Lithophane Lamps from Maxfield Parrish IllustrationsBy Mark Chevenka
Lithophane Lamps from Maxfield Parrish Illustrations
An American lamp wholesaler offered lamps with colored lithophane shades copied from original illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, one of the most popular artists of the 20th century.
Lithophane shades are made of thin white translucent clay cast in molds. Designs are modeled in a high, near three-dimensional relief. This effect is increased when the shades are lighted from behind. Thin areas of the lithophane allow more light to pass than thicker areas creating areas of shadows and highlights greatly increasing the illusion of depth.
When not lighted, lithophane shades appear as a dull off-white. But painting the insides of lithophanes adds soft glowing colors to lighted shades similar to the reverse painted lamps of Handel, Pairpoint and others.
Although no pre-1940 lamps of any style are known with Parrish illustrations, you should be alert for these lithophane shades. Parrish illustrations are so well known that even general line-dealers, mall managers and auctioneers will probably recognize the shade designs as Parrish. Of course, if you look in a reference book on Parrish, you won't see the lamps. They are a fantasy item, an item that never appeared before the new reproduction. This leads many to jump to the (hopeful) conclusion that an item is "rare" or "unlisted."
At least five different Parrish illustrations have been adapted for the lithophane shades. These include full-sized table lamps made from Daybreak, Figs. 1-9 and Enchantment (also known as Cinderella1), Figs. 11-14 Three other illustrations, Ecstasy, Figs. 15-17, and Stars, Figs. 20-22, and Prometheus, not shown, have been made into smaller night lights with lithophane shades.
Other Parrish illustrations are being made as color images fused, or fired, to glass. The glass panels with fused images are used in table and hanging lamps as well as deep frames and sconces for walls and enclosed tabletop lanterns. A selection of these other styles is shown on the next page. Original Parrish illustrations adapted for use on the new fused panels include Ecstasy, The Reservoir, Cinderella, White Birch, Aquamarine, Winter Twilight, The Glen, and Winter.
A nameplate that appears on some of the lamps may also cause confusion. It's a 3-inch stamped brass strip with three lines of raised letters. The top line is, "Meyda Tiffany"; middle, "Inspired by Maxfield Parrish"; and the bottom line is the original title of the Parrish illustration such as Stars or Ecstasy. Meyda Tiffany is the name of a large present-day American lamp manufacturer and wholesaler. There is no connection between Louis Comfort Tiffany's famous glass and lamps made ca. 1880-1925, and Meyda Tiffany. These brass name tags were only glued to our samples and were easily removed. It's possible that name tags removed from the new lithophane lamps could also appear on other fantasy Parrish products.
Although most persons connect Parrish's work to two-dimensional works such as posters, magazine illustrations and other flat images, some of his work did appear as three-dimensional objects. Among the best known are jointed doll-like figures for RCA Radio and General Electric, tins for Old King Cole pipe tobacco and boxes for Crane's Chocolates.
The most frequently found non-print objects with Parrish designs are probably items made for Edison Mazda Electric Lamps. Some might find it tempting to offer the new lamps with Parrish designs as "original" Edison Mazda Lamps. Just keep in mind that "Edison Mazda Lamps" in original Parrish work ca. 1918-1934 refers to a brand name of electric light bulb; not a complete unit of base, socket and shade. The Edison Mazda Lamps name was owned by General Electric which commissioned the works from Parrish. Any representation of Edison Mazda Lamps meaning a completely wired base, shade and socket is not accurate at best, and probably a deliberate misrepresentation at worst.
The same company releasing the new lighting is also selling color paper prints that match illustrations on the lamps. While all the new lighting products can automatically be dismissed as having no old counterparts, there are vintage versions of most new prints. The best way to avoid new prints is to become familiar with two features: 1) original size; and, 2) the original format (i.e. magazine cover, calendar, etc.).
Further reading is needed to become acquainted with various original formats. The image Ecstasy, for example, was never produced as a vintage print or poster. It originally appeared as a 1930 advertising calendar for Edison Mazda Lamps. The authentic collectible versions are either complete calendars as shown in Fig. 19, or calendars cut down and framed when they were issued ca. 1920s-1930s. There are only two sizes of original calendars, 37½-inch tall and 19-inch tall. All modern reproductions of Ecstasy are made as cropped prints with all advertising removed.
If you don't have access to Parrish reference books or don't want to buy the books, you might want to consider using a black light. Virtually all new mass produced Parrish prints made on paper since the 1960s fluoresce brightly under long wave black light2. Do-it-yourself forgers who reproduce Parrish illustrations on their home and office inkjet and laser printers can also be detected by black light. All the laser and inkjet papers fluoresce as well as many of the inks. Pre-1940 vintage papers and printing inks in Parrish prints do not fluoresce. But not all forgeries appear only on paper. Inkjets and lasers can print on many mediums including canvas and parchments (Fig. 26). Black light will also detect most of those new materials.