Desk Sets

Desk SetsTiffany’s goal of bringing beauty into the homes of every American came closest to realization through the sale of what were termed “Fancy Goods” by the Tiffany Studio catalogue. These items, metalwork desk sets, candelabra and boxes, were made in multiples, were considered stock items by the company, and sold for relatively inexpensive prices compared to the lamps and art glass produced by the Studio. In 1897 Tiffany expanded the Corona glass factory, also known as Tiffany Furnaces, to include a foundry for producing metal objects for his various designs. In 1899 Tiffany displayed a variety of objects, including a large number of metalwork’s, at the Grafton Galleries in London, an exhibition promoted by Bing that gained Tiffany international exposure.

The majority of Tiffany’s metal ware was made of bronze for casting or copper for sheets or spun shapes. Each piece was hand worked by chasing or etching and then plated or patinated for the necessary finish. Items could be obtained in a silver, gold, brown, or antiqued green finish, which was achieved by placing the object in a chemical bath to accelerate the effects of aging. In all Tiffany Studios produced desk sets in more than fifteen patterns during the first two decades of the twentieth century: Pine-needle, Grape-vine, Zodiac, Byzantine, Bookmark, Ninth Century, Venetian, Abalone, American Indian, Chinese, Adam, Graduate, Royal Copper, Louis XVI, Nautical, and Modeled Design. Twenty known patterns for desk sets are now recognized. Tiffany Studios advertised desk sets as containing a minimum of six pieces; all included a paper or letter rack, blotter ends, and an ink stand. Today, the rarest of patterns include the Double X, Etched Crosier, Medallion, Miniature, and Royal Cooper (according to Tiffany Desk Treasures by Kemeny & Miller, 2002) with Ninth Century and Byzantine also difficult to find.

Candlesticks and candelabra were available at Tiffany Studio’s metal showroom at all times. Candlestick designs were very successful for the Studio. The form resembles those of blown glass flowerform vases produced at Tiffany Furnaces. The candlesticks and candelabra most closely resemble Art Nouveau design tenets, evoking the organic forms found in nature. The designs could be enhanced by iridescent glass jewels or balls and mosaic work. Photographs from Tiffany Studios suggest that they were not intended to be sold in pairs.

From 1906 to 1916 Tiffany Studios was increasing the amount of merchandise appropriate for gifts. Metalwork of all kinds from jewel and cigar boxes, picture frames, calendar holders, planters, ash trays, inkwells, mirrors, clocks and dishes were produced in patterns to match the popular desk sets or in their own unique designs, such as the “scarab inkwell” and “peacock mirror.” Tiffany kept a close eye on all of his various industries and carefully monitored quality control and availability of product. In New York a customer could only find Tiffany Studios at the retail outlet and Tiffany & Co., also at Marshall Fields in Chicago, Nieman Marcus in Dallas, Shreve’s in San Francisco, and Bing’s Salon de l’Art Nouveau in Paris. Clients could also order custom made pieces direct through the Tiffany Studios office and have them shipped.

During WWI production at Tiffany Studios, especially at the foundry, was reduced due to wartime rationing and decreased consumer demand. In 1919 both Louis C. Tiffany and Vice-President Arthur J. Nash retired from active participation in the company. The foundry has produced a monumental amount of metal items for stock during the company’s peak years, and as such no new pieces were made and stamped “Tiffany Studios” after 1918, though the company continued to sell a variety of metal works from its immense inventory kept in multiple storage facilities. Tiffany Furnaces began to produce a new line in 1919 which was similar to previous Tiffany Studios pieces because so many of the same craftsmen were employed. In 1921 Patricia Gay returned to Tiffany Furnaces to oversee the enameling of the new metal pieces. Metal pieces produced by Tiffany Furnaces are notable for the extensive decoration and multi-colored enamels used. Desk sets and accessories were produced under A. Douglas Nash, forms were simpler and more angular in an attempt to gain a wider distribution. Tiffany Furnaces operation continued until 1928, when Tiffany withdrew his name and financial support from the furnaces, which were subsequently re-named after Nash. The furnaces and foundry were closed for good in 1938 with the passing of Studio Manager Joseph Briggs.

Desk SetsThe popularity of Tiffany Studios desk set items through time can be gauged by the inclusion of Grape-vine desk objects in the Museum of former President Woodrow Wilson, and by a photograph showing Zodiac items on the Oval office desk of President Bush in 1989. Today collectors often relish in the challenge of assembling a full Tiffany desk set in a particular pattern.

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