There is a wonderful variety of antique lamps that can be purchased from ‘Net sites, antique stores, or even (sometimes) at yard or garage sales. These fixtures can be oil or electric, plain or ornate, but are always well made and a lovely addition to a room or house.
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Types of Antique Lamps
One of the most sought after of all antique lamps is the banker’s lamp, which is normally constructed of a brass post with a green or blue glass shade. Though green shades are most common in reproduction pieces, blue shades were fairly common in the original form. A very popular antique porch lamp was originally used not on porches, but in carriages. They were usually made of brass, wrought iron, or wood, and were mounted on the carriage doors or side walls. The construction of the lamps makes them well suited to porch lights, usually seen mounted on either side of a door.
Some of the more modern antique lamps that are sought after are the antique torchiere lamp, the antique brass floor lamp, and the antique art deco lamp. Torchiere lamps are well liked because they provide indirect bright light to a room or area without the trouble of installing overhead fixtures. Many of these antique lamps are very ornate and beautiful.
Antique brass floor lamps are very popular, since they are so very well made and sturdy. They usually require little in the way of renovation; a bit of polishing, modern wiring, and perhaps a shade are all that is needed. Art Deco lamps are very valuable, not only as antiques, but also for the intrinsic design value of that period. These fixtures are often made from brass, copper, mica, stained glass, and other aesthetically pleasing materials.
Antique porcelain lamps straddle the fence between oil lamps and electric lamps. Some of these antique lamps are oil burning lamps. The most commonly recognized of these are built with a large globe on the bottom and a smaller globe on top. Most of these are very decorative, with both globes painted. Electric antique porcelain lamps are usually more of a table lamp style, but are still well known for having intricate painted designs.
Antique kerosene lamps are highly valued, not only for their value as antiques, but also for their beauty and functionality. One of the most popular antique oil lamps (from the late 1800’s) is the student lamp. These lamps were very popular as both single and double burner models. They were popular because they threw very little shadow which made them ideal for their intended purpose as a reading and study lamp.
On this site you will find all sorts of hard-to-locate information on all these types of antique lamps. We invite you to spend a few minutes reading our informative articles, and if you find the information useful, your highest compliment would be for you to tell others about us!
Antique Banker’s Lamp
When most people think of antique lamps, they think about ornate chandeliers and the soft glow of Victorian era oil lamps. While this is not a completely inaccurate image, it is certainly not the full picture. There is a wide variety of incandescent electric antique lamps that are valuable and lovely (and, possibly, still functional).
Some of the oldest, best and most valuable of all antique lamps are those produced by the Westinghouse family of companies. It is interesting to note that George Westinghouse was renowned as an inventor long before his name became the brand name for lighting and electronics. Few people realize that he is the most productive inventor ever, with credit for over four hundred patents. Many of Westinghouse’s patents were original concepts that entirely altered the way the people worked and lived.
Westinghouse made many and varied contributions to modern life. One of the most enduring was his championing of alternating current (AC) rather than the direct current (DC) system of power transfer favored by Thomas Edison. Westinghouse favored the alternating current because AC was dramatically safer. Westinghouse realized that the home user (as opposed to inventors such as himself and Edison) would benefit from the safer mode of lighting. Westinghouse’s victory over Edison in this particular aspect led to the electrification of American homes. Westinghouse put on elaborate displays (such as the illumination of the 1893 World’s Fair) to demonstrate the advantages of alternating current over direct current.
One of the most lovely and most functional antique lamps that one can still find today is an antique bankers lamp. Most are constructed with a brass post with a green or blue glass shade. Green is the most common color seen in the many replica pieces that are available today, though blue was a common shade color a hundred years ago. Many have been subject to restoration in order to accommodate modern electric supply and lights (bulbs). Once renovated, these lamps can function as lighting fixtures indefinitely. These lamps were, indeed, lamps used by bankers, and many photos can be found that show them as a very prominent piece on the desks of bankers of the day. The unique shape of the shade and the color of the glass made them particularly well suited to illuminate the desk surface that they typically graced, because it directed the light specifically to the work surface of the bankers desk.
