Tiffany Lamps: Where Did it all Begin?

tiffany lighting history

Everyone knows a Tiffany lamp when they see one. Even those that don’t carry the Tiffany name are immediately identified and exclusively referred to as ‘Tiffany’. It seems odd, when you think about it, that such a traditionally ‘old fashioned’ style using stained glass and lead could be so consistently popular in our world of contemporary, sleek interior design, and yet it is.

Tiffany lamps are treasured and collected in museums and living rooms alike, filling our rooms with dazzling, dancing coloured light. But where did it all begin? Who is Tiffany and where did he get his inspiration? We take a closer look a the history of Tiffany lamps and why they remain as unwaveringly popular today as they were in the beginning.

Who Created Tiffany Lamps?

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the founder and creator of Tiffany Lamps, and his journey to creating these decorative art icons began in his early 20s. Born in New York City in 1848, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany; the founder of world-famous jewellery retailer, Tiffany & Co. This meant he was surrounded by design and decorative art from a very early age, but it was a collection of Roman glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that sparked an interest and passion for glassmaking while he was in his 20s.

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Glassmaking Style

Despite originally being trained as a painter, Tiffany took this inspiration from the Roman glass collection and founded his very own glass factory in Queens, New York. He simultaneously established an interior design studio named Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists, which he ran alongside the factory.

tiffany lamp

Tiffany’s glassmaking style, however, differed greatly from the other contemporary glassmakers of the time. He was drawn to the rustic nature of ancient glass as opposed to the sleek, smooth style of contemporary glassmaking techniques he was surrounded by. He loved the imperfections of this ancient glass, characterised by rich tones that were, in part, “due to the use of pot metal full of impurities and in part due to the thickness of the glass”, Tiffany said. Glassmakers of that time also abstained from the use of paint, so Tiffany used his glass factory to experiment with different ways to create rich coloured glass without it.

Despite leading a successful career as an interior designer, Tiffany quickly realised that his true love lay in glassmaking. And with this realisation he decided to dissolve Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists and launch his very own glassmaking firm, the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

The Breakthrough: Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company

Established in 1885, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company laid the groundwork for the creation of Tiffany Lamps, with which the company would later become synonymous. It was here that Tiffany was really able to use his inspiration from Ancient Roman glass to experiment with creating coloured glass designs without the use of paint or enamel. Using this inspiration, Tiffany ultimately developed two very important and highly innovative glassmaking styles: Favrile glass and the Copper Foil stained glass technique

Tiffany’s Favrile glass was beautiful and unique, but it was his copper foil technique that really paved the way for his famous Tiffany lamps. Before Louis Comfort Tiffany began experimenting with glassmaking, all stained glass windows were held together using thick lead rods which were soldered at the joints. This method was both durable and secure, but did not allow Tiffany and his team of artisans to create the intricate detailing they desired without the use of paint.

To counter this problem,Tiffany created his very own flexible copper foil that allowed for the discreet joining of glass pieces without the need for thick outlines, paint or overly conspicuous joints. It also allowed for the creation of delicate, intricately curved glass creations that would not be possible without the flexibility of Tiffany’s foil.

Tiffany’s Stained Glass Lamps

tiffany lamp

Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Tiffany Wisteria Table Lamp

By 1902, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company had become Tiffany Studio, and it’s trademark stained glass Tiffany Lamps were coveted by people all over the world. Crafted by a team of over 300 artisans, these intricately designed lamps were typically designed with a bronze stand topped with a stained glass shade, and had become a true icon of the Art Nouveau movement. Some were leaded and some made using Tiffany’s innovative copper foil method, but all showcased an unrivalled attention to detail and a clear love of nature and all its beauty. Designs featuring various depictions of colourful flora and fauna were prevalent, and these designs still dominate the ranges of Tiffany lamps today.

Some Little-Known Facts

Did you know that Louis Comfort Tiffany didn’t actually design the intricate depictions on the glass shades of Tiffany lamps? Not many people know that the genius behind these iconic designs is, in fact, artist Clara Driscoll. This highly talented and celebrated artist and craftswoman was head of the Tiffany Studios Women’s Glass Cutting Department, and lead her team in the selection and cutting of the glass based on Driscoll’s original designs.

tiffany lamps

The Quoizel King Table Lamp and the Quoizel Larissa Table Lamp from the Tiffany Lighting Collection at Moonlight Design

Another little-known gem of information involves the shape and silhouette of the lamps themselves. Just like the nature-inspired designs that adorn the stained glass shades, the shape of the lamps is also intended to pay an homage to the beauty of nature. Many of the most popular Tiffany lamp designs resemble trees, with the detailed bronze bases, stands and shades representing the roots, trunk and canopy. Many of the shades also feature irregularly-shaped or scalloped edging to further resemble things like flower petals, insect wings and other natural forms.

The Fall and Revival of Tiffany Lamps

As with many trends, Tiffany lamps did of course fall out of fashion. By 1913 Tiffany lamps completely disappeared from fashionable homes and the factory even ceased production, pushed away by the rise of Art Moderne and Expressionism. Louis Comfort Tiffany passed away in 1933, and a further two decades passed with Tiffany’s creations largely forgotten. In the 1950s, however, the first Tiffany retrospective show led to the rediscovery of Tiffany lamps by museums and antique collectors. The Art Nouveau show of 1960 further escalated awareness of Tiffany’s creations, and today’s interior trends still treasure and celebrate these intricate and iconic designs.

Are you in love with Tiffany lamps and lighting designs as much as we are? You’ll find a huge range of Tiffany Lighting here at Moonlight design, complete with ceiling lights, wall lights and – of course – those iconic table lamps.

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