Tiffany-style Scarabs - Lamps, Jewels, PaperweightsBy Mark Chervenka
Tiffany-style Scarabs - Lamps, Jewels, Paperweights
Scarab beetles have been a symbol of good fortune and long life since the time of ancient Egypt. The use of scarabs, dragonflies and other insects was revived during the Art Nouveau period which took its subjects and themes from nature. All the important designers of Art Nouveau glass - such as Emile Galle, Rene Lalique and Louis C. Tiffany--used insects in their work but Tiffany's three dimensional iridescent glass scarabs are probably the most well known. There are many look-alike Tiffany scarabs are now on the market.
Original Tiffany glass scarabs, which were sold as "beetles" in Tiffany catalogs and sales literature, were pressed in molds at the Tiffany glass shop in Corona, New York. Most scarabs are thought to date from 1892 when the Corona furnaces were established but some scarabs may also have been made experimentally at the Heidt glass works in Brooklyn during the 1870s. All Tiffany scarabs have the highly iridescent finish which Tiffany referred to by the trade name "Favrile" or "Favrile Glass".
Scarabs of various sizes were originally used as accents or so-called "jewels" on lamps and sometimes with pottery and metal wares. These small scarab jewels were mass produced in molds that made several sizes at each pressing. The molds were circular in shape and produced a flat sheet which held the individual beetles. After the sheet cooled, the scarabs were cut out, trimmed and used as needed (see Fig. 3).
The biggest use of the small jewels was in 18 karat gold jewelry made by Tiffany and Company (the jewelry firm, not the glass company). Glass scarabs were set like precious stones in stickpins, studs, cuff links, necklaces and a variety of other mountings.
A 1911 Tiffany and Company catalog calls the scarab line "Tiffany Favrile Beetle Jewelry" and features various pieces priced from $2.50 to $250. All original Tiffany scarab jewelry is gold mounted and will be marked "Tiffany and Company". In the 1970s, some beetles from old inventory were set in new sterling mountings. The new sterling mountings were marked only "sterling." All sterling silver, especially pieces marked sterling only, should be considered suspect.
In addition to the small scarab beetles, Tiffany also made a larger five inch scarab. A solid 5" scarab was sold as a paperweight and a hollow 5" scarab was used for lamp shades. The scarab shape was also used to make handles for pressed glass wax sealers. The small glass scarabs were never marked or signed on the glass itself; paperweights and shades carry various Tiffany and Favrile etched and engraved marks.
The new iridescent scarabs have been made in the following shapes and sizes:
5" solid paperweight
5" lamp shade (with custom bronze base)
1 1/2" jewel
The small scarab jewels were made the same way as the originals--different sizes were pressed at the same time and then cut from a sheet (Fig. 3). You could order new pieces directly from the flat sheets or you could have the sheet ground away for a slightly higher price. Small beetles were priced 50 cents for green glass with blue iridescence or 75 cents each for amber glass with gold iridescence. These small scarabs were generally well made overall and look similar to originals. Differences between new and old are mainly in the base glass and iridescence, neither of which, unfortunately, shows up in photographs.
The base glass in the new scarab jewels is thinly colored and very nearly transparent. Looking at the new pieces through the bottom and held up to a light, you can easily see all the molded details on the opposite side. Old pieces generally appear more solid; they are less transparent, some being nearly opaque, and are not as easily seen through. This is due partly to the glass and partly to the iridescence.
Iridescence on the new is thinner than the old and doesn't cover the entire surface. This means more light is coming through the top and no iridescence blocks your view through the bottom. The iridescence on the new appears brighter and shinier than the old and has an almost mirror-like luster. Iridescence on originals is a softer, almost satin finish and usually appears to have greater depth than the new.
The only small scarab jewels known to have been reproduced are in the sizes, colors and body shapes described above so be particularly cautious of those listed. The chances of finding these small new scarabs "loose" is probably slim. They are more likely to appear "made up" into some kind of finished piece - such as a hatpin, pendant, ring, stickpin, leaded shade, etc. Keep in mind that original scarab jewels were essentially mass produced in molds and many variations among genuine originals probably exists. Be cautious, but don't base your test of age on just one factor, consider the whole piece.
In addition to the small jewels, original Tiffany scarabs were also made as 5" solid paperweights; this shape is also reproduced (Fig. 4). The reproduction paperweight is made in green glass with blue iridescence and amber glass with gold iridescence. New pieces are cast in a mold that was taken from an original and have shrunk slightly in size: old pieces are about 5", new pieces are about 4 3/4". Old pieces generally show more detail than new but this is not always apparent - the amount and depth of iridescence affects how sharply details appear.
As in the case of the new small jewels, the iridescence on these larger new pieces is very shiny and has a mirror-like luster rather than the satin finish of the old. The overall surface of the new pieces have a grainy, pitted look except for the bottoms. The bottoms of the blue pieces have a nearly perfectly smooth mirror-like luster; the gold pieces have a somewhat coarser finish but show virtually no iridescence on the bottom. Original pieces are very nearly the same all over. The new pieces also suffer from casting flaws that show up as creases and folds in the glass surface; originals show much more attention to details and quality and are nearly flawless.
The same mold used to make the new solid paperweight is also used to produce a hollow scarab lamp shade. Shades are mounted in a specially shaped oval rim atop two brass arms in a new bronze base. Shades are available in the same combinations as the paperweights and jewels - blue iridescence on green glass and gold iridescence on amber glass.
The glass in the new shades has the same characteristics discussed above - a shiny, bright gleam to the iridescence which fades into a mirror-like luster plus casting flaws. Looking from the inside out, all the molded details are visible on the other side. The base glass, although colored, is nearly transparent.
New and old lamp bases look different setting side by side but the differences may not be so obvious when seen alone. First, most all original bases for the scarab lamp were marked with a monogram rarely used on Tiffany lamps - the letters "TGD and Co." standing for "Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company". If the base is not marked, it should be examined very carefully.
Other differences include the feet - the original base is on ball feet; new bases have a flat bottom without feet. Arms of the original base join in a ball connector; arms of the new base join in a "Y" shape. The rim holding the shade on the new lamp has four large set screws visible on the outside of the rim; the old rims do not. The new rim and shades have a loose, irregular fit; the old shades and rims fit together with virtually no gaps.
The new items shown in this article are made by Chicago Art Glass & Jewel, Inc., which is primarily a supplier of glass and accessories to custom glass shops. The company marks most, but not all, of the paperweights by scribing the initials "CAG & J" and dates them with the year of production (Fig. 5). The new jewels and lamps are unmarked.