QUESTION: This lamp has been in the family for reportedly over 100 years. It does not have a signature of any kind. The lighting fixture itself had been missing and my father installed a new one some years back. Is there any way to date and identify the maker of this piece?
ANSWER: Looking at your hanging lamp, it doesn’t look to be over 100 years old. Most likely it dates from the 1920s, maybe slightly earlier, based on the configuration of the socket frame.
Although Thomas Alva Edison is often given the credit for inventing the electric light bulb in 1879, the actual creation can be credited to several people, each of whom improved upon the basic concept.
In 1875, Henry Woodward received a patent for an electric light bulb. And four years later, Edison and Joseph Wilson Swan received a patent for a carbon-thread incandescent lamp. Edison initially worked with J. P. Morgan and a few privileged customers in New York City in the 1880s to light their homes, pairing his new incandescent bulbs with small generators.
In 1878, Thomas Edison began serious research into developing a practical incandescent lamp and on October 14, 1878, Edison filed his first patent application for "Improvement In Electric Lights." So it could be said that Thomas Edition created the first “commercially practical” incandescent light.
The first electric lamps, however, were nothing more than electrified gas lamps. Often the manufacturer didn’t know which sockets to use, so they put in a variety in the same lamp, and the wiring left a lot to be desired. Safety wasn’t even thought of much back then. Even the light bulbs were different. There was no standardization like we’ve known through the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st. The electric lighting industry took a while to take off.
Back at the turn of the 20th century, electricity was just beginning to find its way into the homes of average Americans. Before that, it was mostly a new toy of the wealthy.
A number of improvements occurred as the 20th century dawned. Peter Cooper Hewitt created the first commercial mercury-vapor lamp in 1901. Alexander Just and Franjo Hanaman invented the tungsten filament for incandescent light bulbs. In 1904.
By 1913, Irving Langmuir had discovered that inert gas could double the luminous efficacy of incandescent light bulbs. Burnie Lee Benbow patented the coiled coil filament in 1917. But the most far-reaching improvement was the production by Junichi Miura of the first incandescent light bulb to use a coiled coil filament in 1921. Finally, in 1925, Marvin Pipkin invented the first internal frosted light bulb.
All these improvements had lamp makers reeling. Once the electric light bulb had finally been stabilized, they saw the opportunity to use this constant source of even light to their advantage.
As household electricity became increasingly common and the light bulb more stable and long lasting, so lamp manufacturers started paying attention to the art of lighting indoor spaces. Shades gave lamp makers an opportunity to shine a light on their sense of aesthetics, whether it was to create a romantic background glow or an eye-catching centerpiece.
Lamp makers of the early 20th century looked to the Art Nouveau style, with it plant and animal motifs, to inspire their designs. Manufacturers were soon creating shades in a spectrum of colored glass, either hand-cut into complex patterns or blown into natural forms like flowers.
Louis Comfort Tiffany designed and made some of the most recognizable Art Nouveau lamps, including shades made from iridescent Favrile glass or intricate stained glass mosaics. Originally conceived by designer Clara Driscoll, Tiffany’s Dragonfly lamp shade is possibly the Studio’s most famous, featuring minuscule glass pieces in each detailed dragonfly wing. Such shades were created using a leaded-glass technique the company perfected for stained-glass windows. Capitalizing on the Tiffany trend, companies like Duffner & Kimberly, Gorham, and Seuss also created ornate stained-glass shades in the early 20th century.
Because electricity for mass use was in its infancy in the first decade of the 20th century, no two lamp manufacturers used the same electrical components. Although the sockets in your lamp have been replaced, the lamp, itself, is more sophisticated than those produced say from 1900 to 1910. A lot of manufacturers produced lamps like this. The thickness of the glass and the soldering of the lead came indicated that this lamp was made in a small factory, most likely by hand. But without a signature of any sort, it’s hard to tell exactly which company produced it.
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