Tiffany - Part I
I was working with an auction gallery crew, cleaning out the contents of a ramshackle lakeside cottage, when we found a Civil War period sword under a bed. I pulled it from its "scabbard," cleaned the grungy tarnish off the "hilt" and found it to be made of silver - a valuable surprise. This was undoubtedly a presentation sword. I took a rag and cleaned the blade. Under the dirt was the name Tiffany & Co. I remember my surprise. I didn't realize Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1943) produced swords for the Army.
He didn't. Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812-1902), Louis' father, moved to New York city in 1837 and opened up a fancy goods store with a partner. In 1847, the firm began manufacturing gold and jewelry and soon after was reorganized as Tiffany & Co. At the beginning of the Civil War, Charles turned most of his capital to the manufacture of swords, medals, and other materials, which he sold for considerable profit to the Union, making him wealthy. In 1868, the company established branches in London and Geneva. In addition to producing fine silver, the firm made a specialty of importing historic gems, jewelry, and art works. In 1887, the great businessman, Charles Tiffany, even bought some of the crown jewels of France.
To his father's dismay, Louis Comfort took little interest in business, wanting instead to be an artist. He rejected formal education. In 1865, at only 17 years of age, Louis set sail from New York on the first of several trips to study in Europe. He would be strongly influenced by the naturalistic design and hand-craftsmanship ideals of Arts & Crafts movement leaders William Morris and John Ruskin. A few years later, in Nancy, France, Tiffany would be introduced to his Emile Galle, who was producing decorative "Art Nouveau" glass. This was the element that would make the son even more famous than his father.
Louis Comfort Tiffany was a successful painter by the age of thirty and became the youngest member of the prestigious National Academy of Design. (Insider's Tip - N.A.D. initials following an artist's signature is a sign of quality and good potential value!) In 1875, already one of the first professional decorators, he founded Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists that soon employed over a hundred skilled artisans coordinating furniture, wallpaper, tapestries, carpets, and light fittings, for wealthy patrons-most newly rich industrialists. In 1879, Tiffany was painting a frieze of fruit on the wall of New York drug merchant George Kemp. When the decoration was interrupted by transoms over two doors, the decorator made panels of colored leaded glass that continued the theme. It was a striking design. Soon, Tiffany was incorporating his stained-glass picture windows into his designs for homes, cathedrals, and important public buildings. In 1883, he and his associates were invited by Chester Arthur to redecorate the White House. Unfortunately, many of these interior designs have been demolished.
While decorating New York's Lyceum Theater in 1885, Tiffany met an inventor named Thomas A. Edison who was installing the first electric footlights ever used for stage. Tiffany immediately foresaw what Thomas Edison's light could do for his 1880 patented "Favrile" iridescent picture glass. It would set it on fire. Tiffany acquired a bronze foundry and began making candlesticks and bases for portable lamps. In 1898, he introduced the first lamp that combined a metal standard with his famous leaded glass shade. By this time, L.C. Tiffany had already begun to design his line of free-blown glass vases that would transcend the Nouveau style and establish the merchant's son as the greatest American artist of the period.