The Tiffany Touch

Exhibition of Tiffany Pieces | October - December, 2008

tiffany-1The Tiffany Touch exhibit encompassed a variety of Tiffany works, some on public display for the first time in Indianapolis. Eight pieces were on loan from the Tiffany & Co. Archives in Parsippany, New Jersey, four pieces from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and eleven pieces from our collection. Tiffany works touched the Harrison family with presentation pieces and special gifts. The most prized is the Tiffany peacock-patterned goose-neck Favrile glass vase. A wedding present to ex-President Harrison and his second wife Mary Lord Dimmick in 1896, Louis Comfort Tiffany's mark is engraved near the edge of the base.

Several of the pieces in our collection were special presentations to President Harrison. A Silver Cylinder for the 1889 Centennial was made by Tiffany & Co. and created in a Repoussé metalworking technique, meaning that the metal is pushed back. The scroll inside states:

1789-1889 To Benjamin Harrison President of the United States Ap. 30 1889. The undersigned representatives of many of the Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Educational Organizations and Bodies of the City of New York on the occasion of this Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, the First President, present anew to the President of the United States in his official capacity their allegiance to the Government, Constitution, and the Laws, with their congratulations upon the completion of a Century of constitutional government, and the progress made in that Century.

Following this statement are signatures of representatives from many of the Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Educational Organizations and Bodies of the City of New York, including Andrew Carnegie—president of the Oratorio and Symphony Societies and C.L. Tiffany—Manufacturing Silver Smiths. The bottom of the cylinder is marked "Tiffany & Co., Sterling Silver" and states, "This cylinder was made and inscribed in less than a week's time."

The New Jersey Historical Society was involved throughout the 1889 Centennial Celebration. In January 1889, they resolved that a medal be struck commemorating the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington. A design would be selected and strikings in gold, silver and bronze would be made. Tardier the engraver and Tiffany & Co. were engaged to manufacture dies for the medal.

A mistake in the quotation from Washington struck on the first medal was discovered. Illness of the engraver and the need to correct the mistake held up the production until 1894. In the Society's January 1894 minutes it was resolved that in carrying out the Society's 1889 resolution, Number 1, being struck in gold, would be presented to ex-President Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States during the Centennial year. The Society sold copies in silver for $10.00 and in bronze for $2.50 to members. It is believed that a total of 72 medals were minted by Tiffany & Co. There were twenty-one silver medals, seventy bronze medals, and only one in gold presented to President Harrison in 1895.

The Centennial Committee commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a renowned sculptor, to design a special medal honoring George Washington. His assistant Philip Martiny executed the piece, and it was cast by the Gorham Company of New York. This bronze medal (115 mm) was sold to the public. Then the Centennial Committee contracted with Tiffany & Company to make for its members a ceremonial badge using a smaller version of Saint-Gaudens design.

Twenty-five different badges were made for the dignitaries and committee members. The medals worn by the President and Vice President, and the Governor of New York, were gold. The smaller version of the Saint-Gaudens medal hung from a ribbon and all were backed with a ribbon. The other badges differed in design, color of ribbon, and type of metal used for the badge.

Another presentation piece was given to Harrison in 1893. A beautiful Birdseye maple box contains a scroll invitation to the flag-raising on the US Mail Steamship New York. The box is marked Tiffany & Co. The scroll is heavy parchment tied to an ivory celluloid bar. The Presbyterian Church was very important to the Harrison family. At the time of Benjamin's death, the First Presbyterian Church was planning a new building at the SE corner of 16th and Delaware Streets. His widow, Mary Lord Harrison, commissioned Tiffany & Co. to design and make a stained glass window for the new church. The original window is now in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Our collection contains the original water color of the Tiffany Memorial Window, titled "Angel of the Resurrection," a 1903 drawing by "F. W." who was one of Tiffany's designers. Original photographs of the window installed at the church and the agreement dated 1904 between Tiffany and Mary Lord Harrison were also displayed. Total cost was $1,500 including outside glass protection and installation.

“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

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