The artistry of Louis Comfort Tiffany

Photo provided | Authentic Tiffany lamps can be quite valuable, but beware as the market is full of impostors and fakes.

INDIANAPOLIS – Conversational English has become peppered with generic terms which are actually trademarked. For example: Paper tissues are collectively referred to as Kleenex, my grandmother called all refrigerators a Frigidaire, and many of us refer to all leaded glass lamps as Tiffany.

The problem arises when we mentally transpose the generic into the specific.

Tiffany “style” lamps are found everywhere from fine antique auctions to QVC and Walmart. The original lamps, made by Tiffany Studio in the latter part of the 19th Century through the 1930s, can range in value from a few thousand dollars to a top end in seven figures.

Several companies created lamps in the ‘Tiffany” style during the 1920s, and even tough these lamps are “antique” they are worth a fraction of the value of an actual Tiffany. To add to the confusion, fakes hit the market in the last quarter of the 20th century that are so well produced they can fool even an avid collector.

Tiffany lamps are almost always marked. The most common of the marks are TGDC or Tiffany Studios of New York. One of these marks will be accompanied by the model number and will be found on the base of the lamp. When looking for marks remember that “Tiffany & Co.” is not the same as “Tiffany Studios New York” which denotes lamps made by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Shape, design and color are three points to consider when inspecting a lamp you are wanting to purchase.

True Tiffany lamps will be globe or cone shaped and will usually feature dragonflies, spiders, butterflies, birds or botanical designs. Light the lamp and look closely for small specs of color in the glass. These specs, referred to as "confetti," are quite common in a Tiffany lamp. The color gold was often used in lamps from the early part of the 1900s. If there are pieces of gold glass present, it should be a deep amber color. If it is pale or has a greenish tint it is a fake.

Some of the best clues to the history of origin are found in the construction of the lamp.

Authentic lamps have survived for many years. As a result and due to the passage of time, the glass shade will often have loosened in its frame. If you lightly tap on the shade and it doesn't rattle you may well be looking at a forgery. The base of the lamp may also hold some answers. Remove the cap from the base and look inside. You should be looking into a hollow bronze vessel with a thick lead ring in the bottom. This ring was placed in the lamp as a part of the support system for its heavy glass shade. Cheaper reproduction lamps will be made of plastic, brass, zinc or even wood. The only exception to the Tiffany bronze base lamps will be a few examples of high quality pottery.

We have become accustomed to an artist signature or company stamp on a piece of glass being a defining mark of authenticity. This is not necessarily the case with lamps from Tiffany. Through the years, Tiffany's used several different systems of marking their lamps. The inconsistency of these marks makes them easier to duplicate, and reproductions abound.

The glass produced by the Tiffany family is of the highest quality. Newer glass will have a bright shiny gleam to the surface and be flawed with creases and pits. You will also want to inspect the edges of the lamp. Newer examples will show marks of grinding before the hardware was attached.

In this area of collecting it is important to be informed before you shop. Along with educating yourself you should only purchase a Tiffany lamp from a reputable/experienced dealer or long established auction house. In either case, you should request a written money back guarantee as validation that the buyer stands behind the authenticity of the piece. If you are not able to obtain this, walk away.

Until next time, Linda

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Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in downsizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or lkennett@indy.rr.com.