Great Art
Glass Lamps

Tiffany, Duffner & Kimberly,
Pairpoint and Handel

<Martin M. May
Four manufacturers of the "Tiffany" lamps are shown here. Most of the ones of interest to us were created by hand at the beginning of the 20th Century. The best came from Louis Comfort Tiffany, son to Charles Lewis Tiffany, the jewelry store founder. There are here, as well, representative selections from three other manufacturers, Duffner & Kimberly, Pairpoint and Handel.

You might as well forget the last two, especially those from the Pairpont Company. Most are truly ghastly, soft, goopy vomit-inducing shades with garish colors. They are called "Puffies."

Almost as bad are the floral shades --- called Teroca --- from the Handel Company, no relation to George Friederich. Their hand-painted forest scenes are nice, but their birds --- all longtailed and raucous (in color if not in voice) are improbable looking. One shot of Egyptian Ruins (the Temple at Karnak) is a delight.

It's made up for by the sleek Duffner & Kimberlys. Don't miss the dragonflies. Tiffany did the most sensuous and delicious: good enough to eat, or at least to be on the dining table.

The cover of this book should make you weep that your house doesn't have one. It's a "Lily Lamp," sixteen separate lamps bursting up and out, brass lily pads floating about the base.

The author doesn't waste your time with extensive, easy-to-skip-over notes. A few bare facts, excellent color shots --- over two hundred in number --- and (o woe!) the prices from 1906 or so, when they were sold brand new for a pittance. May reminds us that the average worker of the time made no more than 17-½¢ an hour. The lovely Louis XV lamp --- on sale back then for $400 --- is thus probably worth four thousand today. There is at the back of the book a list of current dealers of these antiques who are prepared to light up your life (for a small fortune).
--- L. D'Lagle

To Go

The Creation of the
Empire State Building

<Geraldine B. Wagner
(Thunder Bay Press)
A year or so ago, we came across a fine book called The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon, Day by Day. It was a straightforward presentation, one that utilized engineering photographs made by the contractor during construction. We specifically praised the beauty of the book (as well as the building) because, as we wrote at the time,

    Princeton Architectural Press has elected to leave all comments until the end ... so you have well-rendered 9x12 photographs --- along with some double spreads --- and then at the very end referent photographs and text. The volume is a gorgeous piece of art of and by itself.

Comes now a similar oversized volume put out by Thunder Bay on the Empire State Building. There are chapters on the depression, the political turmoil of the times, other buildings built before the Big One, and even some comments on the death of the World Trade Center.

Although some of these facts are mildly interesting, the titles to the chapters or the photographs tend to be either silly or stupid (or both): "When Cloud Ticklers First Scraped the Sky," "The Workers: Classical Heroes in the Flesh,"

    At the time of the Great Depression, New York was a strange brew of contradictory energies; a business capital for the wealthy and a sink of iniquity for those who would never be.

Ms Wagner is fond not only of the cliché but, too, instantly forgettable statistics: "An army of workers was deployed ... using some 57,000 tons of steel. They laid 10 million bricks, poured 62,000 cubic yards of cement, set 6,400 windows, installing seven miles of elevator shafts for 63 elevators." The presentation of facts in this gee-whiz Time Magazine style of reporting might well have been left on the cutting room floor.

Another fateful mistake in this book --- at least for those of us drawn to Early New York Baroque --- is the printing here of several photographs of the gorgeous old Waldorf - Astoria Hotel as torn down by Raskob and Company to make way for the Empire State Building. It's enough to make one damp, for the hotel was a funny gee-gaw structure with bay windows, fake dormers, decorative chimneys, and four sided cupolas atop the whole wedding cake. Better to have left this treasure for later generations rather than erect this absurdly huge Poke-in-the-Eye.

If you have ever visited the Empire State building --- more than just gazing at the hokey entry-way, or looking at the smog from the viewing platforms --- you'll know what a dump it is. The eighty-six stories are given over to a thousand drab compartments: jewelers, coin shops, offices for second rate lawyers, obscure import-export brokers, strange portals marked "DCK Industries," "Forgel Bros." or "Lagerly & Sons." As a whole, the building makes few if any contributions to the art of modern architecture outside of its sheer piggy massiveness.

