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Tiffany-Handel Lamp

by Bill Schuette

A lamp by any other name would definitely not be the same. The Sauk County Historical Society has in its collection the Tiffany lamp shown here. At least, it's a Tiffany base. The Handel Company, an equally prestigious manufacturer of late 19th and early 20th century lamps made the lampshade.

It is not known if the original Tiffany shade was broken, and replaced by a Handel, or if the lamp was purchased as shown. Nonetheless, the combination is a valuable part of the Society's collection.

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was a painter, collector, interior designer, photographer and world traveler. The son of Charles Tiffany, world-renowned jeweler, Louis chose instead, to pursue his love of art. In the 1880s he directed one of his many talents towards interior design, a profession which he followed the rest of his life. His goal was to bring decorative arts onto the level of fine arts.

Tiffany developed the unique idea of arranging bits of discarded colored glass from his stained glass window business into beautiful decorative lamps. He collaborated with Thomas Edison in lighting the first movie theater, and Edison suggested they work together to make the bases for the electric lamps. Tiffany designed and produced the shades, later making the bases too.

Tiffany developed many original ideas involved in the production of glass, by inventing a way to produce bolder colors, opalescent sheens and a broader range of textures. All of his lamps were either designed by himself or by his skilled workers. The bases were formed into fine sculptures made of brass, and the hand-cut glass was surrounded by copper foil. The Society's base contains a unique number assigned to its special design, #29733. Tiffany lamps command premium prices in today's market.

Philip Julius Handel began making lamps in 1876, and specialized in high quality reverse painted lampshades. He also made leaded glass shades and bases.

Many of Handel's lampshades were signed by the artists (ours was not), and bring premium prices from collectors.

After WWI, with a newly emerging economy the Handel Lamp Company grew and expanded. However, as with many businesses, the Great Depression hit Handel hard, and the company struggled until 1936, ceasing production that same year.