Tiffany Reproduction Shades - Copper Foil CopiesBy Mark Chervenka
Tiffany Reproduction Shades - Copper Foil Copies
Copper foil copies of vintage Tiffany lamp shades have been imported from China. The first shade to appear was a pattern commonly referred to as "Acorn" by collectors, but listed in original Tiffany literature as Vine Border or Vine Leaf.
New shades in that pattern are available in three sizes: 8-inch; 12-inch (Figs. 1-2); and 16-inch (Fig. 3). Wholesale prices for the shades were $29, $49 and $79 respectively.
Unlike previous shade reproductions which were primarily made with lead came, this latest group is made in the copper foil technique like vintage shades. The improved quality of these latest reproductions in original patterns are sure to cause confusion when they drift into the antiques market. We'll discuss the main differences between new and old copper foil shades.
Evaluating Leaded Shades
The most important first step in evaluating leaded shades offered as vintage originals is to discount all marks and signatures. There are many bases in the market today with forged Tiffany markings. Fake marks may be on new bases as well as applied to genuinely old bases from other manufacturers. Forged Tiffany marks on new and old leaded shades are also common. Original Tiffany shades are marked with a metal tag soldered into the bottom rim on the inside of the shade. But since many originals are unmarked, a mark alone is not a reliable test of age or authenticity.
Neither is glass quality alone a good single test of authenticity. Although many new shades use obviously modern glass, many new glass formulas are coming closer to the appearance of vintage glass. Further, some original glass is still available. In 1897, Tiffany had between 200 and 300 tons of sheet glass in stock. Part of this enormous stock survives in small obscure glass shops through the present day. The best test of authenticity is a thorough inspection of the construction of the entire shade.
For example, the new Acorn or Vine shades can be immediately identified as new because of the additional hardware permanently attached to the tops of the shades. New shades have either a 3¼-inch fitter collar or a heat cap permanently attached to the top. Original general production Tiffany leaded shades never have a permanently attached fitter collar or heat cap. Original shades–whether for a hanging fixture, table lamp or floor lamp–are attached with two pieces, an aperture ring and heat cap (see diagram in Fig. 4). Original aperture rings and heat caps are clamped to the shade with a threaded connection, not permanently attached with solder.
When Tiffany leaded shades were introduced in the late 1880s, most home lighting was with kerosene or gas. It was still necessary for chimneys to pass through shades (Fig. 5) Permanently attaching a heat cap to a shade serves no logical or practical purpose. The advantage, of course, of the new permanently attached fitter collars and heat caps is that they make the new shades ready for instant use. New heat caps are drilled to accept 3/8-inch threaded rods (1/8 IP), a standard size already fitted to most lamp bases. The new 3¼-inch fitter collar is one of the most common shade sizes fitting a wide variety of existing new and old fixtures.
Although new copper foil shades in this article are made with the same basic technique as vintage copper foil shades, new shades are easy to detect due to their poor quality. This is probably most obvious in problems with the lines of leading covering the joints between pieces of glass.
Since each new shade is made by hand, the number of mistakes varies from shade to shade according to the skill of the worker. But at least some of the joints in each new shade are misaligned, sometimes with a great many bad joints. The cause of the bad joints is improper cutting of the glass pieces that form the pattern. Cutting just one piece larger or smaller than required will throw the entire pattern off. The only way to correct these early mistakes is to cut another piece slightly larger or smaller to compensate for the first mistake.
Keep in mind, though, that the leading is just the symptom of the problem. Leading can only follow the foil wrapping the glass. Irregular lines of leading aren't caused by a shaky hand applying solder. Irregular lines of lead are the result of poorly cut and wrapped glass.
Another factor influencing the quality of leading is how carefully the pieces of glass are wrapped. Foil on pieces of vintage glass extends in an almost perfectly even margin on front and back side of the glass. This creates a joint of even consistent width. Many new pieces wrapped in foil will have noticeably more foil exposed on one side than the other. This creates uneven joints which expose different areas of glass on the front and back sides.
The tips and suggestions in this article apply to leaded shades, not windows. The shades discussed include only a particular batch of copper foil pieces made in China. Some new high quality American copper foil shades are much closer to vintage shades and more difficult to detect.
One indication of overall quality of a leaded glass shade is usually the cross section of its leading. Leading in this case refers to the additional solder applied to copper foil joint beyond the solder necessary to hold the joint together.
Generally, the best leading, like that on original Tiffany shades, is fully rounded on both sides of the shade. If you visualize what the joint would look like cut in half, you would see nearly semicircles of lead on top of the joint (C).
Leading created by less skilled workers and factories that wanted to save costs in time and material frequently skimped on additional leading. Sometimes the appearance of quality work is created by rounding the leading on the outside of the shade only leaving the leading on the less noticeable inside surface flat (B). The lowest cost approach is leaving the leading flat on both inside and outside (A).
Although leading profiles can't be used as your only test of age, it is a relatively good test of overall quality.