Above: Tiffany Studios Metals Showroom, 45th Street and Madison Avenue
Tiffany’s Lamps: Lighting Luxury
When Tiffany’s leaded-glass lamps debuted in 1898, they gained immediate popularity because they combined usefulness and beauty in an innovative way. The lamps softened the bright illumination of electric light, and their interplay of richly-colored glass and sculpted bronze transformed these useful household objects into works of art.
Tiffany’s lamps were made by hand from start to finish by teams of skilled artisans across several different departments. The process was labor intensive: every lampshade included hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pieces of glass, each of which had to be selected, cut, and soldered together one by one; lamp bases were sculpted, cast in bronze, patinated, and wired for electricity. Tiffany’s artisans used costly materials, like handmade glass and bronze, which were produced in-house at Tiffany’s complex of furnaces, foundry, and workshops in Corona, Queens. This not only gave Tiffany complete creative control, but also ensured that each lamp would be unique.
Not surprisingly, these artful lighting fixtures came with hefty price tags. They ranged from $25 - $750, depending on their size and complexity of design. Small table lamps, especially those with simple geometric lampshades cost less, while larger models with elaborate floral lampshades were more expensive. Above all, these were luxury items sold at high-end stores, including Tiffany Studios in Manhattan, Tiffany & Co. in New York, London, and Paris, and exclusive department and jewelry stores across the United States. Some lamp designs cost more than most people made in an entire year.
Compare the variety of lamps and array of price points on display, and then explore the rest of the gallery to learn more about the complex processes behind their creation.