Tiffany shades are stained glass lamp shades. The style of shade was originated by Louis Comfort Tiffany of Tiffany Studios during the Art Nouveau style period. The term Tiffany has come to apply to any stained glass shade in a similar style as the originals.
Many mistakenly believe that Tiffany jewelry company produced the famous shades, but that was a different company. Charles Lewis Tiffany, Louis Comfort's father, was the founder of Tiffany and Co in 1837. Tiffany shades and lamps were produced by Tiffany Studios, a completely separate company that is no longer in business.
The first real Tiffany shades were produced around 1895. The highly ornamented shades were an outcropping of Tiffany's interior design studio. As part of the business, Tiffany produced stained glass windows. He used the leftover pieces of glass to create decorative pieces like the shades. These pieces caught on in popularity and became Tiffany's claim to fame.
Although Tiffany is often credited as the creator of stained glass lamp shades, he was not the first to produce stained glass. He popularized and refined the process that had been in existence for centuries. There were many other competing studios of the time including The Duffner and Kimberly Company who produces high quality work as well.
There are seven categories of original Tiffany shades: Irregular Upper Border, Irregular Lower Border, Geometric, Transition to Flowers, Flowered Cone, Flowered Globe and Favrile. The term Favrile is one coined by Tiffany to mean "handmade." He trademarked the term in 1894 and also used it to refer to all of his glass, ceramic, and enamel works.
Since Tiffany was popular during his day, many artists attempted to forge his signature. Although many of the quality knock-offs can fetch a good sum of money, they are not worth nearly as much as an original piece. The fact that Tiffany did not sign much of his work makes it increasingly difficult for a novice to recognize if an article is genuine or not. Many experts even disagree over authenticity. If a consumer believes they have a Tiffany piece, it is best to have a few experts, not just one, look over it to give opinions.
Tiffany Studios closed in 1932, just one year before Louis Comfort died. Real Tiffany shades are extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors. It is very uncommon to find a Tiffany metal works lamp with the original Tiffany shade on it. The rarest lamp and shade combination can sell for upwards of $2 million US Dollars (USD).