What Makes Tiffany Shine?

Louis Comfort Tiffany was one of the shrewdest businessmen of his time. Even though his ability to design products was outstanding, this wasn’t where his real skills were found. By assembling the greatest glasssmiths, metal workers, designers and chemist under one roof, he was able to orchestrate all their talents into producing the most valuable works of art in his day. He made the statement that he wasn’t producing items for the average man.

Even though his name has become associated with the best in art glass and bronze, he seldom touched the pieces that bear his name. He was the master overseer and gave the final okay on everything that was produced in his factories. If it came from Tiffany, it was marked with one of the Tiffany marks, whether it was glass, bronze or pottery.

Most people don’t know that Tiffany was a fine painter early on, and there are many of his works still now. In fact, I am astonished that his paintings don’t bring more money than they do. He also made some wonderful pottery, but next to his lamps and stained glass windows, they still seem to be undervalued to this day. But no doubt, he is still the premier name in the market for the wares he produced. The problem I personally have with his work, is that he was merely the supervisor of others under his direction that produced these wonderful items, not the maker himself. On the other hand, for example, Charles Lotton is involved in every step of each process in making his fantastic pieces.

Tiffany is perhaps the most forged or faked items in the markets today. Often the Tiffany information was etched into pieces of Steuben, Quezal, Loetz and many other art glass. If these fine pieces had been left alone, they would stand on their own as to their value, but by signing them Tiffany, their value is reduced.

In a book that I read, it said “it is better to know the glass than to see the name on a piece.” The name of the book is Louis C. Tiffany’s Glass Bronzes Lamps: A Complete Collectors Guide by Robert Kock.

To prove that there is still pieces of Tiffany to be found, I will share with you two of my stories. I believe it or not almost every dealer that I know has similar stories about Tiffany in their past.

The first piece of Tiffany I ever bought was purchased for $40. I knew it was a nice piece of art glass, but I couldn’t say it was Tiffany in my ad because it was unsigned. Putting it on eBay and hoping to get $300 or $400 for it, I waited for the auction to start. Within thirty minutes the bid was over $500, and to tell you the truth, I started to get excited. Emails filled my mail box with questions and I was even receiving calls. By the second day it was over $1000, and I was beginning to wonder where it was going to stop. I think the final bid was over $1800. Not bad for an unsigned small vase that I’m not sure even to this day that it was Tiffany.

The second story is even better than the first. I was called to a home to look at items that a lady was selling for her father. There were many wonderful things in the house to look at. Most of the items had been researched and I didn’t think that I would be able to purchase much. As I looked around, my eyes lit on these two bronze lamp bases. One was a floor base and the other was a table base. I asked if they for for sale. The lady said that she didn’t see why not, her husband was just planning to throw them in the trash. I carefully examined them and made a offer of $3500. That got her attention. Knowing now that they were better than something to be thrown in the trash, she said “i will let you know.” She called back in several days and did accept my offer, but let me know that she had contacted several other people and she was giving me a bargain.

I tried to find shades for these lamps but couldn’t. I even offered almost ten thousand dollars for one shade and still got out bid. Then I finally decided to sell them without shades. These went on to be sold at auction for over $10,000.

Today’s Photo is courtesy of a 2005 Auction Catalog from Treadway Gallery.
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