Tiffany & Co. It is a name that conjures images of little blue boxes and dazzling solitaire engagement rings. The store’s timeless designs are punctuated by their famed motifs, including their “Please Return to Tiffany & Co. New York” heart tag and the "Tiffany T" bracelet. Few firms have reached such legendary status.
When one walks into a Tiffany store today, they expect to find the classic jewelry and household objects for which the firm has become renowned. Yet, Tiffany & Co. has a long history, and during that period, the company has created an array of items that would come as a surprise to even the most dedicated Tiffany loyalist. Read on to learn more about the history of this firm and some of their most unusual creations.
Tiffany: A Brief History
Tiffany & Co. first opened its doors in 1837, when Charles Lewis Tiffany and his partner John B. Young decided to take advantage of a strong economy by starting a business. But their vision did not include the diamonds and platinum that we think of today; instead, Tiffany originally opened as a "stationery and fancy goods emporium," and was known as Tiffany, Young, and Ellis. It wasn't until 16 years later that the name of the business was officially changed to Tiffany & Co.
Along with the name change came the shift in focus from selling stationery items to jewelry. By the time of the Gilded Age in the 1870s, the retailer saw a sharp rise in business and was subsequently dubbed the "palace of jewels" by The New York Times. New York City's wealthiest families, including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Astors and Posts, soon came to patronize the firm, cementing its status as New York's premier jewelry house.
It was also around this period when Tiffany made a name for itself in the realm of silver. In fact, the company’s first international recognition was due to its silver production — it was at the 1867 Paris World’s fair where Tiffany was awarded the grand prize for silver craftsmanship. It was the first American silver firm to have been so honored by a foreign jury.
Tiffany's status was cemented by the dawn of the 20th century. Over the years, the company collaborated with a number of designers, including Andy Warhol, Paloma Picasso, Jean Schlumberger and more. During this time the store was also immortalized by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While jewelry and silver remain Tiffany's forte, what follows is a list of some of the firm's more unexpected offerings.
1. Sterling Silver Globe Inkwell Centerpiece by Tiffany & Co.
Dating to the Edwardian era, this monumental sterling silver and bronze inkwell hearkens back to the firm’s early days as a stationary store. Designed in 1913 by Tiffany & Co., the impressive piece features a globe rising from the center, which mimics the swells of the ocean. The inkwell was undoubtedly a special commission, as it was crafted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the United States’ branch of the The Union Marine Insurance Co. Limited Liverpool.
Impressive in size, the inkwell looks more like a centerpiece than a tool for drafting correspondence. While Tiffany & Co. has crafted a handful of inkwells throughout their 182-year history, this example is undoubtedly one of the most impressive.
2. Victory Favrile Glass Medallion by Louis Comfort Tiffany
Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of Tiffany founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, and his contribution to the firm’s creative legacy is unmatched. Renowned for his creative use of materials and his one-of-a-kind designs, pieces by Louis Comfort are among the most unique and highly prized ever offered by the firm. This medallion is among the most intriguing of his creations. It was specially commissioned by a socialite, who used it as an invitation to an exclusive party celebrating the end of World War I.
The patriotic medallion features an eagle with its wings outstretched, holding aloft the Liberty Bell above a banner inscribed "VICTORY / 1918." It is crafted of favrile glass, an iridescent art glass designed by Louis Comfort that was typically used in the firm’s lamps and vases. To find a jewelry piece crafted of this distinctive material is to find something truly special.
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3. Presentation Gold Golf Putter by Tiffany & Co.
Believe it or not, but Tiffany & Co. has a long history of crafting golf putters, and sterling silver putters can still be purchased from the firm. In fact, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once gave her husband, President John F. Kennedy, a sterling version of the putter around 1960. This putter, however, stands at as one of the very few versions that was ever crafted of 14K gold. Bearing the inscription "Stick and Stay and Make it Pay," the stick was crafted between 1955 and 1965, about the same period as the Kennedy example.
4. Tiffany & Co. Silver Gilt Turkish Coffee Service
While Tiffany and tea seem to go hand in hand, the firm also crafted more exotic caffeine-centric serving pieces. This Turkish coffee service represents a rare collaboration between Tiffany & Co. and Royal Worcester, one of the most renowned makers of porcelain wares of the 19th century. The service draws its inspiration from Near Eastern art and architecture, an aesthetic which was particularly popular during the latter part of the 19th century. Though highly acclaimed, Tiffany's Eastern-inspired pieces were infrequently produced, making a set of this quality even more rare.
