March 2017 Newsletter
Featured Item: "Our Winter Friends" Window Article: The White House & Tiffany
The White House in springtime with cherry blossoms.
I couldn’t think of anything to write about for this month’s newsletter. What would capture and entertain my customers/stained glass aficionados? All about me these days is politics, politics. Most of it ugly. The backbiting, the money spent, the takeovers, critical press releases. Was this true also for Tiffany in his day? Did he get involved in White House politics? I did some research and sure enough, he did and so did his dad. Turns out politics hasn’t changed – it was then as it is today; some good, some bad, even for the two Tiffanys. Intriguing, some heart breaking – read all about it in the Article section.
While researching the article, I saw photos of the delicate pink and white cherry blossoms that decorate the DC area in spring. For now though, winter is still here and so I am presenting a stained glass window called “Our Winter Friends”. See Featured Item.
Note: Each item presented is a one-of-a-kind work of art available for purchase. Should any item sell, there are no duplicates. Contact us about any similar items.
"Our Winter Friends"
Circular Stained Glass Window
This charming window is not very large and with clear “snowflake” background glass, it would be perfect for hanging in your home without obstructing your scenic view.
Father & Son Tiffany - White House Commissions:
Nice Designs, Nasty Politics
Charles Lewis Tiffany - the Father, 1812-1902
A Brief Biography
With $1,000 borrowed from his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany and a partner set up business in New York City in 1837 as a stationery and fancy goods emporium. By the end of the first week they made only $4.94 in total sales. They remained in business and later in 1853 converted to a jewelry manufacturing firm, becoming the most prominent jewelry company in North America. Charles Tiffany died at the age of 90, still going strong. As of 2013, Tiffany & Co. was a multifaceted corporation worth more than $8 billion. It continues today - the name Tiffany & Co. still betokens the highest quality in jewelry and luxury items.
Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., NYC
The White House Commissions - Charles L. Tiffany and Abraham Lincoln
Young Charles L. Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., NYC
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
In keeping with the high status of an inaugural ball, and to be attired in a manner befitting the occasion, in 1861 President Abraham Lincoln purchased a jewelry suite from the prominent purveyor of gems, Tiffany & Co., for his wife and first lady of the nation, Mary Todd Lincoln.
It was a three-piece set of seed pearl jewelry (de rigueur at the time for all formal occasions) and consisted of a necklace and a pair of identical bracelets.
The design comprised a large oval rosette surrounded by smaller oval rosettes. The seed pearls were strung together with horsehair, laid in rows and attached to a silver back plate.
Subsequently inspiring many reproductions, the original set is now housed in the Library of Congress.
Mary Todd Lincoln's seed pearl jewelry suite
Politics as Usual – even back then
Note of interest: The Tiffany jewelry suite cost the President $530, a large sum of money at the time. The President and his wife were ridiculed by his foes for extravagant spending, especially at a time when the nation was on the verge of a civil war. But Mrs. Lincoln viewed the investment as necessary to maintain a proper appearance in the White House for the prestige of the Presidency and the stability and continuance of the Union, not only to Americans but to foreigners as well. It was also a defiant move since both were being looked down upon as frontier people, ignorant and uncivilized. (She, well-educated, came from a wealthy family from Kentucky; he, self-taught with only 18 months’ formal education, was from the backwoods of Illinois).
The Press had a field day with Mrs. Lincoln, scrutinizing everything she wore and describing her in the newspapers as plump and plain. (fake news?). By accessorizing her inauguration ball gown with jewelry designed by the country’s most esteemed retailer at the time, Tiffany & Co., the first lady most certainly did impress her critics.
Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln taken by Mathew Brady shows her wearing the Tiffany’s Seed Pearl Jewelry Suite.
Mrs. Lincoln was criticized as an extravagant shop-alcoholic until her dying day. Purchasing fashions, some of which she never wore, furnishings, travel, White House overhauls she kept her husband in perpetual debt. Later in life the “wasteful expenditures” were recognized as symptoms of bipolar mania and major depression after the loss of her beloved children and the assassination of her husband.
Mary Todd Lincoln wearing the Tiffany & Co. jewelry set and – gasp! a $2,000 inaugural ball gown.
Other Noted White House Commissions to Charles Lewis Tiffany
Tiffany & Co. were commissioned in 1861 to design a presentational pitcher for the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln
In 1861 Mary Todd Lincoln went to New York City and ordered new china service for the White House. The 190-piece set cost $3,195 and its distinctive hand painted enamel design was executed by Tiffany & Co.
Throughout Tiffany’s history, the United States and foreign governments have called upon the company to create special commemoration commissions. Among them are:
The Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award.
The 1885 redesign of the Great Seal of the United States, which can be seen on official government documents as well as on the one-dollar bill.
The manufacture of swords, medals, and other war material during the Civil War.
Tiffany Cross Medal of Honor, WWI, 1917
The Great Seal of the United States. One dollar bill
Ceremonial Civil War Swords created by Tiffany & Co.
