Tiffany lamps are well known and loved for their distinctive and intricate stained-glass shades. The majority of Tiffany lamps available on the market today are reproductions of the original lamps that were designed and made by Tiffany Studios New York in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Original Tiffany lamps are a rare find and considered fine art antiques that command a high price when found in good condition. High-quality Tiffany reproduction lamps are constructed with the same methods and similar materials used to make original Tiffany lamps. When you know what to look for, you will quickly be able to tell the difference between a good reproduction and a cheap knockoff.
Check the glass in the shade. The first thing to look for in a quality reproduction lamp is high-quality art glass. The color of the glass will be intense and vivid. Quality Tiffany art glass will shine with brilliance even when the lamp is turned off. Slight variations occur when colors of molten glass are blended and swirled together during the hand-rolling process. The glass is then rolled into sheets and each piece used to create a lamp shade is hand cut according to the master design of the shade. A high-quality reproduction Tiffany lamp will be unique because no two shades will look exactly the same, even if they are the same size and design. Look for aesthetic imperfections or variations in the glass such as textural waves, striations, mottles, random bubbles (like seeded antique glass), and vibrant colors that often change when lit.
Check the soldering between each piece of glass. A high-quality Tiffany reproduction lamp is hand assembled using the copper foil method that Tiffany Studios New York used over 100 years ago. Each glass piece is surrounded by copper foil tape that adheres to the edge of the glass. The excess tape sticking out above and below each piece is folded over onto the surface and a bead of solder is applied to both the front and back, essentially welding the glass together. Any gaps occurring due to imprecise cutting of the glass must be filled in with solder. Although some variation in the width of solder lines is to be expected -- especially with irregular shapes like flowers, leaves, and insects -- too much variation in width can be a sign of poor craftsmanship. This can be very detracting in geometric designs.
Look for the following characteristics in quality soldering:
- Uniform width
- Very thin and straight lines
- A smooth soldering bead on long, continuous lines and where lines intersect
- A uniform patina (a chemical process that turns the solder color from dull silver to copper, brass, green, or charcoal gray)
- No visible copper foil showing
Check the lamp base. A quality reproduction Tiffany lamp should have a sturdy metal base, typically made from brass. A decorative finish may be applied such as a mahogany bronze or natural green-brown patina. Base designs often mimic natural forms such as tree trunks or flower stems. Lamp bases may also be made from stained glass or ceramic.
Check the price. A high-quality reproduction Tiffany lamp can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars. This pales in comparison to an original Tiffany, which can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some original Tiffany lamps have even been auctioned at over a million. Beware of inexpensive stained-glass lamps advertised with "Tiffany" in the name. If the price is too good to be true, you might be paying for colored plastic and glue.
Michelle Radcliff has been in the home furnishings business since 2006 and is currently working to become a certified interior decorator.