Because of their unique design and ability to cast light directly where it is needed, antique bankers lamps are still widely sought-after today by both collectors as well as students, executives and almost anyone who spends much time reading at their desk. This great demand helps to keep the price (valuation) high on these lamps — an important fact for would-be collectors to keep in mind.
When looking for an antique bankers lamp, it is important to keep in mind whether it is important to you that the lamp be functional or simply decorative. If you want an antique bankers lamp that is functional, you will need to make sure that all the electrical wiring, switches and light sockets are still in safe operating condition. If the wiring is worn out or the switches are old and the light sockets are corroded, you will need to take your lamp to a qualified repair technician to have new wiring and hardware installed before it is used in your home. Keep in mind that discarding it’s original wiring may lower your lamp’s value, but if you intend to actually use your lamp you have no choice but to replace worn-out electrical components. Of course, if your antique bankers lamp will be used strictly for decorative purposes, it can still possess it’s original wiring, even if it is now deteriorated and unsafe.
Horse drawn carriages were a vast improvement over the alternatives of the day (horseback riding or walking). Starting in the seventeenth century, horse drawn carriages became the standard for travel. Today, there is an interest in these carriages, and especially in the antique carriage lamps that adorned them.
Antique Carriage Lamps
Typically constructed of brass and wood, these antique carriage lamps were well constructed (and made to stand up to the weather), so many of them have lasted and become very collectible. Carriages came in two basic models – enclosed or open. There was a top cover for the body of a carriage (called the head or hood), which was often made of flexible material, so that it could be folded back. These flexible tops are known as a bellows top or calash. Closed carriages usually had side windows (known as quarter lights) and windows.
The antique carriage lamps that are collected today were mounted on the sides of these closed carriages, near the quarter lights, or on the doors themselves. These lamps served a duel purpose. They functioned as a safety measure in that they made the carriage visible to others at night and they also provided some light for the carriage passengers.
Today, the term “carriage lamp” refers more to the style of a lamp than to its function. Reproduction carriage lamps are extremely popular for use outside (usually found on either side of an entrance / exit door). These reproductions will typically range from ten inches to eighteen inches in overall height. A four or six sided glass globe (the shades) sits at the top of a fluted post. That fluted post is decorative in electric lamps, but had a purpose in the antique carriage lamps; it is where the fuel oil for the lamp was stored.
True antique carriage lamps might be found (as a real treasure) at a yard sale or flea market. Often, they are found in antique dealers stores, nestled among the metal bed and other furniture displays. Antique carriage lamps have quite a presence on the ‘Net. There are numerous sites where one can purchase the lamps themselves, as well as materials that would be necessary to repair antique carriage lamps that might already be owned. Most antique carriage lamps are sold in pairs (since that is how they were used originally). A set of good quality antique carriage lamps are typically priced at about six hundred dollars.
Antique Student Lamps
In the nineteenth century, oil lamps were the primary source of light in most homes in the modern world. These days, there is great interest in the antique student lamp that was so common then.
In that time, over half of the ninety million people in the United States lived in small towns or on farms that were remote from the major cities. Country roads did not lend themselves to distant travel and many of the people in the country had never laid eyes on an automobile! The conveniences that are taken for granted today were unheard of; things such as mail delivery, running water, electricity, indoor bathrooms, and so on.
Once the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania (by Colonel E. L. Drake in 1859), many things changed for the average American. This well suddenly was producing in excess of 1000 gallons of petroleum per day. This radical increase in supply dropped the price of oil from one dollar per gallon to one dollar per barrel (one barrel equals 42 gallons). Lighting oils (such as kerosene, coal oil, and paraffin) suddenly became affordable and plentiful. This single event not only stimulated invention of new and better lighting devices, but also increased the popularity and usage of the existing devices, such as the antique student lamp.
The antique student lamp found in antique stores and online was widely used in the late 1800’s. These antique student lamps were made in both single and double-burner models. These lamps were well liked because they cast little to no undershadow, which meant that reading and writing were easier to do.
