The 3.7 Million Dollar Lamp
by Kate Nixon
After an exciting bidding war, someone now has an historic Tiffany lamp for the price of $3,745,000.00: a now world-record selling Tiffany lamp.
During the May 13th Early 20th Century Auction at Rago Arts, a room of 20 participants and hundreds of collectors online watched an ongoing bidding war over an historically important lamp with a hand-blown Favrile glass sphere and its original hammered and patinated copper base. The lamp is a rare example of a lamp from the early 1900s: confirmed by ceramics expert Martin Eidelberg. David Rago told ArtsandCraftsCollector.com the story of his research with Dr. Eidelberg to reveal the importance behind the ceramic work:
“Where most Tiffany lamps have cast bronze bases with glass-fitted, leaded shades, this Dandelion Lamp has a base of tooled copper, and hand-wrought, repousse raised decoration, chased to accentuate the edges of the dandelion stems and buds. The dark brown patination is augmented with silver and gilt on the raised flowers and dandelion puffs. The shade is a one-off white sphere meant to replicate the crown of a large dandelion gone to seed. Because the shade is hand blown, and the patterning within is unique to the piece, we were able to compare it to a photo from the Paris Exposition in 1900. It is the same lamp. Dr. Eidelberg then informed us the lamp traveled back to New York, to the Buffalo Exposition in 1901.”
To give some perspective, the Paris Exposition of 1900 holds the title of third largest World’s fair of all time with 83,000 exhibitors and was visited by 50 million visitors; the ideas and advances in technology introduced there would influence architecture, art and technology for decades after. The Buffalo Exposition in 1901 was a World’s Fair held in New York with an attendance of eight million and while it didn’t have the reach of the Paris Exposition, the event showed the dazzling technology of electricity: a perfect introduction of a creative and beautiful lamp by Tiffany.
Along with the lamp’s travels to the Paris and Buffalo Expositions, the rarity of the lamp, along with its fantastic condition, its historic provenance, and the knowledge of the firm placing it for auction, made for a competitive bidding war, resulting in an auction record.
Plenty of other items sold well within the auction, some even selling in the $60,000 range and up. The works up for bid included a sizable collection of George E. Ohr ceramics, Fulper Pottery, Gustav Stickley furniture and lighting. Two Ruth Erickson vases sold well, as did experimental vases by Hugh C. Robertson. However, the attention to a gorgeous example of an Adelaide Robineau porcelain tile came to an exciting head with a resulting sale of $81,000. The interest in a vase by David Drake, otherwise known as Dave the Potter, resulted in a $50,000 price tag, selling more than $68,000 with the premium included: it was below the estimate, but still a notable sale. Early on in the auction, an exciting bidding war over a set of two tiles by Addison LeBoutillier for Grueby Faience Company: the quality of the work in such a great condition contributed to the popularity of the set, selling for $65,000.
Here’s how our items of note* did:
*The following final selling prices include the buyer’s premium
Lot 124: Addison LeBoutillier for Grueby Faience Company The Pines tiles, set of two
glazed earthenware decorated in cuenca
Lot 141: Ellsworth Woodward for Newcomb College Pottery Rare and Early vase
Lot 104: George E. Ohr Exceptional and Large coupe
Lot 120: David Drake (Dave the Potter) for Lewis Miles Pottery Rare storage jar
Lot 174: George E. Ohr Exceptional and Large pitcher
Sold for: $21,250
David Rago himself has long been enamored with the study of American ceramics, particularly art pottery. “I was fortunate enough to get involved with art pottery in the early 1970s, when entry level prices were low enough for my college-student bankroll. The best way to learn art is to handle it, and the limited amount of information available at that time created a favorable environment for people like me, uneducated but fleet of foot and hopelessly enthusiastic.“