Reading lamp, after 1899
Version exhibited at Grafton Galleries, London, 1899

No. 400, Nautilus design

Leaded glass, bronze Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York City, 1892–1900

Marks on base: TIFFANY STUDIOS / NEW YORK / [conjoinedTGDco]

13 1/2 x 5 1/4 in. (69-002)

The shape of the exotic nautilus, found in the western Pacific, has long been the muse of architects, artists, and designers. One only has to look to Grecian columns, to spiral staircases, or to the nautilus cups of the sixteenth century for examples. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) made his own contribution to this tradition when he patented his design for the Nautilus lampshade on May 2, 1899, as one of his earliest ideas for leaded-glass lampshades. That same year, his Nautilus lamp was included in Siegfried Bing’s comprehensive exhibition of Tiffany objects at Grafton Galleries in London. The Nautilus reading lamp is both an elegant creation and a strategic one. In the time of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), shells were highly collectible by a public whose decorative tastes ran to the frilly and ornate. Tiffany had great interest in historical sources, and in the waning days of Victoria’s reign, he no doubt also wanted to tap into the onetime rage for the nautilus shell as a home decoration. But as Tiffany always did, he made it something new. “The adjustable shade and the simple down to earth look of the lamp are typical of his personal work,” Hugh F. McKean (1908–95) observed in The ‘Lost’ Treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany, “So is the way its design was adapted to the electric light bulb (an open flame would have destroyed it).”