by Martin May
The advent of electricity as a
form of illumination was one of the epiphanies of the last millenium.
The fact that this discovery coincided with the new art
(art nouveau) allowed an artistic expression in lighting as never
before. For the first time, the light source could be inverted
and directed downward. Smoke bells and chimneys could be eliminated
and lamps made more portable, expanding the artistic expression
of the shade designers. The newly rediscovered popularity of
stained glass windows was already manifesting itself into lighting.
The electric bulb accelerated this adaptation quickly.
All Duffner & Kimberly lamps
from the author's collection. Wisteria floor lamp 25" x 90".
It is easy to see why the use
of stained glass to diffuse and beautify the harshness of the
electric light was employed for home use. It is also not surprising
that some of the earliest designers of stained glass windows
and/or art glass would embrace, nurture and essentially assimilate
this ideal. The most famous of these makers includes Tiffany
Studios, Galle, Handel, Unique, Chicago Glass Co., Pairpoint
and The Duffner and Kimberly Co. of New York.
Most companies were eclectic in
their production of lamps. There certainly was a greater number
of potential sales in the lower end of the marketplace. However,
as with most antiques treasured today, the lamps produced at
the turn of the century which used better materials, had more
elaborate design, and were better crafted are the most coveted.
What was better then is better now.
The Duffner and Kimberly Co. proposed,
in 1905, to compete with
Louis XV table lamp, 20"
Tiffany Studios. Their ambition was to produce high end
mosaic glass lighting for the carriage trade. The
fact that they succeeded is noted in a catalogue from the Chicago
Electric Company Store, in 1906, suggesting retail prices for
a Duffner and Kimberly Wisteria floor lamp at $550. It is noted
that a Tiffany Studio Wisteria table lamp, available at Marshall
Field and Company, then retailed for $480. So why then has Duffner
and Kimberly products been largely forgotten while Tiffany Studio
lamps have undergone a tremendous revival?
The Duffner and Kimberly Co. started
as a combination of efforts by Frank Duffner, a manager with
Plume and Atwood, a maker of kerosene lighting and Oliver Kimberly,
a young stained glass window designer. They manufactured lamps
in New York with outlets throughout the United States. Their
initial designer was H. Howell, who was enormously
talented. He designed elaborate lamps that were to be
used in specific secular settings. The Duffner and Kimberly Companies
philosophy, as outlined in their sales catalogue of 1905, was
to Offer lighting fixtures in the purest period styles
for the finest residences." Duffner and Kimberly chose to
market directly against Tiffany Studios in matters of craftsmanship
and decorative taste.
Top: Nasturtium hanging lamp,
Bottom: 2 part stained glass window, signed.
6' x 3'.
If you did not know which lamp
was appropriate for your settinq, Duffner and Kimberly was prepared
to tell you. They had available a Louis XV lamp for a Louis XV
interior. They also made lamps for most other periods and settings.
Perhaps their most beautiful lamps were those of Howell lineage
which were made the earliest and advertised the most aggressively.
These include the French and Italian Renaissance, the Louis XIII,
XIV, XV, and XVI, the Viking, Roman and opulent floral models.
These creations were finely made, used the best glass and bronze
materials, and were frightfully expensive.
Why then is so little known about
them? It is because Duffner and Kimberly existed for a relatively
brief period of time. They initially incorporated in 1905 but
by 1913 were in bankruptcy. The recession of 1908 obviously did
not help sales for opulent, expensive items. Also the changing
tastes in the decorative arts and less glamorous competition
affected all but the most affluent of manufacturers, of which
Louis Comfort Tiffany was one. The number of exquisite Duffner
and Kimberly lamps that were produced and still exist are much
fewer than Tiffany Studio models. Ironically, there is no evidence
that the very expensive mosaic lamps made by any company, including
Tiffany Studios, ever generated a profit for the manufacturer.
Today, the value of Duffner and
Kimberly lamps is based on the same properties that make a Tiffany
and Company lamp special. The most ornate, most intricate and
most original lamps all command a premium. It
is no coincidence that, as with all Victorian collectibles,
the accent is on most. Prices of Duffner and Kimberly
lamps are escalating as an appreciation of the workmanship and
quality of all American mosaic glass makers at the turn of the
last century is burgeoning.
18" Duffner & Kimberly
Crysanthrmum table lamp
The result is a renewed interest
in the legacy of these manufacturers. Their artistic endeavors
enrich our historical cultural inheritance. We are fortunate
to have the opportunity to enjoy the efforts of our predecessors.
We can once again experience the chiaroscuro glow from these
lamps just by turning them on and, by so doing, share something
of the last century as we approach the next millenium.
The author would like to thank
Mr. Paul Crist whose long awaited book on Early Twentieth Century
Mosaic Glass Shades will soon be available.
About the author:
Dr. May is an avid collector
of Victorian antiques and is a frequent contributor to Antiques
& Art Around Florida.
Art Around Florida
The Best Antiques Guide Magazine
in the U.S.!
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