Antique Lamp - A Collector's Resource  for Information and History on Antique Lamps

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Antique Lamps

  Antique Lamp

Bronze  Lamps


Tiffany Lamps

Norton Antique  Lamp Collection

French Sevres Porcelain Antique Lamp

Early 20th century Dirk van Erp hammered copper and mica lamp

Antique Coach Lamp, c 19th century

Bradley and Hubbard Lamp, c 1920

While some antique lamps tend to send us to that precise time and place of the past, other classic styles of antique lighting can easily find their place in the modern home. There are so many varieties of antique lamps and antique lighting that most collectors focus on a particular style, shape, or finish, and collections range from the beginnings of antique lighting, the oil lamp, to the contemporary styled electric lamps and floor lamps of the mid-twentieth century. Another major attraction in collecting antique lamps is their continued usefulness in the home and relatively low cost as a collectors item.

The Beginnings: Oil and Gas lamps

The introduction of oil and gas lamps made candlelight virtually obsolete. Although coal gas was first used as early as 1784, the most commonly used fuels of early antique lamps, before 1850, consisted mainly of olive oil, beeswax, fish oil, and whale oil, often referred to as sperm oil (oil from the sperm whale,) as well as similar oils such as sesame and nut. 

Antique collectors looking for a more useful and relatively inexpensive antique lamp will most likely seek out the whale oil lamps.

Antique whale oil lamps can be found in brass, pewter, tin, and glass, designs of which often carry a close resemblance to the candlestick. Some of the more known pewter oil lamp producers of the time were Gleason, Smith, Boardman, Trask, and Calder. 

Pewter was the most popular material at the time that whale oil lamps were introduced, but the beauty of the glass antique lamps attracted many and soon superseded pewter. 

It was Swiss inventor, Aime Argand, that vastly improved the whale oil lamp. The Argand antique lamps, patented in 1780, burned a tubular wick between two metal tubes from a fuel reservoir mounted above the burner, allowing the air to be channeled through the center of the wick and producing a significantly brighter illumination, and the wick itself required much less trimming. Other manufacturers, such as American lamp and chandelier producers Henry Hooper and Cornelius, improved on the Argand design further, producing sinumbra, and later solar antique lamp styles. These whale oil fueled antique lamp designs continued to simulate the candlestick with a glass shade or globe supported by a thin metal pedestal.

Sandwich Glass lamps first introduced by Deming Jarvis, glassmaker and owner of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory, were extremely popular between 1825 and 1888, and greatly influenced other factories in reproducing many of Jarvis' designs and patterns. His beautiful Sandwich Glass whale oil antique lamps are highly collectible, however, it is often confusing for the collector in authenticating original Sandwich Glass lamps because of the number of reproductions produced. Certain colors and patterns are unique to the Boston and Sandwich antique lamps, and the glass of these is much harder and does not scratch easily. There continues to be an interest by antique collectors in Sandwich glass lamps, originals as well as reproductions, but definitely the most desirable and most likely to demand high prices are the original Sandwich Factory lamps, due to their design, quality and craftsmanship with the best pieces being produced between 1860 and 1880.

The Kerosene Lamp

With the discovery of petroleum as a fuel in the mid 19th century, the kerosene lamp, known as paraffin lamp in Britain and much cheaper than whale oil, became increasingly popular, and demand quickly surpassed that of the Argand antique lamps and other whale oil lamps. The mantle lamps and pressure lamps are both variations of the kerosene antique lamp. In general, the illumination from an antique mantle lamp burned much brighter than that of the wick designed antique lamp and most often required a glass shade, as did the pressure lamps. Typically, the lamp bases were produced by one manufacturer and the glass shades by another. Examples of these are the Tilley antique lamp and the Coleman antique lamp. 

The Electric Lamp

The development of the electric light bulb at the turn of the 19th century replaced the gas antique lamps with electric lamps throughout the United States and Europe. With the introduction of the light bulb, lamp makers were no longer restricted in their designs, allowing creativity in antique lamp designs to blossom, and a variety of interesting lamp shapes emerged often of gilded bronze sculpture illuminated by a light bulb concealed within. Antique lamps became not only utilitarian, but decorative as well, and were at the height of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Popular Lamp Makers

It was at this time that the highly collectible Tiffany lamps flourished, as well as other American Art Nouveau, and later Art Deco lamp producers Handel, Pairpoint, and Duffner and Kimberly. From 1885 to 1892, Handel used other companies to provide the lamp bases for their reverse painted glass lamp shades, but in 1902 they began producing their own lamp bases. The term Handel is often applied to many lamps that are not original Handel antique lamps, but that exhibit the same style and shape as Handel lamps. Original Handel lamps are of the finest quality in reverse hand painted lamps. Pairpoint, a premier metal manufacturer, merged with Mt. Washington Glass Company to create lamp and lamp accessories. Pairpoint antique lamps are best known for their reverse painted scenic blown shades, as well as their cut glass and metal overlays, and are highly collectible due to their quality, and consistency of visible manufacturer marks, often bearing the artists' signatures. Collectors should be aware that it is not uncommon to find antique lamp shades mismatched to antique lamp bases, and unsigned shades attached to signed bases. These companies were diligent in marking their shades and bases, and careful attention should be given to the authenticity of each. It is advisable to seek the advice of an expert in determining authenticity.

Emile Galle, a guiding force in the French Art Nouveau movement, and internationally known for his work as a glassmaker during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, experimented with a variety of his own creative techniques and processes in his glassmaking. Galle also produced lamps exhibiting his exquisite glass shades and bases, and his antique lamps as well as his glassware demand premium prices today.
lamp fitted with silver mounts - double overlaid and etched glass base and shade 1846-1904

Dirk Van Erp, the son of a coppersmith and born in Holland and immigrated to the United States in 1886, created patinated, red brown, hammered copper bowls, vases, and desk sets, but he is most known for his Japonesque table lamps with cone shaped shades paneled in sheets of buff tone mica. The bases of his antique table lamps are usually simple bullet shapes or tapered cones. Antique lamps by Van Erp also include electrified floor lamps, ceiling fixtures, and wall lights. Demand for antique lamps by Dirk Van Erp, widely referred to as the king of Arts and Crafts lighting, has exploded recently. 

Optimism began to rise in the early fifties, and designers became energized with creativity. Many cities in Europe had to be rebuilt after the disastrous effects of WWII, and this made in many ways a blank canvas for which to create. Supplies of luxury items such as tortoiseshell, ivory, horn, lacquer, shellac, and amber had dwindled. Industrial materials such as plastic, aluminum, and fiberglass made their way into the design of housewares, furniture, lamps, tableware. Modern designs by lamp manufacturers such as Eames exhibited interesting new shapes using metals, incorporating multiple bulbs, with swivel and gooseneck designs. The concepts for light, color, space, and easy living changed the way people thought about their homes and surroundings, and even clothing. Few areas offer such scope for the collector as colorful and versatile plastics. Although mass production of some plastic goods created a mindset in many as being of lesser quality, some of the most exciting and well crafted antique classics of the modern age, and are still being created today.

The music of the sixties greatly influenced society as well as the cutting edge of design, using pop art, psychedelia, and the various materials and advanced production techniques available at the time, to shape the desires of the consumers. These products continue to be increasingly collectible and are reminders of an extraordinary time in our history.






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