Louis Comfort Tiffany - the Son, 1848-1933
A Brief Biography
Whereas his father’s business, Tiffany & Co., dealt mostly with the design and manufacture of jewelry, the son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, focused on larger projects; i.e. interior design, stained glass windows and lamps, decorative accessories as well as jewelry. His company began in 1880 as an interior design firm and quickly expanded into Tiffany Studios, NYC, a leader of the Art Nouveau movement. At its peak during the 1900’s Louis Comfort Tiffany’s company was equally as successful as his father’s, also realizing fabulous success and wealth. But unlike his father’s legacy, Louis Comfort’s business fell out of fashion with the ending of the Victorian era and eventually went into bankruptcy in 1932. In 1933, having squandered all his money, Louis Comfort Tiffany died penniless at the age of 82. Ironically, the nostalgic 1960’s rediscovered his works and today they are worth more than even Tiffany, himself could have imagined.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, founder of Tiffany Studios, NYC
The White House Commissions - Louis Comfort Tiffany and Chester A. Arthur
Young Louis Comfort Tiffany, c. 1908, founder of Tiffany Studios NYC
Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States
Vice President Chester A. Arthur took office as President in 1881 after the tragic assassination of President James Garfield. He was known as elegant Arthur for his extravagant tastes and lavish parties. He deemed the White House shabby looking for an executive mansion and refused to move into it until it was redecorated. In fact, he found the décor so shabby he dumped 24 wagonloads of historical furnishings from previous presidents and 30 barrels of old china; priceless artifacts today. (Talk about squandering the taxpayers’ money!). Then in 1882 he hired the most famous designer in New York, 34-year-old artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany, to totally transform it into a showplace befitting the office. Tiffany was perhaps the first professional decorator hired to redecorate the State apartments in the White House and with the White House as his showcase, he emerged from the project a famous man. Most noted are Tiffany’s Blue Room and the Entrance Hall.
The Blue Room
The Blue Room is one of three state parlors in the White House and is used as a reception room and for small social events. It is distinct for its oval shape and is traditionally decorated in shades of blue, although as can be seen in photos of later years the walls were no longer blue.
Tiffany’s 1886 decoration of The Blue Room resulted in an exotically sumptuous interior with a densely-patterned wallpaper dominating the room. Featured in the center is a large gaslight fixture and Tiffany’s trademark mounted glass lighting fixtures. Tiffany installed newly designed mantelpieces and furnished the room with rococo-revival blue furniture.
Digital reconstruction of the White House’s Blue Room, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany circa 1886.
Of course, The Blue Room décor changed many times over with each new president (and wife), making a statement in their own tastes. The most drastic change to the room was done in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Gone went the alluring Scheherazade feel; in came the plain, no-nonsense American look – manly!
1904 Theodore Roosevelt’s no nonsense renovation.
Some Blue Room Transformations Throughout the Years
1961: under first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, serene
c. 1999: Nixon’s blue-room, stately
1977: dinner hosted under President Carter, down-homey
2016: President Obama in the Blue Room, classy
The Official State Visitor's Entrance Hall – Glass Screen
Considered the most legendary object in the White House, Tiffany’s 40 ft. long, jewel like, opalescent, floor to ceiling glass screen transformed the Entrance Hall into a luminous wonder. It was commissioned by President Chester A. Arthur in 1885 as a partition to combat the hall’s problematic draftiness. The glass screen was dazzling beyond all the rest of the Tiffany alterations. It was his masterpiece. The grand screen was mostly colored in red, white and blue in patriotic patterns of the American eagles, flags, a shield with stripes & stars, etc.
The Grand Illumination, Sunset of the Gaslight Age, 1891 Peter Waddell painting of Tiffany's Entrance Hall Screen
Politics as Usual – even back then
Note of interest: But it was not to be long lived. Tiffany’s great screen stood only nineteen years from 1883 to 1902. It was removed on the orders of the new 26th President, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, who supposedly wanted it smashed into little pieces. Some historians speculate President Roosevelt’s motivations in removing such a national treasure might date back to his personal animosity to Tiffany during a bitter litigation with the town of Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York during Tiffany’s acquisition of the property, originally public picnic grounds, on which he built his Shangri-La, Laurelton Hall.
1882: Tiffany screen reflections
1882: White House Entrance Hall Tiffany screen
The magnificent screen that cost $15,000 to make was instead auctioned off for $275. It was installed into the Belvedere Hotel in Maryland and perished in a fire when the hotel burnt to the ground in 1923. The nation lost an irreplaceable national treasure.
1902: White House Entrance Hall renovations under Roosevelt
When Roosevelt moved into the White House with his wife and six kids, the first thing he did was to get rid of Tiffany’s “fusty” Victorian décor and replace it with, in his opinion, plain, direct American character. So, in 1902 Roosevelt’s White House underwent a $500,000 makeover, approximately $13 million tax dollars today. Most of Tiffany’s sumptuous renovations; the Red Room, the East Room, the State Dining Room, including his Blue Room went into the trash. ($$$!!!)
The completed 1902 Roosevelt Entrance Hall
Ironically, in 1902 when Roosevelt was busy trashing his works, Tiffany was at the height of his popularity. His interior design commissions of mansions, churches, mausoleums, public buildings, stained glass windows and lamps, jewelry, glass ware, home accessories were in high demand and were winning major awards at international expositions. The public was dazzled by his exotic designs and daring originality. There was not end in sight to Tiffany’s success, that is until the world changed with WWI and The Roaring ‘20’s.
The White House Entrance Hall today