Tiffany or Tiphony?
Authentic leaded-glass lampshades made by Tiffany Studios can command high prices at auction. Collectors compete to acquire these lamps, valuing their beautiful colors. Recent research has enabled scholars to identify many of the women and men who designed and created these wonderful objects.
The lamps shown here are from the collection of Dr. Egon Neustadt (1898−1984) and his wife, Hildegard (1911−1961), who purchased more than 200 lamps. The Neustadts began collecting when they were furnishing their first home in 1935, when Tiffany lamps were out of fashion. Their first purchase, which featured a Daffodil shade made around 1905, cost only $12.50. Today that same lamp might be worth between $35,000 and $60,000.
The two pairs of lamps shown here were purchased by the Neustadts. The ones with their original bases are a style known as "Grape" library lamps; the examples of shades alone are a popular version of Tiffany’s celebrated "Dragonfly" design. All four are marked "Tiffany Studios," but only two are authentic.
One of the ways that experts distinguish between genuine and fake Tiffany lampshades is through the types and colors of the glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany operated his own glassmaking factory in Corona, Queens, New York, but also purchased glass from other companies. The shades made by Tiffany Studios contain an extraordinary array of complex multicolored, textured, and patterned glass made by hand (each sheet is unique) as well as glass "jewels" that were formed in molds. The skill in soldering, the quality of the casting of the bronze bases, and the color of the surface patina are also important factors to consider.
Recent X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis suggests that some genuine Tiffany glass is leadbased, with most colors containing both lead and arsenic. Such analysis also enables scientists to distinguish authentic from fake through the elements found in the solder that joins the pieces of glass. The solder in genuine Tiffany lamps is composed of a lead/tin alloy and also contains arsenic; the solder used to create the fakes is a zinc/tin alloy.
Scientists can also distinguish between genuine and fake Tiffany lamp bases using XRF. Genuine examples are generally made from a copper/zinc/tin/bronze alloy; some fake lamp bases are a copper/tin/bronze alloy.
On September 2, 2016, Winterthur scientists analyzed these lampshades at the Neustadt Collection with a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Tiffany glass has been analyzed by others, but this recent work has identified characteristic differences in the solder and lamp bases for the first time.
Both connoisseurship and scientific analysis aid in distinguishing the genuine "Grape" library lamp from the fake. The "Dragonfly" lampshade on the left has been exhibited and published as authentic for many years, but recent analysis has identified it as an excellent fake. The "Dragonfly" lampshade on the right has long been thought to be problematic. Recent analysis, however, has shown it to be authentic.
Dubravka, Jembrih, Manfred Schreiner, Momtchil Peev, Peter Krejsa, and Christian Clausen. “Identification and Classification of Iridescent Glass Artifacts with XRF and SEM/EDX.” Mikrochimica Acta 133 (2000): 151−57.
Parrott, Lindsy Riepma. “Sheets and Shards, Gems and Jewels: The Glass Archive of The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass.” Journal of Glass Studies 51 (2009): 161−75.