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The Magnificent Tiffany Lamps at The New-York Historical Society

July 5, 2018
Wisteria Lamps (Credit: Jerome Levine)

The brilliant exhibit of Tiffany lamps at the New-York Historical Society couples art with history.

I had never before heard of Dr. Egon Neustadt until a docent at the New-York Historical Society mentioned the name.

While at the museum that day to see another exhibition, Celebrating Bill Cunningham, we walked into the museum’s Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, not sure what would be there. The docent standing just inside the door immediately recognized the amazed look on our faces.

We were surrounded by 132 Tiffany lamps, electrified and artfully displayed, either hanging, on tables, or on the floor. The ambient light in the room played off the vibrant colors of the glass.

“This is the largest lit collection of Tiffany lamps on display anywhere in the world,” she said.

Part of the Tiffany Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Part of the Tiffany Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

“How did the museum acquire all of them?” I asked.

She said they were all donated to the museum by a single collector, a Jewish orthodontist from Flushing, New York (in the borough of Queens)—not far from the area where I grew up. To amass a collection like that, we imagined that Dr. Neustadt had probably put a lot of kids in braces in his day.

The docent continued telling the story: In 1935, Neustadt and his wife Hildegarde—not-very-wealthy, recently married, Viennese émigrés—purchased their first Tiffany lamp (a daffodil lamp) for about $12.50 at a second-hand shop in Greenwich Village. Stained glass lamps had fallen out of fashion so the price was right, and the style complemented the couple’s Jacobean home décor.

The orthodontist became a successful real estate developer with the passion and means to become the consummate Tiffany lamp collector. Over five decades, he amassed more than 200 Tiffany lamps of different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs.

His wife, HIldegarde, died in 1961 and Neustadt died in 1984 at the age of 87. His obituary in the New York Times reported:

“He [Neustadt] said he bought every type of lamp that Louis Comfort Tiffany made, even if he did not like it. ‘The point was to have a definitive collection that would show to others the full range of Tiffany’s work,’’ he said.”

That same year, Neustadte gave a large portion of his encyclopedic collection, the 132 Tiffany lamps and three Tiffany windows to the New-York Historical Society, the city’s oldest museum.

Tiffany Firefly Lamp

Tiffany Firefly Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Tiffany Poppy Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Tiffany Poppy Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Cobweb Shade Tiffany Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Cobweb Shade Tiffany Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Empire Tiffany Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Empire Tiffany Lamp (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Geometric Tiffany Shades (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Geometric Tiffany Shades (Credit: Jerome Levine)

With a little bit of research, I later learned that the non-profit Neustadt Collection, founded by the couple arranged for another 25 lamps to be displayed in a permanent gallery at the Queens Museum.

The Tiffany Gallery at the Historical Society 

Spread over two floors with a magnificent glass spiral staircase connecting them, the interactive, multimedia exhibit not only displays the lamps, each a one-of-a-kind piece of art, but also recounts the history of how they were assembled by hand at a factory in Corona, Queens.

Glass staircase at the Tiffany Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Glass staircase at the Tiffany Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

The docent explained that the striking, contemporary space accommodating the permanent Tiffany exhibit was created about a year and a half ago. Award-winning architect Eva Jiřičná designed the renovation, part of the Henry Luce III Center on the fourth floor of the museum.

Visitors learn that many of the floral designs of the Tiffany lamps were actually created by “Tiffany Girls.” These women worked in Manhattan under a young Tiffany employee Clara Driscoll (1861-1944), whose role remained relatively obscure for many years. Men worked separately at a factory in Queens where they assembled the lamps.

Early photograph of the Tiffany Factory in Queens, NY (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Early photograph of the Tiffany Factory in Queens, NY (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Model of the Tiffany Factory (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Model of the Tiffany Factory (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Hanging Tiffany Chandelier (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Hanging Tiffany Chandelier (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Driscoll oversaw the designs executed by the women’s glass-cutting department of the company, which employed some 300 people at its peak. The Tiffany Girls carefully chose each of the pieces of colored glass to create the fabulous designs that showcase the beauty of nature. Correspondence to her mother links Driscoll with the design of the iconic Tiffany wisteria lamps, each comprised of 2000 pieces of glass. Some of them are now valued at over $100,000 each.

