Genuine or fake? How to spot a real Tiffany lamp

Tiffany lamps hanging from the ceiling light

Who loves Tiffany lamps? These extravagantly decorative lighting products have their origins in the Art Nouveau movement and are highly collectable items. In the style of Louis Comfort Tiffany, stained-glass lamps, shades and window panels were carefully hand crafted by Tiffany and Company. The hand-crafted shades were made of small pieces of coloured glass soldered together. Genuine Tiffany lamps – those made between 1890 and 1930 – can cost upwards of several thousand pounds.

Today, replica Tiffany style lamps are mass-produced in China, Vietnam and India and it’s become very difficult to spot an authentic Tiffany lamp from these newer ‘imposters’. Modern production techniques involve individual glass pieces being cut from large sheets of stained-glass, using industrial water-jet machines. The pieces are then assembled by hand by trained factory workers – that’s why they can refer to their lamps as being ‘handcrafted’, even though they are not unique in design.

So, how do you know if you’re buying a real one?

First off, a couple of old adages should come in useful here: ‘You get what you pay for’ and ‘If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true.’ Let’s just say that if you’re offered a ‘genuine’ Tiffany lamp for under, say, £200, it’s safe to assume that you’re definitely not getting a genuine Tiffany lamp.

If you’re in the market for an original Tiffany lamp, there are some characteristics you can look for to help you recognise whether or not it’s the real deal.

Check the lamp base

  • Lift the base cap and look inside for a grey metal ring. Nearly all original Tiffany lamps were made with a heavy ring of lead inside the hollow bronze base, although in some cases, mosaic bases were used. Keep an eye out for zinc, brass, white metal, wood or plastic bases – these are common in fake reproductions.
  • Look for a patina on the bronze base – this is a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period. These small colour changes caused by age may indicate the lamp is genuine. But beware, because this doesn’t guarantee it, as some forgery makers add a fake patina.
  • You should also inspect the knobs on the base. Original Tiffany lamps usually have a turn-paddle knob to operate the lamp, although some have a pull-chain instead.
  • You will also notice that the bases of most of the mass produced, fake ‘Tiffany-style’ lamps are shoddy and the materials used are inferior. Many have hard plastic or resin bases, while others are made using cheap metals like zinc. The base of a real Tiffany Lamp has quality written all over it, so if you’re checking to see if a lamp is genuine or not, first closely examine the workmanship of the base.
  • Be careful with stamps or signatures on lamps as a sign of their authenticity. Tiffany’s marking system, cut or etched into the base of the lamp, changed over the years and is easy to copy.

Check the glass shade

  • The lampshades of real Tiffany lamps should be globe or cone shaped. Fake reproductions have a rigid form, whereas an original lamp has a looser and more organic shape. Genuine lampshades usually feature botanical designs, although butterflies, spiders, dragonflies, peacock feathers and some geometric patterns can also be found.
  • According to Tiffany lamp experts, if you hold the top of the lampshade and lightly tap on the glass, it should be firm, not loose. It also should not rattle or shift. If it does, this is usually a sign that the lamp is a fake.
  • You should also inspect the glass closely. Tiffany lamps are known for intense, vibrant colours that have a variety of textures. Glass containing specks of colour is known as ‘confetti’ glass, and if you see this, then the lamp is probably an original. If the shade has some golden glass, it should have a translucent amber sheen to it. But if the gold glass has a very pale, translucent gold colour, or a greenish tint, then you’re most likely looking at a fake. And if any other colour of glass has a silvery sheen, the odds are it is not a genuine lamp.
  • Here’s a neat little test you can carry out: Dab a cotton bud in some nail polish remover and gently rub it on the glass. Most forgeries have painted glass panels instead of the Tiffany method of embedding the colour pigments in the glass. If paint has been used, it will rub off on the cotton bud.

Before committing to the purchase of what you think may be a real Tiffany lamp, it’s advisable to get it appraised by an expert who has experience with Tiffany lamps and let him verify if it’s genuine or fake. In addition, ask for a money-back guarantee before you buy the lamp. If the shop refuses to offer you one, it may indicate the lamp is not genuine.

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