In general, antique bronze lamps are the most valuable above brass, copper, pewter, and iron since there are many antique iron pieces in
existence but very few antique bronze lamps in comparison. Typically antique bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) is the most splendid of the base metals for it is harder and more durable than copper, but can easily be chiseled, hammered, melted, engraved, gilded and cast.
Bronze lamps and other decorative items were far too expensive for early American settlers and pioneers. The antique bronze metal itself was not necessarily expensive, but it was the finishing required on bronze pieces, similar to that done on silver, that can make antique bronze lamps expensive.
By the late 19th century, the use of spelter was widely promoted as a less expensive alternative to bronze. This silver colored metal is an alloy of zinc combined with
aluminum or lead. It can be patinated to resemble bronze, but is lighter in weight.
In the antique bronze lamps of the Art Nouveau period, electrical light fittings were concealed behind plants, trailing leafage, maidens and their garments. Two of the most adept at using these methods in bronze lamps was Raoul Larche and Leo Laporte-Blairsy, both from France. Many of their gilted bronze antique lamps were mass produced but few have survived, making them more expensive today.
Recently a very rare figural antique bronze lamp dating back to the early Meiji period, featuring a laughing geisha in traditional kimono was displayed by Barkus Farm antiques at a price of $4,500.
The most important criterion for determining the value of a bronze antique lamp is its authenticity. Many other metals can appear to be bronze, and bronze lamps can be easily copied. Genuine bronze displays clear, sharp detail and will show marks of the finishing file.
Antique bronze lamp reproductions can be recognized by the lack of sharp definition of the original, and there is usually somewhat of a difference in size between the original and the reproduction. Some imitation bronze lamps are simply a sheet of copper over a base of porcelain or plaster.
There are few tricks the collector can use to test for authenticity. By tapping various areas of the base, listen for a hollow sound which would indicate an area where the metal skin is not securely attached. Also, by scrapping an inconspicuous spot, an authentic antique brass lamp will reveal a golden brass color. If it shows a reddish gleam, it is not bronze and is most likely copper. Another tip used by antique collectors is to touch a magnet to lamp, if it sticks it is made of iron. Bronze doesn't rust or pit, and when exposed to the weather it turns a distinctive turquoise green from the moisture.
Also used in determining the value of antique bronze lamps is the size. Usually larger pieces will be of greater value, as well as attractiveness and patina. Rubbed or worn patina is undesirable. Since bronze resists corrosion,
bronze lamps can
purposefully be given an artificial patina that imitates oxidation. New bronze can therefore acquire a patina and many old antique bronze lamps had this done immediately after they were made, making it even more difficult for a new collector to determine its authentic value. Artificial patina is generally a slightly different color than genuine patina. Of course, as with any antique collectible, the craftsman's mark is always important in determining its origin, age, and value.
If you have an antique bronze piece which is perhaps dusty and has not been cleaned in a very long time, it can be washed with lukewarm water with mild soap. Never use any cleaning substances or steel wool to clean antique bronze lamps which can damage the patina. A good way to protect the bronze surface is with beeswax to which five percent carnauba wax has been added.