Lot 4
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TIFFANY STUDIOS | An Important and Rare Seven-Piece “Pond Lily” Desk Set

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • Tiffany Studios
  • An Important and Rare Seven-Piece “Pond Lily” Desk Set
  • blotter ends, inkstand, calendar frame, pen tray and rocker blotter each impressed TIFFANY STUDIOS/NEW YORKthe inkstand, pen tray, rocker blotter and blotter ends further impressed with firm's respective model numbers
  • patinated bronze
  • Various sizes
  • circa 1905
comprising an inkstand, letter rack, calendar frame, pen tray, rocker blotter, and a pair of blotter endsthe inkstand with interior period clear glass liner


Brunk Auctions, Asheville, North Carolina, November 4, 2006, lot 165


Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Lamps and Metalware, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2007, p. 489
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. 80
William R. Holland, Tiffany Desk Sets, Atglen, PA, 2008, pp. 224-226 (for the present lot illustrated)


Overall very good condition. This rare desk set displays an exceptionally rich, deep brown and green patina. Dragonflies, moths, scarabs and lily pads are masterfully cast and chased, showcasing the incredible skill of Tiffany’s craftsmen. The bronze surfaces with some occasional extremely minor surface scratches, abrasions, and minor traces of surface soiling to the recessed portions of the design, consistent with age and gentle use. Each piece has been applied with either cork or felt glides to the underbases. The pen tray with a very small surface irregularity and discoloration adjacent to the moth’s left antenna, not visually detractive. The pad of the rocker blotter is possibly original and presents with a few discolorations. The calendar sheets of the frame appear original and present with scattered minor wear, creasing, and discoloration consistent with age and gentle use. The inkstand with a period clear glass liner with expected ink stains and minor flea bites to the interior edge of the aperture. A superb example of this rare desk set model showcasing Tiffany’s mastery in sculpting and casting.
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

The Pond Lily desk set, with its remarkable vocabulary of natural forms, is one of the most striking designs from Tiffany Studios. Lily pads, flower buds, dragonflies, and moths are gathered here to create a distinctive aquatic habitat depicted across a range of bronze desk objects. Unlike most of Tiffany Studios’ designs which are to some degree conventionalized, here the elements are fully modeled in low and high relief. One wonders who should be credited with these designs. It would be reasonable to speculate that it might have been Tiffany himself who made a preliminary suggestion or, more likely, one of the craftsmen from the metals department in Corona. It could also have been the creation of one of the workers in Clara Driscoll’s glass cutting department in Manhattan, for although the women were primarily involved with glass-related objects, they too created bronze objects: there is a telling passage in one of Driscoll’s letters in which she refers to carving a plaster model that she had brought with her to a seaside cottage, so as to work on it while away from the New York studio.

The financial success of Tiffany Studios was dependent on the sale of luxury goods such as this set at Christmas and Easter. These gifts were both functional and beautiful, fulfilling William Morris’ dictum, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Yet, as stunning as this desk set may be, only three extant sets are known. Two, including this one, have a rich brown and green patina, and the third has a gold doré finish. The rarity of the Pond Lily set stands in stark contrast to the boundless number of other, more popular desk sets such as Pine Needles (Etched Metal), Grapevine, Zodiac, and Bookmark.

It is likely that the Pond Lily desk set was designed in the first years of the 20th Century and only remained in production for a few years. The richness of its naturalistic design and the choice of its principal botanical reference recall the two bronze lamp bases, one with fully modeled lily pads and the other with crabs, that the firm introduced by 1898. This desk set was probably introduced a few years later. The model numbers stamped under each of the pieces—a series going from 2080 on the blotter ends to 2089 for the rocker blotter—suggest that it was created a year or two after 1900 when standardized model numbers were introduced. The Pond Lily set appears on the 1906 Price List, but there is no mention of it on the 1910 list, not even as a discontinued design. The model is a tour de force within the firm’s fancy goods line, demonstrating their early mastery of sculpting and casting.

—Martin Eidelberg