Monday, December 7, 2009

Tiffany Lamps Go for Big Bucks

QUESTION: An art dealer came to our house to look at a painting and noticed the Tiffany chandelier hanging in our dining room. A year and a half later, he called back with interest to purchase it for a significant amount in cash. I did some checking and discovered that an original Tiffany back in 1977 sold for $22,000. What is the best way (if I was even to consider selling it) to get the most value for what it's worth?

ANSWER: This is just one of many questions I have received about Tiffany lamps. The recession has got everyone looking to sell items that may have some value. And with the Antiques Roadshow highlighting some valuable Tifffany lamps, people have gotten dollar signs in their eyes.

Tiffany Studios, founded by Louis Comfort Tiffany, designed and produced the only authentic Tiffany lamps. Historically, Tiffany, himself, never actually made any of the lamps, but just oversaw their production and design. He personally guided the lamps that came from his studio  between 1899-1920 through all stages of their creation. This not only included the shades, but the handmade bronze bases as well.

Tiffany’s magnificent lamps were an instant commercial success. Wherever they appeared, they received prizes and awards. He was the first to design lamps to be operated using the new electricity, then only affordable by the wealthy. But once his lamps caught on, several other American companies, including Handel, the Pairpoint Corporation and Quezal, emulated his designs.. While Handel and Pairpoint concentrated upon creating innovative lampshades, often, but not always, in the style of Tiffany, Quezal helped to satisfy the increasing demand for the iridescent glassware, called favrile, popularized by Tiffany in America.

The name "Tiffany" has become a generic term for windows, lamps, and glass of–or imitating–the period. However, there were many other firms in the U.S. and in Europe doing similar and in many cases nearly identical work. This has lead to a great deal of confusion, and much work by other companies has been sold as "Tiffany,” often with false "Tiffany" signatures added to it.

It’s important to note Louis C. Tiffany and Tiffany Studios did NOT mark or sign many of their lamps in any way. However, it’s often easy to forge Tiffany signatures on similar-looking period or reproduction items. Many genuine Tiffany pieces that weren’t signed originally have probably had forged signatures added to them to increase their worth and make them easier to sell, as well.

By his vision and energy, Louis.C. Tiffany succeeded in blending classical motifs with bold new techniques in glassmaking to create a distinctive American art form. The demand for Tiffany lamps among today's collectors attests to the lasting value of his work. The table lamp with the wisteria design pictured above recently sold for over $600,000. If that doesn’t get dollar signs in people's eyes, nothing will.

If you have what you think may be a real Tiffany and it doesn't have a signature, send a photo and description of it to Christie's Auction House to have it verified.

To read more about Tiffany lamps, go to my Web sites: Writing at Its Best and The Antiques Almanac.

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