Process and Materials
Tiffany embarked on the commercial production of lamps in the 1890s. His earliest lamps, made of blown glass or leaded-glass and bronze, were fueled by kerosene (oil). As electric light became affordable and gained popularity, Tiffany began offering his clients the choice of either oil or electric lamps.
Tiffany lamps were available in many different sizes and styles. It is estimated that thousands of lamps, in countless designs, were produced in Tiffany’s workshops. Although multiples of most lampshade designs were created, each one was made unique through the selection of glass. In order to make the lamps even more individual, the majority of Tiffany shades and bases were interchangeable, allowing them to be customized to fit a client’s tastes and needs.
Tiffany was deeply inspired by nature and many of his best lamps replicate the exquisite colors and fine details of flowers and plants. He poured tremendous amounts of time and money into developing colored and textured glass enabling his craftsmen to achieve naturalistic effects without painted detail. The glass from this experimentation yielded a boundless palette: streaky glass emulates woody branches and color modulations in leaves and blossoms; rippled glass suggests water and approximates thick flower petals; mottled glass mimics sun-dappled foliage and lends a three dimensionality to blossoms and fruit.
Lampshades were assembled on a wooden mold inscribed with the design of the shade. Brass patterns were made as guides for cutting the individual pieces of glass, which were selected from a larger sheet. Each cut piece was wrapped in a thin strip of copper foil and placed on the mold. The copper-foiled edges were then soldered together. The shape of the wooden mold determined the shape of the lampshade.