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By Melinda L. Wilson
Certified Appraiser and Consultant
Most people who think of the glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, think of his famous and often copied lamps. Mr. Tiffany, son of the founder of Tiffany's in New York, began as a silversmith. He produced and signed many pieces for the family store before becoming intrigued with glass.
Tiffany studied art in France and traveled to Africa and Egypt. He became fascinated with the effect of metal substances in the soil had on buried glass antiquities. He liked the rainbow swirls and began to experiment with iridizing various metals into the glass and coloring the glass with molten metallic compounds. He loved colour and was also impressed with stained glass windows.
On returning to the United States, Tiffany began to decorate the homes of wealthy patrons of Tiffany's & Co. in about 1879. He was interested more in total colour and concept than any decorators had been before him. This was when he created his famous lamps from the shades of colour manufactured by his own shop. His first lampshades were of blown glass, and the later ones were of the coloured leaded glass everyone today associated with his style. The Tiffany Glass Co. was founded in 1885 and here was the place his famous coloured Cathedral glass was made.
In 1892, along with Arthur J. Nash, he founded the Corona Glass Works. Here he could pursue his lifelong dream of producing colorful glass with a variety of laminated and lustered effects. Bowls, goblets, vases, copied shapes and forms from ancient excavations, such as the tombs in Egypt, as well as kerosene lamps and later incandescent lamps were produced. Each item made at Corona was sent to be sold in three shops. If, by the time it had been to the third shop and had not been sold, and if Tiffany did not decide to place the object tin his personal collection, it was destroyed. By 1894, the term "Favrile", was a registered trademark. Some of the fine specimens of this rainbow hued glass have the name "Favrile", etched on the base along with the artist's signature. The signature was in several forms, either the letters "L.C.T." or sometimes, "Louis Comfort Tiffany" or perhaps, "Tiffany Studios, New York".
Louis Comfort Tiffany decorated the White House with his glass forms in 1882. He also decorated Mark Twain's home and cooperated with Thomas Edison on the lighting decorations for the old Lyceum Theatre in New York City. This was the world's first electrically lit theatre. His explorations with glass as an art form were endless. There are tiles and mosaics he designed and the glass curtain he designed for the National Theatre in Mexico City considered to be his finest work.
There are rumors that there are some fine unsigned pieces of Tiffany's work. These are unsubstantiated, but it is possible, especially on consignment work. Once you become familiar with his style, however, you will know the mark of Louis Comfort Tiffany, whether it is marked or not.