As the expert for Rago Auctions, I was sent photos of a very rare and unusual Tiffany Studios lamp for evaluation. I receive lots of photos from auction galleries for evaluation, but nothing like this. I was really wowed. It was so rare I wasn’t familiar with the model, but there it was illustrated in more than one book. It was originally exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and the following year at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. I suggested to Mike Fredericks, head of the lamp and glass division, that I thought it was worth $400,000 – $600,000, but that I thought the estimate should be much lower, perhaps $100,000 – $200,000, as low estimates are like catnip to cats.
The lamp was consigned by the family of a diplomat from the Truman Administration who had acquired it in the 1940s. Tiffany Studios lamps were totally out of fashion at the time, so my guess is it didn’t cost much. The family was willing to accept advice from Mike, who told them that a low estimate would be very helpful. They agreed to an estimate of $50,000 – $75,000, which meant that the reserve could not exceed $50,000. So technically the lamp could have sold for $50,000 if only one person were willing to pay the price.
Examination of the lines in the shade proved that it was actually the same lamp as in the photos in the books. The condition of the lamp was exceptional, as the lamp had been in storage for decades. There were a few problem with the shade including three small star cracks and one chip on the fitter rim. For an ordinary lamp, that probably would have seriously impacted the price, but not for an extraordinary lamp.
I messaged David Rago that I predicted a selling price in the range of $350,000+, but that I wished it would sell for $1,000,000, not really believing it, as only a dozen Tiffany lamps have ever sold for $1,000,000+ at auction. David said he was sure it would exceed $200,000. Eleven bidders were on the telephone, which included representatives from four museums. Many bidders held their cards close to their vests and were scattered among the live audience and on several live bidding platforms.
The bidding started below $100,000. I bid up to $170,000 for a client. I told him in advance that we had very little chance of being the successful bidders. As the bidding progressed higher, bidders dropped out left and right. It came down to two determined bidders on the telephones. They pushed the final price to $3,745,000, including buyer’s premium — a world record price for a Tiffany lamp at auction. The previous record was $3,372,500, set at Christie’s New York on December 13, 2018 for a very rare Pond Lily table lamp.
Mike Fredericks had the following to say after the sale. “Upon seeing the lamp, particularly the distinct pattern of the waves in the globe, I was certain that we had the exact lamp from the 1900 Expo, and that this was an extraordinary find. The uncertainty was how would a historical, possible one-of-a-kind, yet non-leaded Tiffany lamp be received by the collecting community. As we can now see, it was received quite well, as a masterpiece as this should have been.
The family was very open to my suggestion that a conservative estimate would encourage bidder participation, and the results are better than anticipated. This was a magnificent piece of Tiffany history, and a magnificent windfall for a very excited family of consignors. Great results for our team at Rago Wright, as well, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Congratulations to the whole Rago/Wright crew for a fabulous job and a world record price! And congratulations to the family for a possibly life-changing result!
Tune in next week for a review of the rest of the sale.