A Look Inside the Labor-Intensive Process of Making a Tiffany-Style Lamp

What do Tiffany lamps have in com­mon with Kleenex?

A brand name so mighty, it’s become an umbrel­la term.

Of course, Kleenex is still man­u­fac­tur­ing tis­sues, where­as authen­tic lamps from Louis Com­fort Tiffany’s New York stu­dio were pro­duced between 1890 and 1930.

Hand­craft­ed of coiled bronze wire and many pieces of blown favrile glass arranged in intri­cate nat­ur­al motifs, bonafide Tiffany lamps can fetch prices of over a mil­lion dol­lars.

The “Tiffany lamps” for sale on Way­fair?

Not the gen­uine arti­cle.

Still, if the one on your end table brings you plea­sure, who are we to get snip­py about it?

There’s plen­ty of that atti­tude to be found in the YouTube com­ments for the above process video …

To be clear, what you’re see­ing is the process by which an afford­able col­ored glass lamp­shade in the style of Tiffany comes togeth­er at an over­seas fac­to­ry.

The qual­i­ty may be lack­ing, but it’s still a pret­ty labor-inten­sive propo­si­tion.

First, the pieces are cut by hand or using blades mount­ed on met­al arms. Their shapes and num­ber are pre­de­ter­mined by a pattern…again in the style of Tiffany.

You won’t find the speck­led con­fet­ti glass or gold­en hued glass with a translu­cent amber sheen that are defin­ing fea­tures of the real McCoy here…

Once the pieces have been cut and sort­ed, their edges are wrapped in cop­per foil tape. (In Tiffany’s day this would have involved hand cut­ting strips of cop­per, then smear­ing them with beeswax to help them to adhere to the glass.)

The wrapped pieces are then laid out in a mold accord­ing to the pat­tern and sol­dered togeth­er.

The bot­tom edge is rein­forced, and the shade is fit­ted onto a lamp base.

If you’re a muse­um cura­tor, a con­nois­seur of the gen­uine arti­cle or a glazier, we don’t fault you for get­ting a bit salty.

(Our favorite com­ment: Oh the human­i­ty. I used to be a glazier. I could­n’t fin­ish watch­ing the video. The way they cut the glass dry and slide it around with­out felt on the table makes me cringe. You can hear the crin­kling sound of glass par­ti­cles under it when it’s being slid around. The small­est con­toured cuts and breaks are so rough they’re prac­ti­cal­ly gnawed. If clear glass was han­dled this way every win­dow would have deep scratch­es and would prob­a­bly self destruct from ther­mal cycling or a strong breeze.)

If you’re sus­cep­ti­ble to ASMR, enjoy your tin­gles — all those crin­kling sounds of glass par­ti­cles!

If you’re some­one who’s insa­tiably curi­ous as to how ordi­nary things are made, we hope you’ll con­sid­er the twelve min­utes of this Process Dis­cov­ery video time well spent, and no less inter­est­ing than their non-nar­ra­tive peeks into the man­u­fac­ture of bub­ble mail­ers, snow globes and swim gog­gles

We leave you with a brief tour of the “real thing”, cour­tesy of the New York His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety:

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent



– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Ann says:

    For a great look at the women who made the real Tiffany lamps, check out the nov­el “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vree­land. Based on the let­ters one of the work­ers wrote home to her fam­i­ly in Ohio.

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