Part of the charm of collecting old domestic fixtures like antique glass lampshades is that they can make a space feel historic quicker than any other collectible can. If you're enraptured by the soft glows of the Victorian period, then you'll want to check out these glass lampshades and see which kind would look perfect in your dining room or office.
Historic Lamp Developments
Early lamps used animal by-products as fuel to light their flames, and some municipal developments in lighting in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed for the installation of gas lines through city streets to create standardized street lights. However, the introduction of kerosene in the 19th century directly resulted in the glass lamp shades that have become intimately connected to the period's aesthetic. This is due to the fact that kerosene-a fuel that burned brighter and emitted less smoke than other combustibles-produced a very harsh light. In order to soften this light for comfortable domestic use, glass lamp shades were created as they wouldn't melt around the high heats the lamp's chimneys would release.
These glass shades grew so incredibly popular that the lamps would continue to be manufactured to be put onto electric lamps once electricity overtook the lighting market in the late-19th century. You can still find glass lamp shades on lamps today, emulating this historic design for the modern home.
Manufacturers and Styles
By the 1880s, lampshades were among the most prominent items in a home because of their colorful and whimsical designs. These lamps became a customary piece of the proper Victorian household, and the glass shades came in shapes like flowers, shells, poufs of fabric, balls, and cylinders to name just a few. One of the most popular styles was the 'ball' style, which featured a painted globe shade, but the variety of options was truly limitless. Here are some of the most prominent manufacturers whose shades dominated the market:
Duffner and Kimberly
Although this New York glass company was short-lived, during its few years in business their lamps and shades rivaled even those of Tiffany & Co. Duffney and Kimberly created mosaic lamps using leaded techniques which involved tiny pieces of colored glass being held in position by metal foil. Their designs included abstract and floral patterns, with rich red and gold colors. Among their many unique features, these lamps were electric, pointing to the importance of aesthetic rather than function in the lighting industry as electric lights didn't need glass shades.
Beginning in 1897, the Pairpoint Corporation began selling lamps and became well-known for their Pairpoint puffies lampshades with pushed out "puffy" sections. The company received a patent for the process, which involved pouring molten glass into molds, and then polishing and painting the glass. These "reverse painted" shades required extreme skill to manufacture since the artist had to lay down the paint in reverse. As with the Duffner and Kimberly lamps, some of Pairpoint's lamps were marked, and some were not, so it's best to have any antique glass lamp assessed by an appraiser.
The Handel Company was a contemporary of Pairpoint and Tiffany, and was famous for making reverse painted shades. The shade was usually a conical shape, and the paintings may have been either a landscape, still life, or floral scene. Handel shades were an equally lovely but more affordable alternative to Tiffany & Co.'s lamps. Unlike Pairpoint and Duffner and Kimberly, Handel artists almost always signed their painted shades, meaning authentication for these is much easier.
Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany is perhaps the best known of these lamp manufacturers from the late-19th and early 20th centuries, producing exquisite, Art Nouveau inspired pieces of lighting for luxury homes. Their table lamps and stand lamps are often estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars today, due in large part to their rare designs. Louis Comfort Tiffany's favrile glass technique created designs which were uniquely specific to the company, helping it make its mark with customers. Most Tiffany lamps were signed, though inconsistencies in the signatures do require an appraiser's approval to be fully authenticated.
Rare Glass Shades
All glass shades are highly collectible, but some styles are more collectible than others. Among the types of rare glass shades that you may encounter include:
- Cranberry glass - This glass was made by adding small amounts of gold to a batch of glass, which gave it a rich, pink/red color. When cranberry glass had polished, raised white dots added to its surface, it is called hobnail.
- Quezal art glass - This glass was made by the Quezal Art Glass and Decorating Company in New York beginning in 1901. The lustrous glass often had threads of glass in contrasting colors pulled through the surface to form a feather shape. Quezal shades were often used in groups on a table lamp or chandelier.
- Peachblow glass - This glassware was made by many companies and is very collectible. The glass came in a variety hues, from deep pink, to pink and yellow, to a blushing pale pink. The lampshades are very expensive when found, and a complete lamp rarely comes to market.
Costs of Collecting Antique Glass Lampshades
Pieces associated with interior design and domestic furniture are always some of the more pricey collectibles, especially because of their delicate detailing and modern functionality. You can easily find reproduction shades for a few hundred dollars per set. Authentic antique glass lampshades are going to cost you a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a piece depending on their manufacturer and style. For example, a 1910 set of five Steuben gold aurene lamp shades is listed for nearly $2,500 in one auction. If you're fortunate enough to be able to afford a Tiffany lamp, you'll find yourself spending tens of thousands of dollars on individual pieces, such as this Tiffany table lamp that's listed for $45,000.
Shedding Light on the Past
Remember that if you do end up purchasing a glass shade or have one already in your collection that you make sure to only use weak/low-wattage bulbs since modern bulbs can easily heat these fragile shades to their breaking point. Even so, these colorful lampshades are lovely, and collecting them sheds a whole new light on the past.