Antique student lamp construction consisted of vertical post on which an oil font is mounted on one side of the post. The oil was then siphoned through the mantle and into the lamp (which was mounted farther up on the post). The lamp itself was often mounted on a swing arm. Most of these antique student lamps had white glass shades (globes) for maximum reflection.
The common antique student lamp of this era stood seven inches to ten inches high and was usually constructed of brass. One of the most popular antique student lamps of the time was the Manhattan student lamp(manufactured by the Manhattan Brass Company). It is easily available in many antique stores today. In England, the same type of lamps were known as reading lamps.
Antique Kerosene Lamps
Kerosene lamps were the main source of light in most households in the late nineteenth century. Many antique kerosene lamps are still available today in antique shops, though they are often found (as genuine treasures) at flea markets and yard sales. Called paraffin lamps in the United Kingdom, antique kerosene lamps ranged from very plain to extremely ornate, and were made from all varieties of metal (from iron to brass) and glass. The very ornate ones are highly valued as collectibles, and are lovely on a piano, or mounted and hanging on a wall. Some have flower or dragonfly images painted on the globes.
There are two main classifications of antique kerosene lamps. A wick lamp burns fuel as it is soaked up from a fuel reservoir through a cloth (usually cotton) wick, while a pressure lamp has a very thin tube that feeds the pressurized fuel up to the mantle for burning. Wick lamps are often known as oil lamps and usually have some sort of wick adjustment.
This is normally just a small knob that protrudes from the side of the wick assembly and allows the wick to be moved up and down. When the top of the wick is lit, it produces a yellow flame. Capillary action moves the oil up the wick, and the lamp will generally burn until the oil is depleted. The height of the wick controls the size of the flame, and therefore, the amount of light that the antique kerosene lamp will produce. When turned up too high, the burning wick will produce unburned carbon soot in the form of black smoke.
The flame is protected by a globe, which, in most antique kerosene lamps, was made of clear glass. These are typically known today as hurricane lamps. Besides protecting the flame from air, the globe protects people and property from fire hazard. Additionally, the globe causes an updraft, which carries more air past the flame, creating a brighter flame than would be produced without the updraft.
Some globes are backed by a shiny backdrop called a projector, which throws even more light. Pressurized antique kerosene lamps built with a fuel tank at the bottom and a small pump which pressurizes the fuel. The fuel moves up narrow gap up to the top of the lamp (the flue). At the top of the lamp there is an outlet. Just under the burner is a mantle, a fabric bag that has been coated with incandescent chemicals. The mantle glows when heated by the gas flame, producing a much brighter light than a wick lamp.
Antique Art Deco Lamps
The art deco movement was a very popular design practice from 1925 until 1939. Most of what remains from the art deco time period is found today in the decorative arts and visual arts arenas. Interior design, architecture, industrial design, painting, graphic arts and film are all represented. In some ways, art deco is a blend of several styles of the 20th century, including Neoclassical, Constructivism, Cubism, Modernism, Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, and Futurism.
The art deco movement was most popular in Europe during the ‘roaring twenties’ and stayed popular in the United States throughout the 1930’s. Unlike some traditional design movements, art deco had no basis in politics or philosophy; it was purely decorative. Many fine examples of this period are still very popular today, including jewelry, paintings, furniture and antique art deco lamps.
Many antique art deco lamps consist of human figures holding illuminated globes. Very few antique art deco lamps are fuel (oil or kerosene) lamps; most are electric (and a wise owner would replace the wiring before use!). Often, the glass globes are made of several different pieces and colors of glass, held together in designs by amalgam. It is possible to purchase antique art deco lamps for modest prices, but many of the more unique and decorative pieces sell for well in to the tens of thousands of dollars! Because antique art deco lamps have remained popular, it is fairly easy to find replacement globes and other parts for them.
Art deco design is fairly simplistic and is based on geometric shapes. It was generally hailed as a very eclectic interpretation of elegant, modern structure and was influenced by several sources. Some of the sources that are generally considered to have been influential are the “primitive” arts of Africa, Egypt, and Aztec Mexico. Also influential are the streamline technologies just on the horizon in the 1920’s and 1930’s, such as such as aviation, electric lighting, radio, ocean liners and skyscrapers.
