produced in total?
EO: It’s impossible to know how many patterns and lamps were created by the studios. Keep in mind that this was a hot studio, a hot furnace, and the majority of the records were lost in a fire, so there is no written record as to how many lamps were produced.
U.S. Antique Shows: What makes one Tiffany lamp more valuable or coveted than another?
EO: The rarity is determined mainly by the condition, the color, artistry of the glass, artistry execution, coloration used, or selection of glass, the base that is associated with the shade, and pattern (the style of shade, i.e. floral vs. geometric). Typically, florals are more desired than geometric lamps, and blue will always be more valuable than a yellow or green.
U.S. Antique Shows: As an expert in the field, can you determine which artisan made a particular lamp? Did any of them make a name for themselves?
EO: While none of the artisans were identified as such at the time, and everything was sold under the Tiffany Studio’s name without giving credit to the workers, we now know that there were several prominent artisans at work in the studio.
It didn’t come to light until the early 2000’s when new information was revealed, on the important role that women played at Tiffany Studios. One woman specifically, Clara Driscoll, was one of the main designers at Tiffany Studios and she basically spearheaded some of the most cutting-edge designs for Tiffany Studios, such as the Wisteria table lamp, the Dragon Fly pattern stain glass lamps and mosaic objects. Louis Comfort Tiffany was a well-known womanizer, he always had women around him, but they also had an important place in his company. Louis Comfort Tiffany thought it was important to have women involved specifically in the selection of color, his thought was that women look at nature and color differently than a man’s eye, and they were instrumental in helping create these objects. Evidently, his female employee’s salaries were commensurate with the men’s salaries, and at a point, when the men were at war, women were taking over positions that men were no longer holding.
U.S. Antique Shows: Are there other companies that knocked off or were “inspired” by these lamps?
EO: I wouldn’t say other companies were knocking Tiffany Studios off, but there were other companies that were influenced. There was one big company that went head to head with Louis Comfort Tiffany and at the time were considered more expensive, and that was Duffner & Kimberly. Other companies like Handel, Bigelow, Kennard & Co. (which used glass and bronze elements that they purchased from Tiffany Studios), Chicago Mosaic, Steuben, and Gorham, and there were a ton more, were all influenced by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios. Employees that worked for Tiffany Studios had either worked for Steuben, or Duffner & Kimberly, and the glass blowers would go from one glass blowing or lamp company to another, it depended on the money. Subsequently, a lot of designers brought designs with them from studio to studio.
These other companies produced far fewer lamps than Tiffany Studios. Tiffany Studios was the machine, they were the pinnacle of their genre. Duffner, as an example, was a very small lamp company and all they did was lamps and chandeliers.
U.S. Antique Shows: Other than being a well-known womanizer, what else can you tell us about Louis Comfort Tiffany as a man, what were some of his influences?
EO: Louis Comfort Tiffany’s father, Charles, was the founder of Tiffany and Co, and it was ultimately the wealth of his father that allowed Louis Comfort Tiffany to become the artist that he is known for being. His travels to Morocco in particular—the silks, the opulence—brought him to the realization of the importance of high-quality utilitarian objects for the home that are used as decoration; it opened up his eyes to another level. When he came back, with the help of his father and his father’s wealth, he was able to apply these influences into the creation of objects based on what he saw in his travels, and establish a market of high-quality decorative objects for the home.
Tiffany Studios were also importers of decorative objects, like silver candlesticks, sconces, chandeliers, and other decorative objects for the home that catered to the wealthy. A lamp could have cost a layman $125 or $300, and it became collectable in the 1900’s during the Art Nouveau period in the U.S. The stain glass was originally inspired by the churches in Europe. For the most part, Art Nouveau was a limited period; there wasn’t much that Americans themselves produced because the period was born in France.
U.S. Antique Shows: Do you have any examples of how one could incorporate Tiffany lamps into their more contemporary décor?
EO: In the sense of contemporary décor, there is a style of Tiffany Lamp that can suit any style of décor. As an example, take a Mid-century modern home, such as a Miami-influenced home, with a very white color palette, I would see more of a geometric lamp that doesn’t have flowers, that doesn’t have excitement in the decoration, something simple that falls within a simple contemporary décor.
For more opulent style, say a floral décor, a good option would be any full floral leaded stained glass shade; it could play off the floral dimensions throughout the interior design.
U.S. Antique Shows: I understand the lamps were most popular during the Art Nouveau period; are they still popular today? If so, with whom?
EO: There has been a wane in popularity, and at the lower to the middle level there is not much desirability. Where you see desirability is on the high end and that falls in the true collector category, the person that is collecting whatever is produced by Tiffany Studios. They buy because they’ve been collectors—they started out at a low level and through the years continued increasing their knowledge, following markets…the new money, the new collectors, understand the pieces as assets, it all depends on the quality of the work of the objects.
U.S. Antique Shows: You mentioned earlier that at the heart of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s vision was a desire to create beautiful, utilitarian objects for the home. Do most of your collectors actually use what they purchase from you?
EO: Our collector does incorporate the pieces they purchase from us into their décor. No object has ever come out of my hands and into the collector’s home and sits in a storage locker or in an attic or the basement, all of the objects that I’ve sold in my career have been for display within one’s home. It’s a matter of finding the right buyer.
U.S. Antique Shows: Clearly you’ve done a great job of finding the right buyers! You’ve been in business for over 35 years, at our shows you’re always busy at your stand or running around the show floor talking to your colleagues and friends. What’s your secret?!
EO: This is what my father says, “The big thing is how you buy the object; if you buy it well, then you can dictate how you sell it. My money is made when I buy and not when I sell.”