Tiffany lamps, marketed to the wealthy, were most popular between 1900-1910, shortly after the introduction of incandescent bulbs.

How did Tiffany (1848-1933) have the means to create all these treasures? His father, Charles Lewis Tiffany, was the founder of Tiffany and Company, the venerable, luxury jewelry company for which Louis Comfort Tiffany served as the first design director.

Interactive exhibit that allows visitors to design Tiffany lamps (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Interactive exhibit that allows visitors to design Tiffany lamps (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Bottom Line

The incredible collection of Tiffany Lamps at the New-York Historical Society in New York City is simply breathtaking. Everything is beautifully displayed with ample space to see many of them “in the round.” Descriptive placards and electronic devices next to various items provide information about their history, which is complemented by the very helpful and welcoming museum staff.

Empire-style Tiffany Lamp in front of Tiffany Window (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Empire-style Tiffany Lamp in front of Tiffany Window (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Paneled Tiffany Window at the end of the Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Paneled Tiffany Window at the end of the Gallery (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Often copied, Tiffany lamp reproductions don’t hold the same luster. If you are in New York City, this is a wonderful opportunity to see this world-class collection. Learning about the rich history of the lamps greatly enhances the experience of seeing them.


IF YOU GO

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024

  • Reply
    Debra BORCHERT
    July 5, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for the gorgeous photos and interesting article! Brava!
    Debra

    • Reply
      Irene
      July 5, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      As you can probably tell, I fell in love with this exhibit!

  • Reply
    Cindy L
    July 5, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    All I can say is WOW — what a great exhibit (love Tiffany) and your photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing. If I didn’t have upcoming surgery, I would hop on a plane and come to visit!!

    • Reply
      irene
      July 5, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      Since it is a permanent exhibit, you will still have time afterward! Hope all goes smoothly; I know it will!

  • Reply
    chin hua aun
    July 6, 2018 at 6:32 am

    Amazing lamp design and development. New York is my favorite destination for holidays.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 10, 2018 at 8:31 am

      NYC always offers unexpected treasures like this exhibition!

  • Reply
    Jackie K Smith
    July 9, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    What an amazing collection! Who’d have thought at $2.50 purchase oh so long ago would lead one day to such an amazing collection of art.

    A most interesting read, Irene!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 10, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Yes the Neustadts sure were good shoppers. We were told that he haggled over prices, too!

  • Reply
    Karen Warren
    July 10, 2018 at 8:24 am

    What a fabulous collection of Tiffany lamps! I love the bright colours and designs.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 10, 2018 at 8:28 am

      I loved the lamps but also the backstory of the Tiffany lamp collection!

  • Reply
    michele h peterson
    July 10, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    What an interesting collection and definitely worth stopping in to visit. I especially love that Tiffany Firefly Lamp with the graceful fireflies – beautiful!

  • Reply
    Debbra Dunning Brouillette
    July 10, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    I attended a Louis Comfort Tiffany special exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art several years ago when we lived in the area…and loved it! It was more than just lamps, but I would love to see this, too!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 10, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Now that I’ve seen this one, I’ll be on the lookout for other exhibitions!

  • Reply
    jane
    July 10, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    I love stained glass and the fact that one man collected all of these Tiffany lamps is amazing. But I also think that the glass staircase is stunning, too!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    July 11, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Would love to see the Tiffany lamp collection. Have added New-York Historical Society to my NYC to-do list!

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    July 11, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    So nice that they are a permanent exhibition!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    July 12, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    What a wonderful gesture to donate so much of the collection to the New York Historical Society. It is breathtaking! The photos illustrate their beauty so well and it was interesting to learn about the man behind the collection.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 12, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      I also read that the Neustadts had no heirs, which might have changed the equation. Perhaps though, he would have wanted to share his collection with the public anyway!

  • Reply
    Judy Freedman
    July 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    The lamps are so beautiful. I’ve never been to the Historical Society. Will have to plan a visit.

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    July 16, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    It’s really a jewel among New York City’s’ many museums!

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