The Warshawsky Collection: Masterworks of Tiffany and Prewar Design will be offered in New York on 19 May.
NEW YORK - At precisely 11:00 am on a hot and steamy Friday morning in August 1984, the Chicago O’Hare Airport Antiques Show threw open its doors to the impatient throng waiting outside. My partner Tom Gardner and I had just finished setting up our stand and lighting the Tiffany lamps we had carefully packed and transported from New York when a tall, self-assured man in shirtsleeves entered the stand.
“How much is this lamp?” he asked, pointing to a Tiffany “Lotus” leaded glass desk lamp in an unusual golden orange color.
“Thirty-five hundred,” I replied, “It’s Tiffany.”
“I’ll take it,” he said. As he walked out, he added, “I’ll be back later and pay you.”
Sarita and Roy Warshawsky.
And thus began our long and fruitful relationship with Roy Warshawsky. We exhibited in Chicago several times each year and, like many of the other dealers, we could always count on Roy to buy a few Tiffany lamps from us. His passion for Tiffany and Art Nouveau encompassed the entire scope of the genre. He especially loved floral Tiffany lamps with deep yellows and fiery oranges (lots 13 and 36 and 47), but he also had a deep appreciation for the early, exotic, fuel-powered lamps, and he added several to his private collection (lots 10, 19 and 46). Roy was an insatiable collector, and over the years, the depth and breadth of his collection became so extensive that it could only be described as encyclopedic.
The dealers at the antiques shows could not imagine what Roy did with so many lamps. Those of us in the market became familiar with his standard line, which he would deliver without hesitation whenever a piece spoke to him: “I’ll take it.” Our relationship with Roy continued even after my partner and I decided to leave the show circuit and open a gallery on New York’s 57th Street in the late 1980s. Roy attended every major Art Nouveau and Tiffany auction in New York and when he did, he visited all the important local Tiffany dealers: Lillian Nassau, Lloyd Macklowe, Alice Osofsky, Leonard Trent, and of course us, Barr-Gardner. His reach, however, extended all over the country. He bought lamps from the east to the west coast from dealers including Grover Antiques, Jeffrey Thier, Ted Ingham and Rita Goodman. He was always gracious with the dealers, not only because we enabled him to satisfy his passion for Tiffany lamps, but also because he was a kind and generous person at heart.
Roy belonged to a special group of devoted collectors that saw the Tiffany market through the decades, from its modest beginnings through its explosion in popularity. In the late 1960s and early 1970s when Roy started collecting, no one knew what was rare or important and Tiffany was very easy to find. Flea markets and thrift shops brimmed with glass and lamps – you name it, it was there – and it was not expensive. It is a testament to Roy’s faultless intuition that he acquired many of his most important pieces of Tiffany very early on in his collecting.
By the mid-1980s the products of Tiffany Studios reached new levels of popularity when influential, trend-setting new collectors such as Hollywood “royalty” entered the field. Everyone – Roy included – was amazed by the sudden escalation in prices.
I will never forget selling him the “Fern” table lamp (lot 35) at the O’Hare show in 1985. By this time, the Tiffany market had taken off, and therefore the lamp was not inexpensive. When I told Roy the cost of the lamp he did something that surprised me: he said it was “too much money,” and he left. We moved on to our next show in Houston, Texas, but I received a call from Roy a few days later. He apologized for being so disagreeable. He said he really wanted the Fern lamp and, if we drove back to Chicago after Houston, he would pay us an extra five hundred dollars. We made our way back to Chicago and delivered the lamp to Roy at Warshawsky & Co., which occupied an entire city block on State Street. Roy was charming and still apologetic and insisted on showing me around the massive mail-order car parts building. At last I knew where all the Tiffany lamps were. There seemed to be acres of desks and hundreds of people taking orders on the phone. Each and every desk had an authentic Tiffany lamp on it. I must have looked confused because Roy spontaneously said, “Look at it this way Sheldon: these people need something lovely to look at. They have such a monotonous job.”
So I asked, “Which lucky person will get the Fern lamp?”
Roy answered, “This lamp is going home. My wife will love it.”
Sheldon Barr, Gardner & Barr Inc., New York