The Glass Archive
Louis C. Tiffany initially worked with glasshouses in Brooklyn, New York and Kokomo, Indiana, to make artistic opalescent glass. But as his reputation grew and his business expanded, he needed quality glass in greater varieties and ever-increasing quantities. To that end, he opened his own glass furnaces in Corona, Queens in 1893. He called his glass “Favrile,” a trademarked term loosely derived from the Latin word fabrilis, to mean “made by hand.” Tiffany continued to purchase glass and often used a combination of commercial and Favrile glass to create his iconic designs.
When Tiffany’s firm closed in 1937, all remaining stock was sold. The liquidation sales included a vast inventory of flat glass, ranging from full, uncut sheets to shards the size of a fingernail, as well as a tantalizing assortment of glass “jewels.” Early Tiffany collector and museum founder Dr. Egon Neustadt (American, b. Austria, 1898–1984) recognized the historical value of this material and purchased it in 1967. Today, this treasure trove is a unique, one-of-a-kind Glass Archive boasting over a quarter of a million examples of original Tiffany glass in vibrant colors, hypnotizing patterns, and intriguing textures. The Archive documents Tiffany’s critical role in inaugurating a new era in the art of colored opalescent glass.
Explore our interactive gallery below to learn about the different types of glass we store and study in our archive. Roll over (or tap on mobile) the images to see what happens when each piece is illuminated.
“Drapery” glass is so-named because it mimics the creases, folds, and drape of fabric. Its three-dimensional texture was created by using metal hooks or wooden paddles to push the edges of a flat, molten sheet of glass until it buckled into ridges and folds. These irregular, undulating surfaces affect the way light passes through the glass, so that within the thick folds, color is dense and nearly opaque, while the flat areas between the folds are thinner and therefore more translucent and lighter in color. As a result of these dramatic variations in texture and opacity, an incredible array of realistic effects could be achieved through thoughtful glass selection. For instance, figures are given tangible volume and windows “move” with the flow of this glass.
“Fan” drapery glass was made by holding one end of the roller still and pushing the other end in short, regular intervals across the molten surface of the glass to create fan-shaped folds that emanate out from a single point.
A specialty type of drapery glass, “feather” glass is characterized by rows of small, v-shaped furrows that mimic the individual filaments of a feather. Manipulated while still hot, “feather” glass was made by moving the roller side-to-side to create a herringbone effect. This glass was used extensively in angels’ wings, but was apparently a very difficult texture to master. According to a 1903 Tiffany brochure, it took fifteen years to successfully produce this effect.
Whereas drapery glass tends to be boldly textured, “ripple” glass is more subtle. It was made on a moving table with a roller geared to move at a slightly faster rate. The difference in speed caused the molten glass to “catch,” jostling the smooth surface of the glass, which resulted in a sheet marked by ripples and furrows. Depending on the speed of the table and the roller, the ripples could be high or low, dense or loose, with all combinations possible within a single sheet. It can be suggestive of water, leaves ruffled by wind, decorative fringe, or the woolly fleece of sheep.
“Spotted” glass is characterized by a mottled pattern that results from a crystallization process within the glass matrix. It was made in several colors, and the size, opacity, and distribution of the spots vary widely within a single sheet. For instance, there could be individual, well-defined spots alongside areas populated by dense groupings or even amorphous masses. In the capable hands of Tiffany’s glass selectors, spotted glass created the dappled effect of sunlight filtering though verdant tree canopies and shrubberies.
“Foliage” glass, which today is often called “confetti” glass, was also used to depict dense vegetation in an evocative way. It was created by blowing a paper-thin glass bubble and then shattering into small pieces called “fract.” These bits were strewn on an iron table and the base glass was rolled over the fragments, fusing them into overlapping and haphazard patterns on the underside of the glass sheet. Various shades of green, amber, and brown are commonly used for rendering the foliage of trees and brushes.
The variety of colors and patterns found in “streaky” glass is staggering. Combinations of two to five colors, twisting and pooling within a single sheet, are a testament to the technical skill of Tiffany’s chemist, Arthur J. Nash (American, b. England, 1849—1934). The creative possibilities with streaky glass were boundless. When selected with a discerning eye, this glass convincingly portrays all manner of details within a representational window or lampshade, including cloud-streaked skies, running water, striated rocks, tree bark, foliage, and flower petals.
Three-dimensional glass “jewels” lend an additional richness to many of Tiffany’s leaded-glass windows, lamp bases, mosaics, and bronzework. Hand-chipped to create facets that flash like gemstones, or pressed in molds to produce smooth, regular surfaces, these jewels were available in a tantalizing assortment of colors, opacities, textures, shapes, and sizes.