By my lights, it would have been preferable to leave the lovely hotel where it stood, ramp up this 102 story heap over in Jersey City or, best of all, in Omaha: some out-of-the-way place where it would not be so offensive to our sensibilities.

--- M. M. McPhelps, AIA

The Encyclopedia of
Trains and Locomotives

The Comprehensive Guide to
Over 900 Steam, Diesel, and
Electric Locomotives from
1825 to the Present Day

<David Ross, Editor
(Thunder Bay Press)
In contrast to The Creation of the Empire State Building, Thunder Bay has done themselves proud with this railroad encyclopedia. This volume is a treasure trove, especially for those of us who begrudge every single operation shut down by the rail companies beginning with the end of WWII, the melting down of great engines and beautiful passenger cars, the total ruination of an exquisite system of moving people and products from here to there.

There are rare photographs of engines from all over the world: England, France, Austria, Mexico, China, India, South Africa, Finland, Spain, Iraq, Japan. Each page carries one, two, or three drawings or photographs (both color and black-and-white) of trains, along with a narrative section and a list of specifics for each engine: boiler pressure, cylinders, driving wheels, grate area, heating surface, tractive effort, and total weight. Each heading is divided into name and class (of engine), railway company, country and date.

For instance, the Atlantic 153 was built in 1895 for the Atlantic Coast Line, was painted a gorgeous blue with gold trim, had a wheel arrangement of 4-4-2 --- that is, two pairs of carrying wheels at the front, two pairs of driving wheels in the middle, and one pair of carrying wheels trailing.

The volume is divided into three parts: steam, diesel, and electric. The earlier steam engines, the editor tells us, could run on wood, powdered peat, corn cobs, and, towards the ultimate days of steam, on oil.

The very first engine listed is Locomotion No. 1, 0-4-0 of the Stockton & Darlington Railway of Great Britain, 1825 --- although primitive steam engines had been built as early as 1809. It took nine to eleven hours to make a run of forty miles which is not unlike the time it takes to cross a large city nowadays using modern freeways. That's progress.

Of the early engines, the one we'd like most to have running around our house and down the street is the Lion 0-4-2 with the "wood-lined boiler" looking like a great ale barrel, complete with copper haycock-shaped firebox. Buster Keaton's "General" is here, as is the Class 030 which I swear I got to ride when I was going from Madrid to Alicante fifty years ago. For sheer decorative exuberance, we have to give it to the English "Terrier" with a "lined-out black livery," although the Indian Class HS comes in second best and the Class FDs from Russia a close third. The homeliest is probably the one shown below.

One of the weirdest is the silver box-faced Beyer Garratt of Tasmanian Railway, Australia, although the "Silver Fern" Diesel is pretty bad, too. The last steam engine --- stop weeping --- was constructed in South Africa in 1981 and was called the "Red Devil," presumably because it was painted red.

The heaviest steam engine we could find here [See Fig. 4 below] is the zippy looking 6-4-4-6, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1939. It weighed in at 523.4 tons. That's a million pounds. How would you like to be tendering that baby? It was rather poorly designed: the driving wheels wanted to slip when starting up, so it was shown at the New York World's Fair and then broken up in 1949. That kind of stuff must be why the PRR decided to merge with the NYC and both went belly-up a few years after. We understand the officers and directors paid themselves handsomely for destroying two once-viable East Coast railroad companies that served millions of people.

The first electrically powered engine was built for the B&O Railroad in 1896 and was known as "BOBO." It looked the same coming and going and I swear I had a model electric train that looked just like it, only it didn't weigh 87 tons and I never could figure out how to make it back up without jumping the tracks. The last trains in the book are the "Magnetic Levitation Trains" of Germany and Japan that look less like engines of old and more like garden snakes hooked up to go at ruinous speeds over a center rail line.

The Encyclopedia is obviously a work of love, with massive amounts of information on each entry. The editor opines that there were probably some 300,000 engines built over the last two centuries, but he cannot explain, probably never will be able to explain, why some of us are still gaga over anything having to do with rail transportation, whether it be the absurd A Grande Vitesse of France, the lumpy Deutsche Bundesbahn of Germany, the homely AEC's of Great Britain, the ridiculous GMA of South Africa (with its bulbous front end water tank), and the Belgian Class 12 that looks like an overstuffed doodle-bug with wings.

--- Geo. J. Riley

Go Up     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH

Send us an e-mail