Lot 201
  • 201

Tiffany Studios

20,000 - 30,000 USD
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  • Tiffany Studios
  • "Butterfly" Covered Box
  • engraved Louis C. Tiffany, inscribed July 28th 1902/N.F.McC to CB, and impressed 9041/8 with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company monogram
  • iridized enameled copper


Bruce and Adele Randall, Laurel Hollow, New York
Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum, Japan
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 29, 1989-March 4, 1990, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, April 12-September 9, 1990, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Museum, Tokyo, Japan, January 12-March 17, 1991, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, Japan, April 6-May 12, 1991, Toyama Citizens Plaza, Toyama, Japan, June 30-July 26, 1991


Alastair Duncan, Martin Eidelberg and Neil Harris, Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, London, 1989, fig. 37 (for the present lot illustrated)
Alastair Duncan, Martin Eidelberg and Neil Harris, Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Museum, London, 1991, no. 72 (for the present lot illustrated)
Janet Zapata, The Jewelry and Enamels of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York, 1993, pp. 50, 61 and 64 (for related covered boxes)
Takeo Horiuchi, ed., The World of Louis Comfort Tiffany: A Selection from the Anchorman Collection, Nagoya, Japan, 1994, p. 99 (for the present lot illustrated)
Alastair Duncan, Louis C. Tiffany: The Garden Museum Collection, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2004, p. 409 (for the present lot illustrated)
Martin Eidelberg, Nina Gray and Margaret K. Hofer, A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, exh. cat., New York Historical Society, New York, 2007, p. 88, no. 57 (for related enamels)


Overall very good condition. The enameled surfaces with some extremely light and fine surface scratches throughout consistent with age and gentle handling. The box lid with some expected very minor fleabite enamel losses around the lower edge, with one larger loss measuring approximately 1/8 inch wide, not visually detractive. The interior of the lid with transparent enamel with some expected very minor craquelure. The box with a small loss to the bottom edge just above the base measuring approximately 1/8 x 1 inch. The enamel presents with strong, luminous iridescence and superb coloration. The butterflies are depicted in low relief, imparting the box lid with a subtle dimensionality and liveliness. Formerly in the collection of the Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum, Japan, this lot is accompanied by its custom, velvet-lined Garden Museum box. A breathtaking and exquisitely executed work.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Louis Comfort Tiffany long avoided, and was roundly praised for not using, enamel on his leaded glass windows. When he finally did decide to employ enamel, it was for entirely innovative products. These objects, composed of shaped copper beautifully overlaid with vitreous enamel, were first displayed in Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company’s exhibition at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. The pieces featured both iridescent highlights and, more significantly, a unique translucency that allowed portions of the copper body to sparkle under reflected light. The incredible attention Tiffany’s enamelware received was only heightened when the Exposition awarded them the Grand Prix.

A similar display was shown by the firm at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, where their enamels again were awarded a Grand Prize. One critic, after seeing the exhibition, proclaimed: “The future extensive use of enamel seems to be assured, since experiments are now making, under the direction of Mr. Louis C. Tiffany, in his studio at Corona, Long Island, with the purpose of doing for enamel what has already been accomplished for glass. And surely all that ingenuity, skill and knowledge can suggest, this artist will work out and complete!”1

Tiffany enamels, just as the Favrile glass objects, were considered unique works of art intended for wealthy collectors. Tiffany & Company’s 1905 Blue Book listed small trays, bonbonnieres and fancy cabinet pieces at $10 to $50; large bonbon boxes were $50 to $250, and vases ranged between $25 and $300. Another marketing similarity with Favrile glass was that the firm was willing to offer a few clues concerning the technical innovations in creating their enamel pieces but absolutely refused to go into specifics: “The Tiffany studios have their secrets of detail that are jealously screened from vulgar inspection—that is a matter of business which the public has no right to probe. The hint given…is sufficient for the inquiring and the curious.”2

The covered box presented here highlights one of Tiffany’s favorite motifs. He featured butterflies in many of his early interior decorations, starting in 1880 with the embroidered drop curtain for the Madison Square Theater and three years later in the mosaic ceiling of Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s Fifth Avenue mansion. He later included the insect in his leaded glass windows and lamp shades as well as mosaic panels and tea stands. Tiffany was so enamored with butterflies that he even frequented entomological exhibitions so he could make “use of the color combinations suggested by the colorings of some of these beautiful specimens.”3

In this instance, the cover has a navy ground enhanced with overlapping butterflies hovering over stylized foliage. The insects, with their yellow serrated wings and green and violet bodies, as well as the ground, has a subtle multi-hued iridescence. The butterflies are also in relief, despite the absence of any repoussé work. The effect was accomplished through the time-consuming and risky method of multiple applications and firings of the enamel until the desired thickness was reached. It is pieces such as this covered box that perpetuate Louis C. Tiffany’s reputation as an artistic genius.

PAUL DOROS, former curator of glass at the Chrysler Museum (Norfolk, Virginia) and author of The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York: Vendome Press), 2013

1 Samuel Howe, “Enamel as a Decorative Agent,” The Craftsman, vol. 2, no. 2 (May 1902), p. 64.
2 James L. Harvey, “Source and Beauty in Favrile Glass,” Brush and Pencil, vol. 9, no. 3 (December 1901), p. 176.
3 “Butterflies in Art,” Baltimore Sun, January 29, 1902, p. 7.