About a year ago, I stumbled upon two lamp bases in a local antique store. According to the store owner, these were replicas made to look like actual Tiffany lamps. Antiques in their own right, such bases are rare today, even though they are not actual Tiffany. Close examination of the detail and a comparison with books and auction catalogs revealed that these are excellent copies of a particular style that was created at Tiffany Studios in New York, making them worthy of the attention it would take to restore them. The biggest problem was that they were shiny, yellow brass which would never do.
After some early experimentation with patination formulae, I wired up and sold one of the bases on eBay at a decent price. I found out later that it went to a Tiffany collector who had some very expensive shades he wanted to display. He told me that authentic Tiffany bases like this are rare, so many collectors also seek replicas.
With some regret, I realized I should have kept the first base, and I decided I would work harder on the second to make a closer match to an original Tiffany. After about a year of research and experimentation, I finally developed a process I could use to obtain the proper greens and browns and complete the look so common among metalware that came out of Tiffany Studios 100 years ago.
Creating a patina like this is a time-consuming process involving chemicals and a blow torch. As anyone who creates sculptures in bronze will tell you, getting good results from a chemical patina is an art in and of itself. Although other colorization techniques exist, by repeatedly heating the metal parts and applying certain chemicals to the hot surface, it’s possible to develop the apple-like variations of rusty red/brown and verdigris effects over copper alloys. I used bell sockets from a company that specializes in Tiffany restoration as a color reference. It’s hard to believe that these parts were shiny yellow brass beforehand.
Using a hot application process rather than a cold spray technique stimulates a chemical bond with the metal and creates a durable patina that stays put, even after a wax polish. Buffed to a satin sheen, the surface is complete and the fixture can be wired and lit. I use cotton-covered twisted cord and an antique bakelite plug to complete the look. Now, all that remains is selecting glass shades or creating them from stained glass!