Types of Antique Lamps
Antique lamps are popular among art collectors and enthusiasts for their striking appearance and fine craftsmanship. They’re precious and add an elegant ambiance to any space with exquisite materials and intricate designs. Antique lamps can serve an aesthetic purpose when used as decor pieces or a functional purpose when used to light up the room.
Antique lamps have to be at least 100 years old. Because they are no longer in production, authenticated and appraised antique lamps are extremely rare. Many antique lamps exist as one or only a few of their kind, and you may be able to find one at auction houses, antique shops, flea markets, museums or estate sales. Their rich cultural and historical relevance means they are worth thousands of dollars.
The Evolution of Vintage Lamps
The first known personal lamps are likely to be more than 70,000 years old. They consisted of hollow bases adapted from shell and rock or molded from clay filled with wood shavings or dried grass and ignited using animal fat. These first lamps were ideal because they contained the fire and provided a consistent light source.
Over the next years, these clay and stone lamps evolved to contain oil and a floating wick. The makers started folding and pinching the rims to create a spout to hold the wick, reduce oil spillage and prevent the oil from burning out quickly. The wick was usually made from natural plant fibers like linen and papyrus.
During the Bronze Age, the Greeks and Romans started making multiple nozzles, handles, slips and coatings on the lamps. These features resulted in a rise in popularity and led to the exportation of their lamps all over the Mediterranean. Eventually, Roman crafters enclosed the lamps, providing more space to decorate with floral shapes and figurines. They started making lamps out of terracotta, alabaster and metals like bronze for the wealthy.
The most collectible antique lamps come from the Victorian era. It was also during the Victorian era that manufacturers started making gas lamps to replace antique-style oil lamps, candles and coal. Victorian-era vintage-style lamps featured exquisite glasswork with hand-painted floral and animal designs and highly polished metallics.
While the most collectible antique lamps were made during the 19th century, the earliest examples of vintage-style lamps come from the 1600s and 1700s. These lamps — called Crusie lamps — were an improvement of the clay lamps from ancient times. Crusie lamps incorporated a bowl to hold oil, a spout to hold the wick, a cover, a wick and drafts. They were more portable, as they came with a handle, and they provided more flame control.
The most highly sought-after antique lamps were produced by renowned prestigious companies. These lamps combined quality lighting and stunning artistic details and were made by some of the most talented designers in history. Some of the biggest names in the antique lamps industry include:
- Tiffany Studios
- Handel Company
- Duffner & Kimberly
- Unique Art Glass & Metal Co.
- Wilkinson Co.
- J.A. Whaley & Co.
- John Morgan & Sons
Lamp technology evolved significantly during the 19th century with the invention of gas, kerosene and electric lamps. In the early 20th century, manufacturers switched their focus from lighting technology to artistry on the various types of vintage lamps. This brought about the decorated lampshades, painted glass bulbs and other unique elements that you can use to identify antique lamps today.
Top Identifying Features of Antique Lamps
Most old-style lamps are available at a premium price point. Therefore, it’s essential to verify the authenticity of these beautiful pieces of history before investing or selling. But how can you tell whether an antique lamp is the real deal? Here are some of the features and characteristics you should look for:
- A label indicating the manufacturer: It’s standard for authentic antique lamps to have logos, marks or symbols from the manufacturer somewhere on them. For example, genuine Tiffany Studios lamps have stamping and signatures on varying parts of the lamps. The writing on the stamps was in all capital letters, while others included serial letters.
- Determine the origins: Because antique lamps are rare collectibles, they are only found in specific places. These include auction houses, museums, auction sales, flea markets and estate sales. Some establishments may also have a record of ownership.
- Examine the materials: Antique lamps are made using materials such as clear or stained glass, ceramic, and porcelain for the lampshades. The stands and joints are made from metals like brass, iron, and bronze and may include chrome-plated, oil-rubbed, or gold-leaf finishes.
- Ascertain the style of the lamp: Determining the style of your lamp helps to narrow down on other artistic features that the lamp should have.
- Check the light source: Antique lamps have various light sources, ranging from oil and gas to electricity and batteries. The light source may reveal the era of the lamp. Check for burners, air holes, metal wires, bulbs and oil reservoirs to nail down the light source of an antique lamp.
- Look for patina or signs of aging: Antique lamps often show signs of aging, such as patina on the metal, cracks on the glass shades and signs of discoloration.
Most Common Antique Lamp Styles
Antique lamps are available in different types and styles and are produced by distinct manufacturers using various materials. Determining the style of a lamp helps you authenticate it, whether you want to buy or sell. Below are some of the most common antique lamp styles.
1. Crusie Lamps
Crusie lamps, also called Double Crusies or Phoebe lamps, are among the earliest antique-style lamps from the 17th century. Their name has a Scottish origin, which means “a vessel for oil.” Crusie antique lamps included two metal bowls with an indentation or multiple spouts for the wick. The metal bowls were attached using an iron chain and hung on an iron rod with a hook on one end.
The two bowls were necessary because the wick drew up oil faster than it burnt, so the excess would flow into the second bowl. The wick was dipped in the fuel and hung over the edge of the spout, providing steady light and allowing the excess fuel to flow to the bottom bowl. The multiple spouts increased the lighting produced by the lamps, mostly used by lower-class families.
2. Betty Lamps
Antique Betty lamps were manufactured during the 18th century to reuse the excess oil drippings from the used wicks on Crusie lamps. They were also meant to increase user control and reduce oil spillage. One of the main improvements made to the Betty lamps compared to the Crusie lamps was adding a cover to ensure the oil burnt more efficiently. The cover also helped to confine the heat and reduce the smoke.
