Between 1895 and 1915, a huge variety of mosaic glass lamps came out of New York and Chicago to satisfy a growing demand for stylish lighting designs. While Tiffany Studios set the industry standard, other companies produced excellent designs as well.
Companies such as Duffner & Kimberly and Gorham, aspired to make lamps of a quality on par with Tiffany Studios, and created styles that appealed more to the Victorian taste that, though on its way out, was still the prevailing preference of the American middle and upper middle class. Some companies, like Wilkinson, made high quality bases, and took short cuts with their shades. Others, like Unique, focused on creating complex shades and paired them with simpler bases. Many copied Tiffany’s Art Nouveau designs – in some cases almost to the letter – and many copied each other.
5 tips for looking at mosaic glass lamps
Learning how to spot the best lamps could easily take years of study, since many pieces are not signed and the differences are often subtle between a quality lamp from this period and a modern reproduction. You also have to keep an eye out for “made-up” lamps, which are composed of both old and new parts. However, a few tips can help you start to recognize quality lamps.
1. Look for hairline cracks in the glass.
It is not unusual for hairline cracks to appear in the panes of old mosaic glass shades. This is the natural result of the glass expanding and contracting as it heats and cools when the lamp is turned on and off. In fact, a lamp that doesn’t have any “stress” or “heat” cracks may be of more recent construction.
2. Pay attention to glass color.
Look at the colors of the glass; are they subtle, gaudy, bright, or soft? Overall, the colors should match in tone and intensity. If the shade has a “Crayola crayon” look to it – with overly bright, gaudy, or clashing colors – it could be of more recent construction, or have some replaced panes.
3. Pick up the base and feel the weight.
Although the quality of workmanship and materials can vary greatly on these lamps, the best lamp bases are well-cast and heavy. Finer lamps will have cast brass or bronze finials, and bronze bases.
4. Step back and gauge the overall design.
The shade and base should not only fit together properly, but there should be an overall sense of balance between all the design elements, from the finial to the base plate. The shades should have some complex elements of design or thoughtful use of color.
5. Talk to a reputable dealer, appraiser, or auction house.
A reputable dealer or auction house will be familiar with these lamps and their attributes and will be happy to help you identify a lamp you own, or learn how to shop for a high quality antique mosaic glass lamp for your home.
The auction previews for the June 22, 2013 Skinner 20th Century Design auction in Boston offer an excellent opportunity to stop by and see a wide variety of examples of early 20th Century art glass lamps up close. Experts will be on hand to answer any questions you have about the pieces.
Antique Tiffany lamps remain the golden standard of mosaic glass lighting. However, that fact shouldn’t stop us from appreciating the well-designed, hand crafted, beautiful, and very collectable antique mosaic lamps by a wide variety of makers. All mosaic lamps are part of the fascinating story of early 20th century design in a newly electrified America.
Mosaic Shades Volume II by Paul Crist (Paul Crist Studios, Santa Fe Springs, California, 2005)