Thursday, August 25

The History of Duffner & Kimberley Lamps

Duffner & Kimberly, Wisteria floor lamp
'The advent of electricity as a form of illumination was
one of the epiphanies of the last millenium.
  Duffner & Kimberly     Wisteria floor lamp 25" x 90".
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.
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"
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
Nasturtium hanging lamp, 29" Bottom: 2 part stained glass window, signed. 6' x 3'.
Nasturtium hanging lamp, 29"
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.

If you did not know which lamp was appropriate for your setting, 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.

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 and one half and bring their beauty into the future.'

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