Popular themes in antique art deco lamp designs were trapezoids, zig zags, many geometric and jumbled shapes. Under these influences, art deco relied heavily on materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, lacquer, inlaid wood, sharkskin. In antique art deco lamps, multiple colors and shapes of glass were relied upon to carry these themes forward.
Stepped forms and curves, chevron patterns, and the sunburst shape are often seen in art deco, and especially in antique art deco lamps. Art nouveau, on the other hand, relies more on natural, sinewy curves and shapes. One of the hallmarks of the art deco period involved taking the design elements and using them in unlikely places. For example, it was common to see sunburst patterns on shoes, the spire of the Chrysler building, or on radiator grilles.
Antique Porcelain Lamps
Of all of the many antique lamps that are available to collectors today, none is more prized for its beauty and versatility than the various types of antique porcelain lamp that can be found. These lamps were popular for many decades, and a vast array of beautiful examples are still around today.
One of the most popular collectible antique porcelain lamp varieties are those that were made by the Leviton Company. Leviton is the largest privately held manufacturer of wiring devices in North America. The company was founded in 1906 by a father and son team. Leviton was one of the first United States lighting manufacturers to move away from gas lamp technology to the modern electric lamp of the early twentieth century.
Many of these Leviton fine antique porcelain lamp samples have white porcelain urns with cameo or other types of decorative painting (typically done with a lot of green, blue and pink hues), usually surrounded by gold trim. A typical antique porcelain lamp (table lamp variety) would usually sell for around fifty to one hundred dollars in the United Stated antique market.
Another popular maker of antique porcelain lamps was the Handel Company, which was formed in Meriden, Connecticut in 1876. At that time, the company made very high-quality reverse painted lamp shades that were offered as a cheaper alternative to the Tiffany lamp. Some of the most popular lamps of the period were made by Tiffany and Handel.
Some of the medium and larger Handel lamps were wired with more than one socket. These were operated with pull chains which had small, shaped pull balls on the chains. In the antique porcelain lamp market, a small, simply built Handel desk or piano lamp recently sold for around five hundred dollars! Typically, fancier and larger Handel lamps sell for over two thousand dollars, though some very rare ones that have sold for more than eighty thousand dollars.
The market in the antique porcelain lamp market continues to be strong. There is a brisk business among antique dealers for antique porcelain lamps, partly because they tend to be very well preserved and have retained their beauty and functionality through the years.
Many American homes have antique porcelain lamps that have been handed down over a couple of generations. Most of those are still functional, working pieces. Those who are interested in antique porcelain lamps are now starting to pay some attention to the lava lamps of the 1960’s (thought at the time to be basically a kids toy), as well as the beaded lampshades and sconce lights of the 1940’s. It seems that the marker for antique lamps of all kinds will prosper for years to come.
Antique Torchiere Lamps
Torchiere floor lamps have been around for many years and remain popular today, because they provide an easy and effective way to supply indirect room lighting that bounces off the ceiling and illuminated a space with soft, but bright, light. Floor torchiere lamps are a valuable addition to a room when the amount of overhead light is not sufficient, or when indirect light is preferred. They are also very popular because they eliminate the need for installation of overhead lights.
Torchiere lamps are a perfect choice for dorm rooms, offices, and rental apartments where one is not permitted to make large changes to the room. Some modern torchiere lamps can supply direct light with a swing arm down-light feature attached to the vertical pole. Some designers will coordinate matching table lamps or pendant lighting fixtures to an existing torchiere lamp to pull the look of a room together. A fine antique torchiere lamp can be matched to reproduction pieces to give an antique ambiance to a room.
An antique torchiere lamp will make a real impression in most any room and may be surprisingly affordable. Because these versatile lamps have been so popular for so long, it is fairly easy to find antique torchiere lamps in most any antique store, or even at yard or garage sales. Some lucky people might even have antique torchiere lamps in the home and not realize it.
