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 lampshades softened the harsh glare of electric light and filled rooms with warm color. And when combined with an elegantly-designed bronze base, these lamps became both useful household objects and works of art.
Tiffany’s lamps were made by hand from start to finish by skilled artisans across several 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 used costly materials, like handmade glass and bronze, which were produced in-house at his complex of furnaces, foundries, and workshops in Corona, Queens. He maintained complete creative control over production to ensure the highest quality of each phase of design and fabrication.
Not surprisingly, these artful lighting fixtures came with hefty price tags. Some, in fact, cost more than most people made in an entire year; the average annual income from 1900 to 1913, when these lamps were made, was between $438 and $621. Lamp prices ranged from $25 - $750, depending on size and complexity. Small table lamps with simple geometric shades were less expensive than larger models with elaborate floral designs. But all Tiffany lamps were luxury items. They sold at exclusive department and jewelry stores across America. They were also available at the Tiffany Studios showroom in Manhattan and at Tiffany & Co. in New York, London, and Paris.
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.