5. Tiffany & Co. Coromandel Writing Box
This incredible writing box is the only one of its kind known that Tiffany & Co. ever made, and is a stunning example of the firm’s excellence in wood artistry. The unique box was specially made for the personal yacht of Leonard Holmes, an important Tiffany client. Crafted from exotic coromandel and satinwood, it features Renaissance-style ormolu mounts that have been expertly gilded in 24K gold. The two plaques at the center depict Landsknechts, or conquistadors, and were specially imported from Limoges, France, a city renowned for its porcelain work.
The box opens to reveal ample interior storage for inkwells, writing instruments and letterhead. A calendar with interchangeable month, day and date cards lines the top, while a removable writing slate and pen holder rest at each side. Retailed by Tiffany & Co. of New York, it is undeniably one of the most unique pieces ever offered by the firm.
6. Tiffany & Co. Grandfather Clock
Another spectacular example of Tiffany’s furniture pieces, this grandfather clock was retailed by the firm in the early 20th century. It is a superlative example of American clockmaking, all house within a striking Neoclassical mahogany case. The clock face features the name of the now-legendary firm, reading “Tiffany & Co. New York.”
7. Tiffany & Co. Exhibition Silver Child's Service
One of Tiffany’s rarest and most charming pieces, this nine-piece child’s dinner service was exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. The set, which includes plates, bowls, a mug, flatware and a napkin ring, is perfectly proportioned for a child’s use. The pieces are adorned by the firm’s Callithumpian pattern, which features a delightful frieze of children and animals on the march. An almost identical service by Tiffany can be found at the Museum of the City of New York, though few other complete services have ever been found.
To learn more about Tiffany & Co. fascinating silver craftsmanship, click here.
8. The Bennett Indian Yacht Trophy by Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany became so renowned for their silver creations that they were soon enlisted to create trophies for the world’s most important sporting events. The Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy, the Belmont Memorial Challenge Cup for the Belmont Stakes and the All-Star Home Run Derby Trophy are perhaps the best known of these creation. Yet, it is this trophy — the colossal Bennett Indian Yacht Trophy — that is arguably the grandest piece Tiffany ever created.
The trophy was awarded to the winner of the James Gordon Bennett Cup yacht race, held off the coast of Nice on March 29, 1895. Competing for the trophy and 500 sovereigns were the Prince of Wales’ Britannia and Andrew Barclay Walker of Glasgow’s Ailsa sailing over the 30-mile triangular course. The race was tight, with the Ailsa and Britannia exchanging the lead throughout, but at the end of the day, the Ailsa proved her worth, beating the Britannia by a very impressive two minutes and one second.
The trophy itself was commissioned by the son of the New York Herald’s founder and editor, James Gordon Bennett, Sr., a Scottish immigrant and self-made man who was one of the most respected names in American journalism. Bennett, Jr., on the other hand, was more well known for his life of extravagance. His taste for the indulgent is unquestionably reflected in this Tiffany creation.
9. Betjemann's Patent Tantalus
Retailed by Tiffany & Co., this rare tantalus was patented by the Netherlander cabinetmaker George Betjemann in 1881. The purpose of the tantalus was to keep one's dearest liquors safe from unwanted consumption while still showcasing the contents within. To gain access to the liquor, simply insert the key and turn to unlock the handle and remove the decanter of your choice. While these models typically contain two or three crystal decanters, this particular example holds four.
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10. Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum Silver Lamp
Chrysanthemum is undoubtedly one of the most popular silver patterns that Tiffany & Co. ever created. Patented on September 21, 1880, the motif boasts the intricate flowing lines and exotic blossoming plants that embody the Art Nouveau style. Even though its intricacy made it one of the most expensive of Tiffany’s patterns, Chrysanthemum quickly became the most highly prized and luxurious of all Tiffany motifs, and Chrysanthemum flatware has endured as a perennial favorite among new brides.
That being said, the Chrysanthemum pattern most often is seen on Tiffany flatware, as well as sterling silver serving plates and bowls. A silver Chrysanthemum lamp, on the other hand, is a highly unique find. According to documents, this lamp was originally made as a water cooler, and it was only by special commission that Tiffany converted it to this one-of-a-kind lighting fixture.
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11. Tiffany & Co. of Paris Carriage Clock
When one thinks of Tiffany & Co., the New York flagship store inevitably comes to mind. Yet, by the late 19th century, Tiffany had made its way across the Atlantic to Paris, and one-of-a-kind, distinctly French pieces were crafted for the French branch of the legendary store. This beautiful porcelain carriage clock is one such example.
Marked “Tiffany & Compy / France / New York” on the clock face, this timepiece features an intricate pâte-sur-pâte decoration highlighted by fine gold enameling. Designed for travel, the clock is fitted with a doré bronze handle and a highly complex mechanism that could withstand the bumpy ride in a carriage. Today, it stands as a remarkable example of the far reach and influence of this highly lauded firm.
Browse our selection of antique Tiffany if you are interested in adding a piece from this iconic firm to your collection.