Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) is justly famous for his glorious designs in glass, wood and metal. He began to produce decorative lamps in the 1890s, using leftover glass pieces from his stained glass windows. Many of these lamps sold for £65 in the early 1900s, but are worth many thousands today, with some specimens being virtually priceless. As with any famous artist, there are reproductions and fakes galore. Some are easy to spot, while some are quite difficult.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Cotton swab
- Acetone nail polish remover
Look for a maker's mark on the lamp base. You won't always find one, but it should bear the company's logo, with TIFFANY STUDIOS NEW YORK underneath, in all capital letters, on one line, with all letters the same size. The only exception is that occasionally the piece was not stamped, but a stamp with upper/lower case letters in the text indicates a fake.
Look for a model number and signature. Pieces weren't always signed, but all of them were stamped with an individual model number. Signatures may be found pressed into the metal rim of the shade.
Examine the shade. You should be able to tap areas of glass and feel some of them shift slightly. A reproduction lamp will be sealed, with every piece tight. As a Tiffany shade ages, pieces and leading flex and move, and some parts will naturally be loose.
Look for cracks in the stained glass of the shade. There should be at least one or two cracks on an authentic Tiffany lamp. These are caused by exposure to heat from the light bulb over time.
Swab a small area of glass with a cotton swab dipped in acetone nail polish remover. If it's a fake, pigment will come off on the swab. Real Tiffany stained glass lamps don't do that.
Look at the overall quality of the materials used to make the Tiffany lamp. Its base should be bronze, not steel or iron. Poor soldering in the stained glass shade, shoddy workmanship in the way the pieces fit together, a jarring colour scheme, and lack of detail in the design are all indicators of a fake. Tiffany used only the highest quality materials, and each lamp is handmade and very different from the next.
Brush up on your knowledge of Art Nouveau style at your local library or museum. Tiffany lamps stopped being made in 1932, during the height of the movement. Anything that looks like art deco, for instance, probably isn't Tiffany.
Tips and warnings
- When in doubt about the authenticity of your lamp, check with a reputable antiques dealer in your area.
- Don't rely on price to determine whether a lamp is Tiffany or not. Many people selling these lamps don't know what they have. Some do, and put high prices on fakes. Buyer beware!
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