Review by ZG Burnett, Photos courtesy of Fontaine’s Auction Gallery
PITTSFIELD, MASS. – Tiffany lamps topped the best lists at Fontaine’s May 21 auction, with eight of the ten highest prices won by the prestigious studio’s table and floor lamps. Tiffany lamps comprised 24 of the sale’s 406 lots, which included remarkable silverware, fine jewelry, painted artwork and sculpture, almost all perfectly suited to outfitting a Gilded Age estate.
“Bidding was strong and there was plenty of action for the Tiffany,” said John Fontaine, general manager and auctioneer. Tiffany continues to be a favorite among collectors, with the top two lots and many more sold online and over the phone at this live sale.
The best-selling of these lamps was the “Spider” table lamp, an unusually spooky design for Tiffany. Presented with a mushroom base, these two styles are usually associated. Crafted in 1905 from green leaded glass and gilt bronze, the shade resembles an arachnid crouching on its web, but closer examination reveals an abstract form rather than a bronze spider. The lamp nonetheless nabbed $40,625. A similar lamp sold for just under $109,000 at Sotheby’s Dreaming in Glass: Masterworks by Tiffany Studios sale in 2019.
Just behind was another Tiffany table lamp, more typical of the workshop and displaying a daffodil motif on its polychrome leaded glass shade and a slender footed urn base in patinated bronze. Slightly smaller than the Spider, it sold for $37,500. The third batch was once again a Tiffany table lamp; this time with a tulip motif on its lampshade and its foot adorned with volutes. It sold for $34,375.
Among the best batches of lamps, a Tiffany Turtle-Back torchiere stood out. Its Favrile glass was developed and patented by Louis Comfort Tiffany and then produced for the company in 1896. The glass is prized for its distinct iridescence. The inverted shade is supported by three intertwining rod-like tendrils in patinated bronze. The lamp fetched $31,250.
Other high-end Tiffany lamps include a Turtle-Back floor lamp with a bronze patina base, circa 1910, for $34,375; two early 20th-century Linenfold table lamps with Favrile glass shades, which sold for $30,000 and $23,750; a circa 1915 Geometric Table Lamp for $28,750 and an Apple Blossom Table Lamp, circa 1905, for $20,000.
The lamps were not the only object of this sale, as evidenced by many other lots. Following the Tiffany in lot order and price was a 1993 Bentley Brooklands sedan, which came in at $23,750. The model was introduced in 1992 to replace the Bentley Mulsanne S and Bentley Eight models, and as a slightly cheaper alternative to the Bentley Turbo R. This sale was a bargain, as the original MSRP base price was 138 $500. With 32,920 miles and a Rolls-Royce 6.75-liter V8 engine under its hood, rear-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission, there’s no doubt the buyer will rack up that mileage quickly over the season at come.
Another eight-legged Tiffany creation appeared in the sale, a crab-shaped inkwell, featuring a pot with a hinged lid. Crafted from patinated bronze, the life-size crab is exquisitely detailed. The inkwell has a glass insert and the top is fashioned from real oyster shell. An identical inkwell is presented in Tiffany lamps and metalware; An illustrated reference to more than 2000 models by Alastair Duncan (2007). This lovely crustacean topped the estimate at $20,000.
Sterling silver cutlery has been all the rage in the auction market lately and the Reed & Barton set in the Love Disarmed design in this sale was no exception, selling for $18,750. Highly sought after by collectors, the figurative depiction of a mother and child on the handles was made with cast dies that wore away after aggressive marketing of the design, and the last production was around 2005. This rare set of 114 pieces is from the early 20th century and has retained its original mahogany case.
Standing in relief against the other upper lots was a bronze tondo portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The artist and author met in 1887, when Saint-Gaudens was inspired to create the portrait after reading Stevenson’s The New Arabian Knight (1882). Saint-Gaudens had only five short sessions to model Stevenson’s head, then added his hands to the relief design the following year. The bronze was published in numerous editions of various sizes until 1893, and Saint-Gaudens then remodeled it for a larger memorial in Edinburgh. This example is an early cast marked 1887 and made $16,250.
Prices shown include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, www.fontainesauction.com or 413-448-8922.