By Karen Parr-Moody
Antique lamps add panache to any room, as they emphasize form over the function of modern designs. At GasLamp, the eclectic selection offers some true beauties, with some that pre-date electricity.
My parents recently gifted me with this gorgeous lamp from GasLamp for my birthday (photo, right). It is fashioned from a bust made of Parian Ware, a substance for statuary that became popular during the Victorian era. Parian was a type of white biscuit porcelain developed in England in the 1842. Used as an inexpensive substitute for marble, its name derives from marble mined on the Greek island of Paros. Victorians were wowed by Parian Ware, which allowed the middle classes to possess articles of high art.
While I cannot say exactly who the model was for this lamp’s bust figure, it is certainly a lady from the First Empire. She wears a gown silhouette that was all the rage in the year 1800, with a low square neckline. There is also the hint of puffed sleeves, barely capped, at the shoulders. Napoleon's Empress Josephine loved such styles, and since this bust’s subject also wears a crown, I like to fancy that it just might be her.
Victorians lived during an interesting time for lamps. It wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison launched the first commercially successful incandescent lamp. Victorians who lived in major cities adapted more quickly to the new technology than those in rural areas. The latter kept kerosene lamps lingering in their parlors for decades after Edison’s invention.
Banquet lamps, like the one in the photo, below left, were a sign of affluence and taste in Victorian society ($192.95; B-219). Made of cranberry glass, this lamp has a brass base and fittings, and crystal prism drops. Its shade matches the smaller glass bulb near the base, which would have held kerosene oil before electricity came about. Such kerosene lamps were incredibly popular, and were still used until about the 1920s, when electricity became widespread. Even so, many owners were so attached to these lamps that they simply converted them to electricity, as someone did to this one.
Around the same time that Edison was delivering electricity to the world, a French immigrant to America named John St. Clair went to work as a glass gaffer in Elwood, Indiana. His son, Joe, followed in his footsteps until in 1941 production began in earnest as St. Clair Glass. The family firm’s art glass was known for its experimentation in both color and form (and, unlike many old, family glass firms, it is still in operation today, under the lead of third-generation grandson, Joe Rice.). The lamp in the photo, right, is one of the iconic “paperweight” lamps the firm has been making for decades ($348.95; Booth B-113). These lamps feature trademark opaque glass flowers encased in clear glass.
The baluster form vase lamp in the photo, below left, is most likely Italian, inspired by Meissen porcelain of the 18th century, which was known for a bevy of applied flowers ($145; Booth B-106). But this lamp looks very much in the vein of the Capodimont porcelain of Naples, Italy, which was known for hand-applied and hand-made roses and rosebuds. By the 1920s, it became very popular to convert Capodimonte porcelain vases into lamps by adding bases and other necessary accessories. This lamp looks like such a project.
The Capodimont table lamps, below right, represent a find: Discovering Capodimonte porcelain lamps in matching pairs can be more challenging than finding an individual piece. The reticulated openwork and overall style of the pottery’s base was common to the ‘40s or the ‘50s. However, these lamps could date earlier, due to the molded Roman figures seen scattered throughout. Such figures, done in soft pinks, yellows, and greens, were common to the 1930s.
These lamps form just a fraction of the bounty to be found at GasLamp. And they are shiny beacons of both light and history. So to learn more about the days of yore, let there be light with some antique lamps.