Follow the Stories | Dallas, Texas (2009)
Tiffany or "Tea Phony"?
AR appraiser Reyne Haines challenged Doug, an AR guest, to prove wrong her doubts about his Tiffany tea screen. A spider, in the upper corner of the tea screen, offsets the stained-glass flowers.
The enhanced lead on the tea screen: evidence of a repair—or fakery?
According to both Haines and Crist, the Tiffany Studios mark on the bottom border of the center panel is consistent with where the maker's mark should be on a Tiffany piece of this type.
In July 2008, a few weeks after the Dallas ROADSHOW event, Doug received this letter of authentication from Paul Crist Studios in Santa Fe Springs, California. Crist examined the tea screen thoroughly and concluded that despite its handful of problems the piece appeared to be a legitimate Tiffany Studios product. Read the full letter.
At the Dallas ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in June 2008, a guest brought in a glass tea screen — designed to protect a flame while a teapot boils — that he believed was made by Tiffany Studios. Before she went on-air, appraiser Reyne Haines, owner of Reyne Gallery in Cincinnati, examined the piece with another ANTIQUES ROADSHOW appraiser, Arlie Sulka, an internationally recognized Tiffany specialist and managing director of Lillian Nassau LLC in New York City.
Tracking down the truth about the Tiffany tea screen
If it was a Tiffany tea screen, it was a rare one. "A piece like this comes to auction maybe once a year," Haines said. It was also a rare situation because Haines wasn't sure whether it was authentic or fake. "Usually, I can look across a room and say, 'Good, bad, or ugly,'" Haines says. In this case, she inspected the tea screen close-up and saw details that made her hesitate.
"We kept shaking our heads," remembers Haines. Some of the metal leading that held the panes of glass looked "sloppy," Haines said, and the glass itself seemed to be flaking, something she hadn't seen before in Tiffany glass. The Tiffany signature also made Sulka uneasy*.
"Of the faked Tiffany tea screens I have seen, they've always been of the apple blossom and spider web motif," Sulka notes. She also noticed that some of the apple blossoms had pointy tips, something she'd noticed on faked Tiffany shades she's seen through the years. "In my opinion, this is the kind of piece that's easy to fake," she added.
A Challenge — Is It Real?
"If you ask me, 'would I buy this piece?' My answer would be 'No,'" she told Doug, who brought the piece in, "because there weren't enough things that I thought were right about it versus things I thought were wrong." Instead of leaving it at that, Haines issued a challenge.
"Here's what I'm willing to do," she told Doug on-air. "I want you to prove me wrong. I don't know it all. Nobody does. I want you to research it a little bit further. ... Maybe it was restored, and maybe that's why I'm seeing the sloppy leading and a couple of the pieces of the glass that I don't like. ... So, I'm really excited that you brought it in, and I can't wait to hear what you find out."
Doug bought the piece for $4,000 in 1997. (On-air he told Haines he had paid $3,200, but after looking back at his records he found that it was a bit more.) He brought it to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW not to verify its authenticity — he was convinced of that — but to find out how much it had appreciated. "It was definitely disappointing," Doug said of Haines' assessment. "She was not definitive in saying it was a genuine article. Her uncertainty, given her experience, gave one pause."
The verdict on the piece was more than academic. If Tiffany Studios had made the tea screen and it hadn't been repaired, Haines estimated it was worth between $15,000 to $20,000 retail. If it was a reproduction — there are many Tiffany tea screens that are — or if it was an attempt to fool a buyer by piecing together a tea screen with spare Tiffany glass, its value fell off the table.
"I would [then] give it a decorative value of only about one thousand dollars," Haines told Doug. "I'm sure that's not what you wanted to hear today."
An Expert's Opinion
As soon as Doug returned home, he took Haines' advice to call Paul Crist — one of the country's best-known Tiffany glass restorers and also an authenticator — and sent him the piece. In July, Doug received a "Letter of Authentication" from Crist, which ended with this assessment: "It is my conclusion to a reasonable degree of probability in my field of expertise that this tea screen is a legitimate product of Tiffany Studios."
Doug was relieved — and elated. "As I understand it, [Crist] is the last word on Tiffany leaded glass," Doug said. "If he says it is, it is, and if he says it isn't, it isn't. He's the Supreme Court of Tiffany glass."
Haines Reviews the Appraisal
Haines also read the letter and noticed that while Crist blessed the piece as a Tiffany, he did note the same concerns she had raised. Crist wrote that the glass "suffers from significant devitrification, manifested as a matte and flaky surface on both sides." Crist added, though, that "this malady is common with Tiffany's glass of this type."
Crist also wrote that the patina on the lead "has been at least enhanced by the application of reddish painted highlights" and "brown paint wash," and that this "non-intact patina also raises the possibility that the entire screen could have been put together recently."
Yet Crist was swayed by the piece's virtues. "The presence of so much glass that is identifiable as having been made at Corona Furnaces," Crist wrote, "and the overall artistry with which it was used offer compelling evidence that the panel itself is a legitimate product of Tiffany Studios." He also noted that the feet for the screen are typical Tiffany feet and that the "replication of these metal parts to look exactly like Tiffany's original materials would present a daunting challenge to any faker, one arguably not worth the effort for this class of object."
Agreeing to Disagree
Crist's stamp of approval means that a major auction house could in good conscience sell it as a Tiffany Studios three-panel tea screen. But Haines still wouldn't buy it as such, and she would recommend that her Tiffany clients stay away as well.
Sulka agrees. "I would be uncomfortable handling this item because there have been so many questions raised," she said.
"People agree to disagree sometimes," Haines said of the different conclusions she and Crist have reached, "That's not uncommon in this industry." Still, Haines notes that she and Crist do agree that "something was done to enhance [the piece] at some point." In the market, an honorable seller would have to note that somewhere in its history the piece had been altered or restored. That would drop the tea screen's value considerably below $10,000, Haines notes.
The Lesson? Buyer Beware
The lesson here, Haines contends, is to make sure you have an expert assess any major antiques purchase. "If you buy a car, you want to know what happened to it beforehand, and if you buy a house, you want it inspected, and if you buy a diamond, you want to make sure the ring is real," Haines says. "Why not do the same with antiques?"
Sulka adds that buyers should always deal with reputable dealers, who should be willing to fully disclose, in writing, the condition, the authenticity, and the provenance of an object — "especially in the Tiffany market, which is full of fakes and restorations," she says.
Doug knows that the outcome of his appraisal could have been worse, and he's taken away an important lesson from the experience. "You dodged a bullet this time," he said to himself after he received Crist's letter, "and next time you better make a more informed decision."
Editor's Note — Update 5.04.2009:
This article has been updated to include further comments on this topic by Arlie Sulka, a glass appraiser for ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, and an expert in Tiffany Studios lamps and glass. Back to top.
See the Dallas, Texas (2009) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
For more on Tiffany glass, see:
Tiffany Favrile Glass and the Quest of Beauty, by Martin Eidelberg. Lillian Nassau LLC, 2007.
A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, by Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray, and Margaret K. Hofer. Giles Press, 2007.
The Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, by Martin Eidelberg, Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Nancy McClelland and Lars Rachen. Vendome Press, 2005.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.