The styles and types of torchiere lamps are practically endless. The only standard feature is that the lamp will be five to six feet tall, with an inverted reflector bowl at the top. These glass or metal reflector bowls are functional, in that they reflect the indirect lighting within the torchiere lamps’ upper housing toward the ceiling. These bowls are also very often decorative, especially those seen in antique torchiere lamps. Bowls are most often made of glass or metal, but in some fancier styles of lamp, mica, stained glass, and other decorative materials are seen.
The poles can be decorative too. Again, most modern lamps are simply constructed with plain poles, but it would not be uncommon to see antique torchiere lamps with a copper or brass pole, or with a pole that is carved or otherwise adorned. Some of the most interesting antique torchiere lamps were made by the Stiffel Company (which has been in business since 1932) and are still available in antique shops today.
Antique Brass Floor Lamp
There are so many lighting choices available to those who are trying to decorate that it is sometimes hard to make a decision! Basically, one can choose between antique lamps, reproduction lamps, or modern design lamps. When antique lighting is mentioned, one tends to think of candlesticks, wrought iron, and the soft glow of oil lamps.
While that is somewhat accurate, it is also true that there are lovely and still functional antique electric light fixtures. When in the market for an antique brass floor lamp, it is well worth checking on the ‘Net, as there are many sellers of such items online now. It is a great way to shop for antiques, because there are usually very detailed descriptions and photos of the items, which makes it easy to effectively compare one lamp to another and one seller to another.
It is also a good idea to see if the seller has testimonials from past customers, references, and so on. If a seller is not willing to provide these, it is probably a red flag warning sign. It is also useful to look at items online in order to make comparisons to items that might be seen at auction or in antique stores.
One of the most popular antique choices is an antique brass floor lamp. These lamps are sturdy, well made, and are easily restored to their original luster. Most antique brass floor lamps were originally designed with round shades (often fringed) that are easily and very reasonably replaced.
Unlike the more delicate antique ceramic or stained glass lamps that are found, antique brass floor lamps usually do not require much in the way of restoration. Some of the most collectible and beautiful of all the antique brass floor lamp samples to be found were made by the Stiffel Company.
The Stiffel Lamp Company was founded in 1930 in New York. The company has recently relocated to Charleston, SC to a state-of-the-art facility of just over half a million square feet. The company is much larger in size, but they are very concerned that they have not lost their small business background. Amazingly, the company remains privately held as a family owned and operated concern.
Antique Porch Light
For those who are interested in adding ambiance to a home through the use of antique lighting fixtures, it is important to remember that while there are many interior light fixtures that will fit the bill, there are also some very lovely exterior fixtures that will add a wonderful vintage look to a porch or out building.
While interior light fixtures can come in a variety of designs, locations, and materials, the antique porch light is almost always American-made and constructed from brass or wrought iron. Interior lamps might be Italian, Chinese, British, American or German. Often, they are wooden, brass, or copper, with lampshades made of mica, glass or metal. It is not uncommon to see these antiques in many different models, such as student lamps, torchiere fixtures, and student lamps. What are considered to be carriage lamps are often now repurposed as antique porch light fixtures.
The carriage lamps of olden days are still available today, in part because they were very well constructed and made from very durable materials (usually cast iron, sometimes brass, and occasionally, copper). Any of those three metals are extremely long lasting.
The brass and copper varieties are usually refurbished with simple polishing and buffing. The glass panels of these antique porch light fixtures are easily replaced if needed. The vast majority of all antique porch light fixtures are made of cast iron. Since cast iron is intended to be painted, they are easily refurbished with some simple sanding and a coat of paint, which is almost always a matte black color.
Most of the antique porch light fixtures that one will find in an antique store or on the ‘Net have been rewired and are safe (and ready for immediate use). Should a buyer find an antique porch light fixture at a yard sale or flea market, the wiring should be checked (and most probably replaced) before the fixture is installed.
Should the glass panels in the globe need replaced, it is best to check with an antiques refurbisher (or with a ‘Net site that specializes in the same), since they can supply the owner with glass that is most like the original glass (that is to say, not quite clear, and not completely without spots, imperfections, and waves).
This article was last updated on February 26, 2021 .