How to Identify Antique Tiffany Lamps

Terry Hurley
A Tiffany style lamp

Whether you are a novice collector or are thinking about purchasing an antique Tiffany lamp to use in your home, learning how to identify antique Tiffany lamps is very important. Unfortunately there many Tiffany lamp forgeries and reproductions in the marketplaces that cater to antique collectors.

What to Look for When Identifying Antique Tiffany Lamps

Louis Comfort Tiffany first showed his lamps to the general public in Chicago at the World's Colombian Exposition in 1893. In 1895 the first Tiffany lamp shades, made of blown glass, were available for sale. Tiffany's blown glass shades are often called Damascene shades.Three years later, in 1898, Tiffany introduced his companies first leaded glass lamp shades.

Tiffany Lamp Styles

Often considered as works of art today, Tiffany lamps were made in six basic styles:

  • Table
  • Floor
  • Desk
  • Chandelier
  • Wall sconce
  • Hanging shade

Designs of Tiffany Lamp Shades

The term Favrile glass was coined and trademarked by Tiffany and means handcrafted. Favrile glass was used in the production of both blown glass and leaded glass shades.

  • Geometric designs - The simplest designs of Tiffany leaded glass shades used on panel glass, globe or cone shaped shades. The geometric designs included rectangles, squares, triangles and ovals.
  • Floral designs - leaded glass shades that have a floral and/or leaf designs on backgrounds of geometric patterns
  • Belted floral designs - Leaded glass floral design shades with belts, or borders, of geometric designs encircling the shade

In addition to geometric and floral patterns, other popular patterns of Tiffany lamps include:

  • Dragonflies
  • Vines
  • Wisteria
  • Tree branches
  • Medieval motifs
  • Renaissance designs
  • Zodiacal symbols
  • Bamboo designs

Shapes of Leaded Glass Shades

  • Cone
  • Globe
  • Lower border with irregular shaped lines such as dragonflies or flowers were typically globe shaped
  • Upper and lower borders with irregular shaped lines

Glass, Base and Stem Characteristics

  • The unique glass used in antique Tiffany leaded glass shades often help with the identification of an original lamp. All of the glass used in Tiffany lamps was made at the Tiffany factory. Many of the earlier lampshades were made with the left over pieces of glass from the production of Tiffany's glass windows. Other glass pieces for the lampshades were poured and then cut into shapes.
  • Extremely delicate lines surround each piece of cut glass. Tiffany achieved this by wrapping the edges of the cut glass pieces in copper foil and then fusing them together. The lines were finished with a product that gave it a bronze patina making it blend well with the overall look of the lamp.
  • The colors of the glass range from pale to brilliant.
  • None of the glass in an original Tiffany lamp is painted.
  • All of the color was made into the manufacturer of the glass. Tiffany added metallic compounds to the molten glass giving it a stunning iridescent sheen. Often as many as seven colors would be added to the molten glass for absolutely beautiful and unique results.
  • Although there are many lamps with the same design there are not two that are exactly identical since each one was made by hand.
  • Antique lead glass Tiffany lamps all have bronze or gilt bronze bases and stems that are often very detailed. Many have details in mosaic or tile work.

Marks and Signatures

  • Many of the original Tiffany lampshades are signed but over the years many different signatures were used.
  • Some shades bear the full Tiffany name on the outer metal rim of the lampshade while others have "Tiffany Studios", "Tiffany and Co.", only initials. or nothing at all.
  • Many lampshades also have a model numbers stamped by the signature, others only have a model number or none at all.
  • A large number of the antique lamp shades are marked with a bronze pad.

Tiffany Reproductions and Forgeries

Reproductions of antique Tiffany lamps are sold in antique stores, online and in retail marketplaces. Reproductions are generally clearly marked with the name of the studio that made the lamp. In these cases, consumers know what they are buying and the company is not trying to deceive the shopper.

However, there are also many forgeries of antique Tiffany lamps and the forgers of today are very adept at making the signatures look original. In the cases of these fake lamps, unscrupulous people forge signatures on lamps and make up stories as to a lamp's provenance. They then try to pass the lamp off to unsuspecting, and uninformed, shoppers.

Sometimes it is easy to identify a fake Tiffany lamp by looking for:

  • Poor quality materials
  • Poor quality workmanship
  • Color painted onto the glass
  • Makers' marks that look newly made, are uneven or use upper and lower case letters. Authentic Tiffany marks are only in capital letters.

Resources for Tiffany Lamp Identification

Although learning to identify an original Tiffany lamp is not always easy, the following lamp identification and price guides will help you become familiar with these beautiful antiques. The following books are available from Amazon:

  • Tiffany (Special Edition) created by Louis Comfort Tiffany
  • The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany by Martin Eidelberg, Nancy McClelland, Lars Rachen and Alice Cooney Frlinghuysen
  • Tiffany Lamps and Metalware: An Illustrated Reference to Over 2000 Models by Alistair Duncan
  • Tiffany by Design: An In-depth Look at Tiffany Lamps by Nina Gray
  • Lamps of Tiffany by Egon Neustadt

Online Resources:

  • Tiffany Lamps restores and sells these wonderful antiques and includes images of dozens of beautiful examples
  • A Socket Tutorial offered by Mosaic Shades provides detailed information on lamp sockets used from the mid-1880s through the 1920s to help with identifying the age of early lamps

Help with Lamp Identification and Authentication

There are times when experienced antique dealers and collectors may have difficulty in identifying an original Tiffany lamp. If you are uncertain about how to identify antique Tiffany lamps and have found a lamp that interests you, have it appraised by a licensed appraiser.

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How to Identify Antique Tiffany Lamps