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Behind the Scenes: Conservation of Our Tiffany Kerosene Floor Lamp

March 24, 2021 Archive Insight
This is the third of a series of blog posts presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 60 artifacts, is on view at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from March 6, 2021, through April 25, 2021. The lamp shown here is from the collections of The Henry Ford and provides background on themes in the exhibition.

In preparing for the Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection exhibit, The Henry Ford’s curatorial department expressed interest in displaying a Tiffany Studios early floor lamp, circa 1900, from our collections.  This lamp features a telescopic shaft and a dual wick kerosene burner for extra illumination.

Lamp with bronze base and stem, and green and yellow "fishscale" patterned glass shadeTwo black-and-white images of floor lamps next to each other
Our Tiffany lamp (THF186213) as compared to images from Tiffany publications.

In Tiffany publications, the lamp rests on an outer cushion-textured base with six ball-shaped feet. However, the outer base from The Henry Ford’s lamp was missing, with no previous record of its existence when it entered our collection in 1966.

Discussions between Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable and conservators led to the decision to create a replica lamp base to ensure both historical accuracy and physical stability to the tall, rather top-heavy floor lamp. The completed object would provide viewers with a more accurate interpretation and the opportunity to experience the object whole, as it was originally designed.

It’s All about the Base


We embarked upon an effort to locate a similar base in museums or private collections to serve as a reference or pattern, to inform the creation of a replacement base—only to discover that the lamp is quite rare. So instead, I decided to create a model base using a CAD (computer-aided design) program, with the design based on photographs from Tiffany publications and auctions. The museum’s lamp was used as a physical frame of reference for measurements and comparisons in CAD. I reached out to several 3D-printing shops to determine if they could use my CAD design to generate a three-dimensional plastic base. Ultimately, the base was printed with the help and generosity of the additive manufacturing team at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Green lamp base CAD drawing from aboveGreen CAD drawing of lamp base, from a side angle
The above images are the CAD model of the base from different angles.

Ford Motor Company and its Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) offered their additive manufacturing expertise and capabilities. Their team includes Global Chief Engineer Mike Mikula, Rapid Prototype Subject Matter Expert Scott Gafken, Technical Leader in Additive Manufacturing Harold Sears, Additive Manufacturing Engineer Supervisor Jay Haubenstricke, and Supervisor Additive Manufacturing John Phillips.

Collaborative discussions with Scott Gafken revealed that the process would take about 24 hours, which included printing as well as model cooldown for handling. The EOS P770 was employed as an industrial selective laser sintering (SLS) printer and produced the print in Nylon 12 (also known as Polyamide 12 or PA12). The printing material was selected based on its ability to bear the weight of the lamp, and someday be a candidate for an investment casting, for the creation of a metal base.

GIF rotating through several images of 3D-printed circular lamp base
The white image shows the Polyamide 12 print of the base at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center. The image with painter’s tape was taken during the process of painting the base. Achieving a finish that matched the original metal lamp required the application of several layers of paint. The image with only one small white section shows the completed base after gloss varnish was applied.

Paint Matching


The bronze surface of the lamp was shades of brown with hints of red, orange, and green. These shades are similar to several paint colors: raw umber, chromium oxide green, sepia, burnt sienna, and yellow oxides. The colors were mixed into several formulations to closely match the patina (aged finish) of the lamp. Diluted paint was applied in layers to allow the variations in the tones to be seen. After discussions with the curator and members of our Experience Design department, we made the decision to leave one section of 3D-printed surface unpainted, to allow visitors to see it in the exhibit.

Man wearing face mask sits at a table covered with bottles, jars, and papers, painting a round lamp base brown
The replica base was painted with the actual lamp present to ensure a match.

Additional Treatment


Beyond the base, other aspects of our conservation treatment included the cleaning of the Tiffany lamp with a bristle brush and vacuum. Wet cleaning included a dilute blend of anionic and nonionic detergents in distilled water, applied with cotton rags and cotton swabs. Residual detergent was then removed with a distilled water wipedown.

A protective barrier of wax was introduced via hot wax application. The bronze surface was heated with a hot air gun and microcrystalline wax was applied and left to cool down. A boar-bristle brush and bamboo picks were used to remove excess wax. The brush and cotton rags were then used to buff the wax layer, resulting in a uniform sheen.

GIF rotating through two photos of round lamp base with swirled pattern; the first is dark and dull and the second is lighter and shiny
GIF showing two images of part of a lamp stem; the first is dark and dull and the second is lighter and shiny
Details of the lamp both before cleaning and after cleaning and wax application.

Additional information on the care of these types of artifacts and more can be found in The Henry Ford’s conservation fact sheets, “The Care and Preservation of Historical Brass and Bronze” and “The Care and Preservation of Glass & Ceramics.”

Please check out this lamp and other Tiffany Studios artifacts in the Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection exhibit before its closing on April 25, 2021.


Cuong Nguyen is Conservator at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, philanthropy, technology, glass, by Cuong Nguyen, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, collections care, conservation, Louis Comfort Tiffany

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