Additionally, the Betty lamp had a wick holder inside the oil reservoir that prevented oil from dripping by directing it back into the lamp’s bowl. Betty lamps were made of sheet steel, tin or brass. They used wicks made from twisted fabric and burned various types of oils, including fish oil, whale oil, animal fat or grease. Whale oil was the preferred choice because it produced the most light, but it was quite expensive.
Generally, Betty lamps didn’t produce sufficient light and were smoky and messy. Hence, they were often used by farmers and tradespeople. They also did not replace the Crusie lamps — both remained common until the 19th century.
3. Tiffany Lamps
Tiffany lamps were created by Louis Comfort Tiffany starting in the late 1800s. Antique Tiffany lamps are made from stained glass featuring nature-inspired motifs, such as dragonflies, lilies, peacocks and wisteria. Tiffany lamps boasted rich colors and textures on the glass lamp shades and had solid brass bases that blended with lamp design and quality craftsmanship, which made these lamps very popular in subsequent years.
The copper foil technique was used to create various types and styles of stained glass shades in the Tiffany Studios in New York City. The production of Tiffany lamps, however, stopped in 1933, rendering the already famous lamps extremely rare and highly sought-after. Tiffany Lamps are among the most expensive antique lamps today.
Here are some of the most valuable Tiffany Lamps:
- Tiffany Studios “Oriental Poppy” Chandelier: Realized $665,000.
- Tiffany Studios “Pink Lotus” Table Lamp: Realized $2.8 million.
- Tiffany Studios “Pond Lily” Table Lamp: Realized $3.3 million.
4. Handel Lamps
Antique Handel lamps were produced by the Phillip J. Handel of The Handel Company starting in the late 19th century. They were almost as appealing as some of the Tiffany lamps but came with a more affordable price tag. Handel lamps were handcrafted to include reverse-painted glass shades that depicted detailed, nature-inspired scenes.
Handel also produced mosaic glass shades with geometric shapes and colorful designs, as well as teroca lamps that included a metal overlay over the glass lamps. The conical shades were placed on zinc alloy or bronze bases.
Handel lamps came in various styles, including table lamps, boudoir lamps, standing floor lamps, egg lamps, piano lamps and hanging glass globes. These lamps became increasingly popular during World War I due to the company’s strategic marketing efforts. Unfortunately, The Handel Company ceased production of the lamps in 1936 because of the Great Depression.
The quality of the craftsmanship and the unique painted shades make Handel lamps a valuable commodity for collectors. As a result, these lamps make it to the list of the most valuable antique lamps in the world. For example, the Handel Elk lamp was sold for $85,000 at an auction in 2008.
5. Banquet Lamps
Banquet lamps are often referred to as “Gone with the Wind” lamps because of their prominent placement in the iconic 1939 film. The production of antique banquet lamps started in 1880 by several manufacturers, including Pairpoint, Baccarat, Miller, Fostoria and Bradley & Hubbard.
The most prominent feature of the banquet lamps is the authentic lower and upper glass or metal globes painted with some decorations. Milk glass, pattern glass, cranberry glass, satin glass, brass and porcelain were commonly used to make banquet lamps.
The lamps were a sign of affluence and sophistication in Victorian society and could often be found in parlors and reception halls. During the 1920s, when electricity became mainstream, many of these lamps were converted to operate on electricity from kerosene.
6. Slag Glass Lamps
Antique slag glass lamps are from the 19th century. They were made from molten malachite or marble glass that created a unique marbling or tortoiseshell design on lamp shades. They’re a Tiffany or Art Nouveau-inspired style with large opaque slag glass that illuminates homes with warm lighting. The unique coloration and intricate bronze or brass metalwork made these lamps popular through the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many manufacturers produced slag glass lamps in different designs, mostly domes, flower petals and mushrooms. Some of the popular antique manufacturers of slag glass lamps include Challinor Taylor & Company, Atterbury & Company, H. Northwood Glass Company and Akro Agate.
7. Student Lamps
Antique student lamps are popular kerosene lamps from the 19th century. They featured swinging arms with single or double burners and a kerosene reservoir in the middle. The stems were made of copper or brass and had manual adjustable burners. They produced light with little to no undershadow, making them ideal for reading. Most manufacturers turned to producing electric student lamps from the start of the 20th century.
8. Banker-Style Lamp
Antique banker-style lamps featured emerald green hand-blown glass shades on a brass base. H.G. McFaddin & Co. patented and produced the Emeralite lamps between 1909 and 1960. They were initially made for use in banks due to the smooth, rounded angles of the lampshade that sloped to the front to flood the bottom of the lamp with light.
The “green effect” of the lamps was said to inspire creativity, which helped them become popular additions to academic institutions, art scenes and homes. In homes, they’re often used to deck hallways and embellish pianos. They also make excellent desk lamps.
Discover Antique Lamps With Fontaine’s Auction
If you’re looking to sell or buy an antique lamp, Fontaine’s Auction Gallery is a reliable partner that specializes in auctioning antique lamps. With more than 50 years of experience and extensive market knowledge, we provide our clients with accurate valuations and secure auction services. We offer expert antique appraisal and consignment services for various types of antique lamps, including Tiffany, Handel and banquet lamps.
You can purchase your antique lamps from Fontaine’s Auction Gallery in person or by bidding online or over the phone. To have us consign your antique lamp, schedule an in-person evaluation, email photos and information about the lamp to [email protected] or complete our auction estimate form. If you want to buy an antique lamp from us, check out our upcoming auctions.