Brand Names vs. Repros
inJune 27, 2012 - 9:39am
When a manufacturer’s brand name becomes the standard name for a product, the maker is thrilled. Kleenex will, I am sure, concur. When common usage turns a product name into a superlative “Zenith the Cadillac of TV’s” I doubt the maker will sue for copyright infringement. But when people use the name Tiffany to describe all stained glass lamps, I want to rap their knuckles with a ruler.
To me this is equivalent to calling all oil paintings Rembrandts. “We got hundreds of Rembrandts we’re given them away. Twenty-nine ninety-nine for your pick of sofa sized, genuine hand-painted Rembrandts. We got your Greek village, Caribbean beach, or Paris street scene.”
Generalizing of the Tiffany name started in the sixties. Back then, signed Tiffany lamps were breaking auction records and designers were discovering turn of the century style. Reproduction stained glass lamps started flowing out of Mexico like taco chips. To admen assigned the task of selling this new product “stained glass lamp” probably sounded a bit technical, it does not trip lightly from the tongue. They could have used the term “leaded lamp” which professional lighting dealers use to distinguish shades constructed from copper foil leading from “panel lamps” in which stained glass panels are held in a frame. But then, “leaded lamp” sounds a bit weighty.
“Come down to Light and Leisure the purple building! We’re smashing prices on our genuine Tiffany shades below wholesale!” Light and Leisure was a lighting store in Massachusetts. During commercial breaks in reruns of the Lucy Show, Light and Leisure’s two owners screamed from my TV hawking Tiffany shades like cheap electronics. Channeling unspecified aggression on their huge inventory of Mexican shades, they weekly pulverized one with a baseball bat. And, yes, all their stores were, indeed, purple.
One result of the reproduction market adopting Tiffany’s name is that whenever someone calls City Lights and asks if I have any Tiffany lamps for sale I never know what they want. They could be asking for signed LCT lamps, antique stained glass lamps by any maker or reproductions. If they are looking for reproductions, they often don’t even know there was a man named Louis Comfort Tiffany. When I ask them if they are looking for real Tiffany lamps their response is always “real ones” because no one wants a fake anything unless it is a Rolex or Vinton bag.
I, however, still suspect that they are looking for repros when they shout at the kids in the background to “Shut up. I’m on the phone!” It’s not that people who buy fifty thousand dollar Tiffany lamps don’t have children or even tell them to shut up every once in a while. It is just that if an investor is searching out rare and valuable additions to their collection the call is either made by a secretary, “I have a call from Jason Mannington, I will put him on the line,” or they are phoning from the sanctuary of their book-lined study the children safely and quietly packed away in another wing of the mansion.
I press on, “Are you looking for original lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany?” “Huh, wha, Louis wha?” and I have my answer, although now I am stuck with having to explain to them about the real Mr. Tiffany, as if they give a hoot. Herein, of course, lies the problem, if it is a collector of the real thing and I seem to be questioning their grasp of the subject they get offended, “I know his name, I should I have over thirty of them.” To which I have to explain that many people who call don’t know the difference thereby leaving the true collector to wonder how these people ever got my number in the first place.
Written by Christopher Osborne
City Lights on Ruby Lane