A Closer Look Into the World of Tiffany Studios Part 3

Again, please welcome Brittany Spencer-King as she shares with us the final section of her findings from her research on Tiffany desk sets. She recently completed her Master of Arts with a Concentration in the History of Decorative Arts at George Mason University. This is Part Three of a three part series. Part One can be read here. Part Two can be read here.

From the Desk of Brittany Spencer-King

By the time Tiffany Studios began to market its goods in the late-nineteenth century, print publicity had changed dramatically. Advertisements had prominent illustrations, large headlines, and ample white space, all of which was intended to attract the eye of the consumer to the highlighted product. A shift in the way marketing functioned also occurred: for the first time in advertising history, ads were intended to persuade the consumer to buy objects that they really had no need for but desired all the same. This new style of advertising was meant to sell products that no one wanted or possibly even needed until they saw the advertisements. The idea of the consumer was central to Tiffany Studios’ ads because they were in the business of making luxury goods for people with expendable incomes.

Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements

Tiffany used any opportunity he could to bring attention to his wares and his artistic achievements, including displaying his goods at several World’s Fairs in both Europe and the United States. Tiffany entered and received awards for his goods, at both the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The acclaim he received for his artwork brought a lot of attention from the public and the press when he returned to New York. Tiffany used this press as a way to promote his artwork by mentioning his success in his advertising and other articles about his firm. For many exhibitors, including Tiffany, the world’s fairs were a chance to show off their greatest achievements and garner attention from the public. Tiffany used any such opportunity to its fullest by featuring editorial praise in his advertisements in order to further promote his work and goods. Although desk sets were not displayed at the world’s fairs, they were displayed outside of Tiffany Studios’ showroom. The most notable example was the Wild Carrot inkstand designed by Clara Driscoll, which was displayed at Grafton Galleries in London.

Holidays provided an excellent opportunity for Tiffany Studios to conduct focused marketing campaigns. Glassware and fancy goods were often advertised as the perfect Easter or Christmas gift for a family member or friend. They especially made excellent gifts for the notoriously hard-to-buy-for Victorian businessman who seemed to own everything. For example, an advertisement from 1905 (Photo 1), presents the desk sets as “distinctive Easter gift of chaste design and lasting utility ordinarily difficult to find.” These objects were portrayed as unique gifts not only because they were Tiffany products but also because they were high quality. The advertisement then continues, “[They] may be selected without trouble from the collection of Tiffany productions in Bronze Desk Sets and Library Table Objects, Bronze Lamps and Favrile Vases.” The collection being referenced in this line is most likely the large assortment of desk sets patterns displayed at the showrooms, which can be seen in this image from a Tiffany brochure. Holidays were a time when people were already buying gifts. These ads were meant to influence the readers to purchase Tiffany Studios’ objects over other retailers. Highlighting the variety of products just further solidified that any person’s taste could be met.

Tiffany Studios also marketed their wares in magazines, which had a more specific targeted audience than newspapers such as interior design or poetry. These ads allowed Tiffany Studios was able to market their goods to people who might have more interest in their goods than the general public. For example, desk sets were listed in an advertisement (Photo 2) from a 1903 lifestyle magazine for the wealthier classes – Town and Country. By placing Tiffany Studios’ goods in the magazine along with other lifestyle information it was framing them as fashionable and artistic objects perfect for the fashionable elite. Interestingly, this ad also features Tiffany Studios’ products as perfect gifts, illustrating how some tactics also crossed publications in order to target consumers.

Other Marketing Strategies

Numerous Tiffany Studios newspaper advertisements include a line at the bottom urging readers to request a booklet or pamphlet on Tiffany Studios goods. These booklets, some exclusively on desk sets, were used to sell desk sets to customers outside of the store, much in the same way that mail-order catalogues function. In one booklet titled “Suggestion for Gifts,” three out of the four text pages are devoted to desk sets. This pamphlet illustrates the desk sets carefully displayed on a desk (Photo 3). Next to the picture the text reads, “Tiffany desk sets are executed in solid bronze, finished in dark green, brown or rich gold. Booklet on desk sets will be sent on request.” The suggestion of desk sets as a gift had already been promoted in Tiffany Studios’ newspaper and magazine advertisements, but this booklet emphasized the point that these objects were perfect gifts because, in addition to being fashionable and well made, the gift giver could select the accessory or accessories that best fit their price point.

Perhaps the most compelling marketing ploy Tiffany Studios used was selling the desk pieces individually. This ensured the customer would keep coming back into the store on a regular basis to purchase additional articles in the set. Also, for some desk sets, Tiffany Studios almost certainly expanded the line by introducing new accessories that were released later than the original pieces. Although it is unclear which pieces were released later than others, this tactic brought clients back into the store to purchase the new accessory. By selling the desk sets in this manner, Tiffany Studios was potentially able to keep a customer purchasing pieces for an extended period of time, which was different from the other single statement pieces that Tiffany Studios sold. Selling the desk set accessories individually also allowed for people to customize their desk set based on their needs as well as their tastes.

Tiffany Desk Sets Today

Today, Tiffany Studios’ desk sets are still appreciated for their arresting designs and fine craftsmanship. They have become collector’s items partially because they encapsulate Tiffany’s design aesthetic and have remained relatively affordable. They are highly sought after by a number of devoted individuals including President George H. W. Bush, who proudly displayed a Zodiac set on his desk in the oval office (Photo 4). In the academic world, many scholars rush over the details and plethora of products made at Tiffany’s metal foundry, only mentioning a few exceptional pieces. They are also represented in museum collections through out the United States. Some notable collections include the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and several small museums, such as the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C. In a way, the desk sets’ popularity has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years, making them among the most accessible, although still pricey, Tiffany objects on the market today. Tiffany Studios’ desk set line was one of the largest and most diverse the firm ever attempted.

Over the course of nearly thirty years, the firm produced at least twenty-three commercial desk sets and an unknown number of specialty desk sets and accessories in an astonishing array of designs. In the words of Tiffany Studios, “[the] Bronze Desk Sets [aim] to create unique and interesting design, interpreted in the finished pieces by the skill of the artist-craftsman. An old book or symbol, the art of some ancient civilization often furnishes inspiration for the motif for a new desk…Some are dignified and simple for the desk of the business man. Others, of exquisite workmanship and delicacy of detail, are more suitable for the home.”

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