Developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), Favrile glass is an iridescent art glass which was used to make a variety of decorative objects and architectural glass installations at the turn of the 20th century. Here, we give some background on how this unique material was first discovered and dive into past examples at auction and the current market for Favrile glass.
What is Favrile Glass?
The name “Favrile” derives its’ origins from the Old English word for ‘hand made’, “Frabrile”. The technique of embedding coloring within glass itself, resulting in the distinctive hues Favrile glass is known for, sets it apart from other types of iridescent glass.
Inspired by medieval stained-glass in London during his time there in the 1860s, Louis Comfort Tiffany felt he could improve on the quality of contemporary glass. He started his own experiments with stained glass in 1875, before establishing a glass making factory in Corona, Queens in NY. By 1892, he had established the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company with a team of highly skilled designers and craftspeople. Soon after in 1894, he patented Favrile glass before winning the grand prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition. As such, Tiffany cemented his reputation globally as one of the most influential figures in the Art Nouveau style, drawing worldwide recognition for his innovations within glassmaking.
Following 1900, Tiffany’s firm was rebranded as ‘Tiffany Studios’, at which point he diversified into decorative lamps, jewelry, pottery and bibelots. Following his success with smaller decorative objects, Tiffany further increased his company’s fame by carrying out commissions for large stained-glass Favrile pieces. Perhaps most significant was the ‘Dream Garden’, commissioned in 1916 by the Curstis Publishing Company for their headquarters in Philadelphia and designed by Maxfield Parrish. Another notable commission was by US President Chester A. Arthur for the redecoration of the reception rooms at the White House, for which Tiffany designed the great stained-glass screen in the entrance hall.
What Makes Favrile Glass so Special: Technique and Examples
During Tiffany’s early experimentations in Favrile glass, he discovered that treating molten glass with metallic oxides would increase absorption and create a luxurious, iridescent surface effect. In making such a discovery, Tiffany elevated the science of glassmaking to an art form.
This opalescent glass or ‘American glass’ was a radical innovation from the commonly used ‘pot metal’, which was monochrome and translucent. These were often painted over with enamels to enstill a more vibrant effect. In stark contrast, Tiffany’s glass was inherently more intricate in terms of color and surface. Favrile glass was most admired for its flowing shapes derived from naturalistic forms and its lustrous surface. With his team of skillful artisans, Tiffany could recreate these natural motifs, such as foliage and water, akin to a painting.
There were a multitude of techniques used to create Tiffany glass, including mold casting and surface manipulation. In order to achieve drapery effect glass, hand tools were used by artisans to move and twist molten glass. Combining colors was also a specialist technique and the results included streaky or striated glass, as well as confetti glass, created by pouring molten glass on top of existing pieces of colored glass.
The creative process for the renowned leaded-glass Tiffany lamps always began with a color sketch, from which the design would be transferred onto a plaster before being assessed as a three-dimensional object. This would allow artisans to assemble each individual piece of glass onto the mold to create the final leaded-glass shade.
Within this process, the copper-foil technique was essential in the assembly of glass pieces. This technique involved wrapping the edges of glass pieces with a thin copper foil before they were laid out and soldered together. They were then treated with beeswax and muriatic acid which allowed the foil to seal the glass, as well as ensure the solder bonded to the foil. The rest of the lamp, including the stand, would be fashioned out of brass, which was more resilient than other materials used at the time.
These lampshades were mostly designed and produced within the ‘Women’s Glass Cutting Department’, which Tiffany established in 1892, a pioneering move at the time. Starting with six employees, within five years, the department expanded to fifty all female employees.
How to Authenticate Favrile Glass Marks
In terms of authentication, there are particular marks one can look for, which are highlighted in the list below. Yet since these marks were originally hand inscribed, they do vary significantly from piece to piece and across different eras, which has unfortunately made counterfeiting easier. It is therefore useful to keep in mind the original colors and styles used by Tiffany, so one can learn to identify genuine Favrile glass pieces.
- L.C. Tiffany Favrile Mark with Paper Label: Perhaps the hardest to authenticate as paper labels can easily be reproduced and added to some non-Tiffany wares. Here, it is best to evaluate the piece based on the color, style and any other marks present.
- L.C. Tiffany Favrile Mark: This is another version of the L.C. Tiffany Favrile mark, in which the lettering can vary slightly from mark to mark.
- Louis C. Tiffany Mark: This type of etching can easily be reproduced, therefore, it’s crucial to look for other signs of authenticity.
- L.C.T. Favrile Mark: Occasionally, you may find the combination of L.C.T. initials with the word Favrile.
- L.C.T. Mark: Another variation of the L.C.T. mark, which stands for Louis Comfort Tiffany.
- Louis C. Tiffany Furnaces Inc. Mark: In 1920, Tiffany’s glass making studios became Louis C. Tiffany Furnaces, Inc. If numbers are included in the mark, they do not necessarily indicate a model or style number.
The Current Market for Favrile Glass
Due to the rare nature of some Tiffany Favrile pieces, particularly table and ceiling lamps, they can often fetch substantial prices at auction but will hold their value as a key part of American design history. However, smaller ceramic pieces such as vases and bowls are often much more attainable, realizing around $1,000 at auction.