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June 16, 2014


Years ago I read in the newspaper that a special collection of items from the permanent collection of The Smithsonian was touring the country and would arrive in Portland in a few weeks. The article went on to say that among the included items would be the stovepipe hat Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater that fateful night, along with a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. A Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington would be in the exhibit, along with a pair of Teddy Roosevelt’s spectacles. But another item mentioned in the article excited me more than all the others, the sort of item that always made me sit up in my Barcalounger when one appeared on Antiques Roadshow—a Louis Comfort Tiffany desk lamp. The Smithsonian’s lamp was said to be valued at one million dollars.


I’ve long been a fan of Tiffany desk lamps, which went out of fashion during the Depression but swept back into fashion in the 70’s when terrible reproductions flooded the market and kitsch copies ended up on countless middle class end tables. I once bought a house that had a fake Tiffany chandelier in the dining room. It had Coca-Cola written on it in tawdry colored glass.


Tiffany lamps (originally priced at three-four hundred dollars at the beginning of the twentieth century) were now auctioning for thousands of dollars, so one with an estimated value of a million dollars had to be an eye-popper. I marked the date for the exhibit on my calendar and waited impatiently to stand in the presence of a masterpiece of light. 


Over the years I’d owned several replicas. I overlooked the inferior quality of the glass, poor craftsmanship and inferior design. I coveted an original but didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a desk lamp. I couldn’t wait to set my eyes on the real McCoy and decide for myself if a desk lamp could really be worth a million bucks.


On the day of the exhibit, Mrs. Chatterbox and I drove into downtown Portland, struggled to find a parking space and walked to the museum where hundreds of people were queued up to buy tickets. I chatted with people in line and discovered that most of the people had come to see Lincoln’s hat or the famous ruby slippers. No one commented on the Tiffany lamp.


There must have been fifty exhibits and I studied each one, letting my anticipation for the Tiffany lamp build. Finally, there it was in a Plexiglas display case. We walked up and studied it. Mrs. Chatterbox exclaimed, “It truly is a thing of beauty.” She looked at me curiously. “Wouldn’t you agree?”


“Yes, it truly is a thing of beauty.”


And so it was. The metal base appeared to swirl like an underwater plant and the patina glowed like it had been burnished by the hands of angels. The shade was perfectly proportioned to complement the base. I was looking at a true masterpiece.


When my eyes could absorb no more we headed for the door and were confronted by a museum docent who handed me a questionnaire to fill out. I don’t usually fill out such things but this time I found a bench, pulled out a pen and wrote in the comment section:


     This is an interesting show, but if you’re going to promote an original Louis  
                 Comfort Tiffany lamp you should not position it in a dark corner. And for God’s sake
              if you want to impress us with a million dollar lamp I suggest you purchase a light
bulb and turn the f*#king thing on!
More samples of Tiffany desk lamps:


LOL! I agree! They are very pretty lamps, but a million dollars? Good Ness!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on June 16, 2014
They're probably afraid if it turn it on it'll explode or something. Besides that light bulbs from the 30s might be slightly different from more recent models, but it does seem like they should put it in a brighter area to make full use of that stained glass.
By: PT Dilloway on June 16, 2014
Very good points!
By: cranky on June 16, 2014
A lot of money for a lamp however it sounds wonderful.
By: John on June 16, 2014
from one straight talker to another, I appreciate your advice to the museum. One would think that every piece would be well lit and considered important. Good for you.
By: Oma Linda on June 16, 2014
I remember going to that exhibit- you were totally correct about "turn the light on"! Looking at the lamps you put on your blog- he was an exemplary glass artist. The cheap knockofffs don't even come close.
By: Kathe W. on June 16, 2014
I agree with your critique and I hope they took it to heart. I must head up to the Smithsonian and see if that lamp is on display there!!
By: Tabor on June 16, 2014
laughing out LOUD!
By: TexWisGirl on June 16, 2014
I suppose it is considered a work of art rather than just a lamp. Art like wine is subjective... in my opinion. I recall a painting purchased by the National Gallery of Canada titled Voice of Fire for 1.8 million was considered a joke by many.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 16, 2014
They are lovely, and i agree that even if they can't turn it on, they can at least light it up nicely.
By: mimi on June 16, 2014
I once had a cheap copy, too, but found it didn't put out enough light. It was a nice accent piece in the room, though. I'm assuming Lincoln had removed his hat before JWB shot him in the head. Otherwise it would make for a rather gruesome display.
By: Scott Park on June 16, 2014
By: The Bug on June 16, 2014
I wouldn't dare have a real Tiffany lamp at my house. I'd be the kind of person to carry a plate with a piece of chocolate cake and somehow start losing my balance and - in the interest of saving the chocolate cake - knock over the lamp. Truly, I would...
By: Pixel Peeper on June 16, 2014
The reason its priced at a million dollars has more to do with income inequality than anything else. The market bears what it can I suppose. It's worth that much because there are people who can afford to pay that much and who have gotten to that position by being stupid enough to covet a lamp for a million dollars.
By: Michael Offutt on June 16, 2014
Have you ever been to the Tiffany museum in Orlando Florida (yes, Orlando. It's Winter Park really) I went in there and was overwhelmed. A million dollars is a lot of money but then he was a genius. And I'm glad you made that comment on your feedback form! sometimes I wonder (luckily, not very often) if people who lay out exhibitions have actually been trained. I went to one recently where you couldn't even read the captions as they were out of the strong spotlight which was illuminating the exhibits, and placed almost at floor level.
By: Jenny on June 16, 2014
Oi. I love Tiffany lamps. And Faberge eggs. Excellent comment you left. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 16, 2014
Great comment on the lamp. But I just saw Dorothy's red slippers in Phoenix. SWMBO tells me there must be millions of copies in every museum everywhere!
By: Catalyst on June 16, 2014
By: fishducky on June 16, 2014
Oh my, you do make me laugh. What a great comment and I hope they followed through. My sister took a stab at that craft and said it was a lot of work. I remember the Coke ones.
By: Akansas Patti on June 16, 2014
We have a rectangular fake hanging over our pool table, in the tasteful colors of aqua, amber, and sand. I believe it is worth slightly less than one million dollars. It DOES light up, however.
By: Val on June 16, 2014
Yes, those originals are very beautiful. We have plenty of light bulbs in our house, so you can see quite clearly that everything is a cheap imitation.
By: Tom Sightings on June 17, 2014
Wow that price tag, but how nice would it be to have on sitting on a desk in the library of home. Ahhh to dream. Love the post and how dare they not show the lamp the attention it needed in this show. good f or you telling them how it is :)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on June 17, 2014
Yeah, I see those lamps on the Antique Road Show, and they are awfully pretty, but on the downside, I would hate to dust them, and would worry about mine breaking, especially while I was dusting it. It would make me like Elizabeth on "Keeping Up Appearances."
By: Snowbrush on June 17, 2014
Nothing like a bit of direct, honest feedback! Those lamps are pretty but, sadly, way out of my purchasing power.
By: Bryan Jones on June 18, 2014
Yeah, and I think she also did a great job with Tommy James' "I Think We're Along Now."
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on June 19, 2014
When we arrived in our current house there were a selection of Tiffany lights around the place which are still collecting dust in the garage somewhere. I always thought they might sell well on ebay.
By: LL Cool Joe on June 20, 2014
Hilarious... and ridiculous! I love Tiffany lamps. Pure art. My aunt has an original on a side table in her living room. A large, gorgeous original. With a working light bulb. It's plugged in. And she even turns it on.
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 11, 2014

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